I've been wondering who/when/why atheists come out of our particular closet and those who choose to stay in, why they do. I'll go first.

I am a rather young atheist. I've can really only count 5 years as a fully-fledged one, but skeptical and very frustrated for probably 15 years before that. (I'm 37 so you can do the math.)

I "outed" myself a while back. I sent a letter under my real, full name a couple of years ago to the Charleston's Gazette in response to a request of theirs for atheists to write in about what Christmas means to us (if anything). I am a teacher in Kanawha County and was concerned first about what parents would say. There was no response. I heard nothing. That was eye-opening to me in realizing that maybe either no one really cared but me, or no one really reads the Gazette. ;-)

So I am open when people ask me and I won't lie when students ask me because I've always tried to tell my own children and students that you should act according to your principles.

My family and friends have known longer - my friends were even around as I was going through my rather painful "crisis of faith" and eventually came out the other side of that as a declared atheist. They were my sounding board and made me hone my thinking and arguing about various questions and issues.

As far as my husband and children go - my elder daughter (she's 14 going on 40) seems to quietly agree with me but prefers to be in the back ground. The 10 year old hasn't quite figured out why we don't go to church when everyone else does on sunday mornings. I've tried to explain but since she views church as an opportunity to visit with friends (she's a social butterfly) she doesn't quite get it yet. My husband is loosely spiritual but quite willing to just let things flow with this issue. He's very easy going and is fairly willing to let me take the lead on this with the girls but he's not ready yet to strap on the scarlet letter A. :D

So, I'm interested in hearing other people's stories. Next?

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To shorten the origin story of my journey through the Christian faith, suffice it to say that I was raised Episcopalian. My family attended our local Episcopal church from the time I was around 8 or 9. I became an altar boy (no, nothing happened with the priest...that's Catholicism), participated in the youth group and honestly really enjoyed the experience. I was always more into the social aspect of it, enjoying time with friends and the company of some really caring folk. Sleepovers, skiing trips, amusement parks, rummage sales and outreach were all super cool. I grew up, still continuing in the church until I was about 17. At that point, it was my senior year of high school and I was spending so much time with my friends and enjoying the truly waning years of my youth that my family didn't force me to continue on a regular basis with the church. When I was 19, I met a girl whose family was very Baptist. They went to a budding megachurch in southeastern Ohio. As most relationships start, infatuation begins and concessions are made, hence I started attending her church. I continued with her (not on a regular basis, but fairly often) until I was 21 and we parted ways (the first time).

Ok, so I didn't shorten the story at all. The purpose of it all is that I don't think I ever believed. The Episcopal faith is less centered on belief and more on caring and simply being a good person. That's not to say that Christianity and faith play no role, they absolutely do. But, they most definitely don't follow the "or else" doctrine of evangelicals. I mean, fuck, we had a gay organist and a lesbian priestess at one point. Very liberal. At any rate, I didn't believe. I loved the social aspect of the church and meeting new folks, going on trips and whatnot. When I bowed my head or took a knee at the altar, at no point in my life can I actually say I believed. I pretended to. Even in the Baptist church, when people were flailing and crying, being "moved" by the spirit, I could only sit and look on in awe that this crazy shit was happening around me. People would move to the altar at the pastor's call to be "saved" near the end of the service. Not once was I even slightly tempted to approach what was truly an altar of fascism. This church REQUIRED that members, once baptized, sign a document agreeing to abstain from fornication, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, etc. The pastor gave sermon's on Harry Potter and JK Rowling's quest to lead our children to Satan. They were all bigots against anyone in the LGBT community. It was insane...and they all thought they were doing it for a great cause.

I never believed. I even lied to friends in the church and said I got saved. I started listening to Christian music around them (some of which, I've taken with me...some really good metal comes out of Christians for some reason) and living a fucking lie. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I was just as godless of a son of a bitch as I always believed I was. I didn't "come out" immediately, but only to a few like-minded friends that had gone through similar childhood experiences. We started talking, reading atheist literature and finding sites that supported our views and helped us learn about non-belief, evolution and such. For years, this went on.

A few months ago, I wrote a letter to the Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, much like Sonja. My letter was in response to another which claimed that Bibles should be mandated in all medical waiting rooms. I retorted in a very respectful way saying that, for this to be required by law would be unconstitutional and that the views of all Americans aren't the same as those of Christians. You can actually read it here (http://www.herald-dispatch.com/archive/x385864870/No-Headline?r=s). Then the backlash came. The forums blew up and folks started writing "America = Jesus" letters in response, some of which were published. My family heard about it, their church heard about it...but, surprisingly, the response from them was cool. I finally had a conversation with my mom about being an atheist and she was very accepting. My dad is a hardcore evolutionist, but doesn't deny deism, so she's kind of used to the less-than-hardline view of it all. Plus, she's Episcopalian.

Luckily, I didn't totally alienate myself by coming out. But, not everyone I know realizes it because I don't blast it to each person I meet. I'm happy with who I am and very passionate about my lack of belief and my opinions of the organizations of those who do...but, I'm not an evangelical atheist.

Good thread, Sonja.

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