I have never lived in a world that wasn’t devoutly Christian. From the day of my birth–or more importantly, according to my family, the day of my baptism–I have been brought up in the most Lutheran of households.
I’ve always been told that faith is a virtue, and nonbelief is a great abomination. As a child, I was so used to hearing this that it didn’t even bother me. But also as a child, I was losing my faith.
I never particularly liked church or religious rituals, and I’m too skeptical to accept biblical stories as true “just because they’re in the bible.” My adolescent disbelief then manifested itself as apathy towards religion, and blatant acceptance of the fact that my disbelief in God would live and die with me.
But I would never dream of telling anyone. It wasn’t a big deal; it was just the way it was.
It Is What It Is
My religious apathy wasn’t a big deal to me throughout high school. It didn’t matter that I would never be able to tell anyone. My closest friends didn’t know, my parents didn’t know, my three sisters didn’t even know. I told myself that even when I’m married, it would be too big a secret to share with my husband.
Besides, my family will expect me to baptize my child, and often, if you get your children baptized at a church, the church makes you promise to attend regularly. I was bound to be stuck living as a Christian forever, and I didn’t bother to fight it. It was too hard a fight over so small an issue.
Change of Plans
News flash: never disclosing your true self to your significant other is a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve never been in a relationship before.
I was still apathetic towards Christianity when I started dating my boyfriend four years ago, in my junior year of high school. But contrary to my previous plan, I didn’t want to keep this secret from him. As it turns out, relationships work best without any secrets, especially huge identity secrets.
He had been raised United Methodist, but he himself didn’t seem overly religious to me. So once I was sure that this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, I decided it was time to tell him. Religion wasn’t something we had talked about before, so it was an awkward conversation, which for some reason, we had over text.
“Hey, you know that whole….Jesus thing?” I texted.
“Yeah…?” he replied.
“I don’t really believe in all that.” I confessed.
I don’t think he really cared at the time. Neither of us believed. But he came to church with me anyways, because that’s what you do if you want to win over my mother.
From Apathy to Atheism
I ended up attending college at a small, conservative Christian school not too far from home. I liked that it was small, my mom liked that it was Christian, and we both liked that it was close by.
I was used to everyone I know being a Christian, so I didn’t think it would be a big problem that the whole school lives and breathes (and eats and drinks) Jesus. Little did I know that this school would drive me up the wall.
It was actually my classes here that made me really evaluate arguments for and against God, and the school inadvertently gave me that push from religious apathy to a nearly definite lack of belief in God.
Now, my interest in religion and atheism was piqued; inspiring me to buy and read books on atheism and start my anonymous atheist blog. I spent a lot of time reading and writing about atheism in my dorm room, and it was getting harder and harder to hide what I was losing from my two roommates.
At this point, I knew that it would be impossible for me to keep this a secret for the rest of my life. It was too big a part of me for me to never tell my family or friends. Telling my roommates that I was an atheist was a way for me to both be myself in my own dorm room, and test the waters for how the Christians in my life would react to the news that I’m an atheist. Perhaps if they responded well, it wouldn’t be so scary to eventually tell more people.
And respond well, they did. Coming out to them actually resulted in a long and honest conversation about faith and doubt. As a matter of fact, they have friends and family that are atheists or deists. We are all still friends, and I don’t think that their view of me has dramatically changed.
The Big Announcement
This past semester, I took a class on culture that was required for my major. The final project was a presentation on our cultural identities. We were encouraged to discuss the most salient aspects of our cultural identities, whether they were ethnic, geographical, educational, family-based, or religious.
I spent most of the presentation talking about my family’s religion, and I could have left it at that (my family’s Lutheran, so I’ll let you assume that I am, too), but I really wanted to be honest. My lack of faith is currently the most salient aspect of my cultural identity, since it is so different from those around me.
Because of this, and because no one in the class knew me closely, and therefore the information had no way of getting back to my family, I ended up announcing to the whole class that I was an atheist.
They took it surprisingly well. My classmates had so many questions that the teacher had to stop them for the sake of time.
I loved being able to answer their questions, especially knowing that many of my classmates didn’t know any other atheists. The assignment required student evaluations, and when I got them back, someone answered the question “What was your favorite part of this presentation?” with “The raw honesty.”
It was an amazing feeling to know that my classmates appreciated my bravery so much.
I know I’m not yet ready to come out to my family, though I hope to be able to someday. However, after my big presentation, I now feel more comfortable at least telling people at school.
Readers on my blog, however, have made me reconsider why I want to come out so suddenly. If there’s a chance that it could change friendships, then do my friends really need to know? I decided that it really depends on the person and on the relationship.
The main reason I want to tell friends is because I don’t want to have to hide who I am, whether that be an atheist or even just a blogger. If either topic comes up naturally in conversation, then I can reveal these parts of my identity; but if it isn’t relevant or even crucial to the conversation, then often it’s best saved for a later time.
Knowing that I’m confident enough with who I am to come out of the atheist closet at my own pace is empowering. I can come out one person (or class) at a time, and I have as long as I need to get ready and prepare to come out to my family and the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, writing online as The Closet Atheist allows me to be my honest self with my readers, until everyone else is ready to hear what I have to say.
About the Author
The Closet Atheist is a senior college student at a small Christian school. When she’s not busy rehearsing with the marching band or working at her on-campus job, she writes about her experience as an atheist at a Christian college on her blog.
*Featured Image Provided by the Author