10.5 Tips When Coming Out to Family or Friends as an Atheist
“Telling someone you are an atheist shouldn’t change their opinion about you, but it might change their opinion about atheism.”
2. Don’t be too confrontational:
Remember where they are coming from and help them to understand where you are coming from. Trying to “win” the debate or convert them isn’t going to happen at all in this conversation. This isn’t the time for that talk. So, arguing with them over facts is just dodging the bigger issue of them accepting you as a person. Explain why you believe this way and leave it at that. Plant the seed of reason and it will grow with them over time.
This doesn’t mean just sit there and nod your head. You should be making eye contact, repeat the question just to be sure you have heard it correctly and do a synopsis of what the other person has said in order to ensure understanding has occurred.
4. Don’t use personal anecdotes:
Make sure to stick to discussing YOUR atheism. Do not bring up negative past experiences in the family or that someone was a bad parent, sibling, partner, etc. Nor should they use your sexual trauma, drug addiction, or a form of abuse as your excuse for being an atheist; You are not “just mad at God”. That type of ridiculing back and forth will get both parties no where. Remember to be rational and show them how you have REASONED your way to atheism so they can REASON as well.
5. No true Scotsman: EXPLANATION -
This is common for religious friends and family to rationalize your “disbelief, backslidden nature” by saying that you were never a “real” believer at all. They will say that you didn’t really understand what “god” wanted in your life and no matter how devout you were or how involved in your church you appeared… you must have been faking it. Don’t let them get away with this. There are millions of former believers and pastors/ministers/priests/rabbis/imams that are now atheists. You cannot say that none of them were devout or that they “didn’t get it.” Your family has to accept that just because you believed in a god once for really bad reasons, you have changed your mind and don’t believe in god… for lots of really good reasons.
6. Be prepared to walk away:
Come back to the conversation when cooler heads prevail. If things are beginning to get heated please use “I” statements and easy to understand messages like… “when you say X, it makes me feel Y, which leads me to think Z…” If that isn’t enough, agree to disagree and walk away from the situation for no longer than 2 weeks. Don’t be argumentative. People meet aggression with more aggression. Stay calm and focused. While you can try to educate your friends and family, do not allow yourself to be dragged into a fight.
7. Give it time:
As much as it may hurt, some people in your life may need a little time to process this information. Give it to them. Sometimes its days, and sometimes its months or years, but often people need to let this information sink in a little before they can accept it. Remember not everything has to be hashed out in one meeting. You can ask the other party to let the idea of being an atheist soak in for a while and they can come back to you with questions or through email. Some people find email to be the easiest way to communicate about this because it can get too heated in person.
IF that doesn’t work… be ready to put a stake through their heart! (we do not endorse actual staking of real people… vampires are ok)
8. Agree on parameters of the conversation:
Are we sticking to Christianity? Are all religions up for discussion and review? Morality? Which means you will need to understand more on the basis of morality, which is empathy and a concern for the well-being of your fellow humans, rather than authority and fear of punishment. Sam Harris explains it well in this video.
9. Let’s face it… talking over food is easier:
Most times, it’s easier to do this over a meal. Especially if you are coming out to your parents. It allows you to have something to focus on other things than their reactions to you. Need a pause, take a drink. Do they need time to process? Take a bite, get seconds, or clear the table. Having any activity to do while discussing it can make it easier to get out the information and make you, and them, less nervous about the “big news” you are about to discuss. Remember it’s ok to be an atheist, they just don’t know it yet.
10. Be a proud atheist… Don’t act ashamed:
Make sure your body language reads as open. This means try to not cross your arms or legs, maintain eye contact (you have nothing to be ashamed of), keep your chin or head up, shoulders back or posture maintained, and speak with a clear and level tone. This may sound silly, but you’re delivering a very important message and you want to make sure everyone understands it. Make sure you speak in clear concise language. Don’t speak in metaphors or riddles. You want everyone to hear your message loud and clear.
10.5 (because 11 sounded dumb) “I don’t know” is ok:
If you don’t have an answer it’s ok. “I don’t know” is an answer. You don’t have to be an expert at everything and you can tell someone to check out good resources like SkepticsAnnotatedBible.com, AtheismResource.com, The Thinking Atheist , Evid3nc3 (YouTube), etc. There are a lot of resources online now and many atheists who are willing to help at any moment in time. If you are ever stuck and can’t find the answer please feel free to go to the WeAreAtheism Facebook page and just post it on the wall. I know our memebers will respond to you asap and you will have resources and good arguments for your repsonses.