Sometimes coming out to friends and family can be difficult, and sometimes circumstances might warrant hiding your atheism for a while. If it’s not safe to come out, don’t. You can take a rain-check so to speak and wait until it is safe. For example, if you think you’ll lose your job or be kicked from your house, you might want to postpone your coming out as an atheist for another time.
For those of you who are ready to come out, here are a few ideas that might make it a bit easier.
1) Keep the conversation on track: This is true of every conversation or debate I’ve ever had. In many cases, people will try to derail from the main topic. Don’t let them. Keep the conversation focused on your atheism and how you would like them to accept you for who you are.
2) Conversion isn’t the goal: Don’t try to convert them to atheism. That isn’t the point of coming out. You can easily save those religious/non-religious discussions for another time. Your family or friends are likely to be in shock. They may be quicker to anger, and there is no sense speeding them towards that fiery temper place with efforts to convert them or disabuse them of their religious beliefs. Simply inform them, ask them to accept you for who you are and try to move on.
3) Don’t play the blame game: Don’t bother blaming people for what may have happened to you in your religious family or among your friends. Arguing back and forth about who is at fault will ultimately lead to nothing good. It will probably just result in more arguments and that will mean no one is listening to the other.
4) Listen and try to understand: My Nan used to say (ironically enough I’m about to launch into a religious saying) that, “The good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.” I’ve always found that to be good advice and whenever I feel my temper rising I try to remember that little piece of advice.
Listen to your family and friends and try to empathize with their point of view. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. What it means is try to think of it from their perspective.
For example, they may believe you’re going to hell. They may think it’s their fault you’re an atheist. They may think they’ve failed you. They may believe that you’re only doing this out of rebellion.
In the face of all that, this may be partially why they feel angry or hurt. Religion often has a way of twisting our ‘better’ emotions into something less desirable. For example, the parent who thinks their son or daughter is going to be tortured forever in eternal hell fire will do or say almost anything to prevent that from happening.
5) Stay calm: It may be hard to do, depending on how the people you’re telling about your atheism take it, but try to remain calm and reasonable. The calmer you are the better. Stay rational and reasonable. People tend to react to anger with more anger.
6) Read and familiarize yourself with religious material: There are several usual responses to atheism, such as the ‘so many believe in it so it must be true’ argument or the ‘my holy book said it so it must be true’ argument, and hopefully you’re prepared to hear them for the first time or in some cases, again. Familiarize yourself with these tactics so that you can respond to them in a calm, reasonable manner. While you may not be playing the conversion game, that doesn’t mean they won’t try to convert you to their religion.
7) Take a break: Sometimes you have to take a break from a conversation before it goes down a dark side-road; one you desperately want to avoid. This might mean taking a break for an hour, several hours or several days. Take the time you need and let them take the time they need to wrap their collective heads around it.
8) Don’t make out that you’re smarter than them or that you have all the answers: A common ploy I often run into even now is a theist that asks me a question that they think (or know) I won’t know the answer to, so that they can shove their God in that gap of knowledge. Be prepared for this.
For example, they might ask you what caused the Big Bang?
You might know some common thoughts on what might have caused it, but there is no shame in saying you don’t know. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t mean a particular deity is the obvious answer.
You also want to avoid coming off as a know-it-all. Often, atheists are accused of acting like they know everything or have reason and rationality cornered. Not only is this not true, but it is designed to make us look bad so they don’t have to consider what we’re saying.
Don’t fall for this trick. Admit when you don’t know something and do some research later when you have time. I often find a theists questions prompt me to look up something so I can learn more about it later.
9) Reassurance: When dealing with friends and family, reassure them that you still care about and/or love them. Your lack of belief in a deity doesn’t mean you are on opposite teams. It just means you differ on this one subject. Make ground rules if you need to when it comes to the subject of religion.
These are some of the things that made it easier for me and still help me from time-to-time. After all, chances are that you will run into religious people far more often than you will atheists. Some of these tips will work no matter the situation. Then again, people are unpredictable and no matter what, you may find that it doesn’t go well.
If you have any tips or tricks on coming out as an atheist to your friends and family, please share them in the comment section below. I think as a community, we can use all the help we can get.
Here’s a great video on when NOT to come out as an atheist.