If you’ve read any of my blog posts about my life before, then you’ll know that one of my greatest struggles is my fear of coming out to the world as an atheist. Through writing and talking to my readers, I’ve somewhat made a plan for coming out, and I know a little about what to do, who I can tell, and who I should wait to tell. If you want more of a backstory on that, I recommend taking a look at How to Tell Your Friends That You’re an Atheist.
In my post on telling my friends that I’m an atheist, I mentioned a friend that I was dying to tell. I had planned on a day when I would come out to her, but on that day, I ended up being sick and staying in bed. Five months later, I finally told her. In that post, I said that, if I’m ready, the best way to come out to someone is when it comes up in conversation and becomes a relevant piece of information, but doing it that way isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve found myself avoiding any situation in which it would come up. For example, if someone asks me if I went to church today, I would say “no” and stop there.
One of the main reasons I wanted to tell this friend that I’m an atheist was because of this blog; she’s a writer and would probably be shocked to see that I am one, too. She’s a Christian, but I knew that she knows other atheists and that she wouldn’t try to convert me. I decided that it was time to tell her when she invited me to a group prayer, which made for a good opportunity for me to tell her why I declined to attend. The conversation went exactly how I expected it to:
Me: “So…. [awkward pause because coming out makes me extremely uncomfortable and weird] I’m….. an atheist…… and I have a blog where I write all about it!!”
Friend: “You’re….a writer!!??!?!??!”
Me: very appreciative of the topic changing from atheism to blogging because I don’t like to talk about it
As I predicted, my friend was really accepting of the fact that I was an atheist; in fact, she had already guessed it after I declined going to the group prayer. But her acceptance didn’t change how much I dislike coming out. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t really make a difference who I’m telling, from my roommates, to my classmates, to my friends. Even after my first post almost a year ago, when I tried getting myself used to saying “I am an atheist,” to be honest, I’m still not comfortable saying it to people. I think this is because it immediately creates a wall, which may or may not be entirely in my head, between me and the person who I’m telling in which they’re a part of my school’s Christian majority and I am not. Suddenly I’m part of a minority, who people accept but still disagree with, and who is pitied for having to live as a poor atheist in a Christian college, who won’t fit in the same way again after announcing that she’s different than everyone else.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was at band camp with one of my best friends. Although it was a public high school, my friend, and presumably most of the student body, was Christian. An alumnae who neither of us had met before came back to visit our section leader, and she mentioned that she had converted to Wicca, which is a very harmonious and peaceful religion (if it may be called that), which, if I remember correctly, she said believed that there are spirit guides in nature and in the trees, etc.
At the time, I believe I identified as agnostic; I didn’t believe in God, but I was entirely in the closet. As far as everyone, including my friend, knew, I was a Christian.
As soon as this poor girl told us that she was a Wiccan, my Christian friend lost it on her. She was so, so angry that someone could reject God, not believe in Christianity, believe in such silly things as tree spirits, and not submit to Jesus Christ as their lord and master for all eternity. I watched in terror.
I don’t remember the rest of their argument, but afterwards, my friend asked me how in the world, as a true Christian, this girl announcing that she’s a Wiccan didn’t infuriate me. I was shocked. Were all Christians supposed to show this kind of outrage when encountering those of other beliefs? I was so confused, as I was someone who lazily identified as a Christian because she had to but didn’t believe in God. Atheists were filthy and bad, but I was one, and for reasons like this, I wouldn’t admit it to myself until five years later.
I think that encounters such as this one with my friend and different talks that I’ve had with my mother have instilled in me a fear of coming out that is there no matter who it is that I’m telling. Being an atheist shouldn’t be a big deal, but it causes me to believe that my friends will perceive me in a different way, whether they do or not.