4 Reasons I Love Being 'Out' as Nonreligious

ODD_Atheist_Billboard_Church_022da I have no firm opinion, really, on whether people ought to "come out" as nonreligious. To me, religion doesn't matter very much — aside from, you know, it being a constant focus of my life right now — so whether people choose to talk about it openly or not isn't a concern of mine. Sure, there are reasons to do it. There are reasons not to, as well. Everyone has a million different factors — not the least of which is their geographic location — to consider before making that call for themselves.

Not believing in God is not like being a gay, lesbian or transgender. Sharing your "status" with others is not required to live a normal, healthy life. Unless you choose to be an activist, you probably don't adopt behaviors that make you stand out as a None. You don't necessarily know or want to know where your friends fall on the religious spectrum. And even if you do, you may just prefer to remain silent — keeping your ambivalence, uncertainty or lack of belief to yourselves.

Fine, I say. Who cares?

Having said that, for me personally, being “out” has been wonderful. Here's why.

1. I enjoy shattering people’s assumptions. I don’t fit the media’s stereotype of non-believer — who does, right? — so it’s nice to be able to spread the “good word” that atheists, agnostics and other Nones are just as likely as the next guy to be engaging people, good parents and involved community members. I particularly enjoy slipping my atheism into conversation with religious people who already know and like me; it forces them to confront their own stereotypes. Always a good thing.

2. I like religious people more now. When you’re closeted, it’s way too easy to sit back and become preemptively resentful. We might feel pissed that others are “free” to share their views while we must keep ours to ourselves. We might assume that people’s reactions would be negative if ever we were to out ourselves. But when you’re out — and when you’re truly nice about it — the reactions from religious people are far more positive than negative. People may be curious. They may be confused. They may quietly disapprove. But, in my experience, religious people have been, outwardly, quite lovely about my lack of belief. (As lovely, incidentally, as I am about their belief.) They don’t insult me or shy away from me. They don’t avoid the subject (well, some do, and that’s okay!) or make snide comments. They don’t try to change me. And with every positive experience I have, I am more open and less judgmental of "religious people" as a whole.  I find that the more “out” I am, the better I feel about the people around me.

3. I'm setting an example for my child. Not believing in God is nothing to be ashamed of, but being open about our disbelief does — I believe — require a bit of finesse. We ought not just blurt it out it anger. We ought not invoke it as a weapon. We ought not talk about it excessively, just because we "can." I don't want my child to ever feel ashamed to share her beliefs with others — whatever those beliefs — but I also want to be a good role model for how to go about it without being a dick.

4. I’m opening the door for others. You wouldn’t believe how many people in our day-to-day consider themselves nonreligious; and the look of relief on their faces when they learn you aren’t religious can be priceless. It’s like the floodgates open. There’s this whole, rather fascinating aspect of your life — and theirs — that can be tapped for great conversation. By being open myself first, I’m showing others that it’s okay to make the first move. In fact, it can make friendships — and maybe life — even better.

'We'll Miss You When We're in Heaven and You're Not'

Religious breaks in any family structure can be painful. People who find out beloved relatives have "left the faith" can feel heartbroken, even angry. In a survey earlier this year, I asked nonreligious parents whether they had "come out" to their own families, and, if so, whether they'd received support. About 28 percent of the respondents answered yes and yes: They were open about their beliefs, and most of their family members had been supportive. About 18 percent answered yes and no: They were open about their beliefs, but most relatives had been unsupportive. The highest percentage — 37 percent — said they were open about their beliefs to some, but not all, thereby gaining support from those who were able to offer it, and minimizing tension with those who were not. It's not a bad strategy, really, considering that parents and grandparents scorned in matters of religion can be such a vocal sort. Consider these common refrains:

We just don't understand.

What did we do wrong?

How can you be a moral person and not believe in God? 

Aren't you afraid of what will happen after you die?

Why do you hate God?

We're disappointed in you.

You don't know what you're talking about.

You're confused.

You're rebelling.

You're extreme.

You're unhappy.

You're wrong.

This is a crisis of faith.

This is a phase.

This must be part of God's plan.

You'll snap out of it. 

You're a great person, except for this one thing.

We blame ourselves.

How can you do this to us?

It's not fair.

Even if you don't believe in God, God believes in you.

You should believe in God "just in case."

You shouldn't tell people.

You've been possessed by Satan.

We'll miss you when we're in heaven and you're not. 

And the old stand-by:

We'll pray for you.

Yep, sort of covers it all, doesn't it? You've got guilt, anger, insults, incredulity, resentment, fear, disrespect and denial. Good times! The problem is that in so many families, there is no wiggle room: God means moral. God means good. God means happy. God means truth. God means heaven. And the lack of God means, well, exactly the opposite: evil, sadness, pain, ignorance and hell. With that lineup of adjectives, it's no wonder parents are so desperate to stop the backslide.

If you've heard one (or more) of the above refrains, it probably means you've bitten the bullet and shared your beliefs. And that's so very commendable, if not always pleasant. With exceptions, being honest about our lack of faith simplifies our lives and really does benefit those around us — particularly, as it turns out, our children.

Must We 'Come Out' as Nonreligious?

Non2

I think most of us can agree that coming out of the closet when you're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is important. A person's love life is central to a person's life — in the same sort of way that mating is central to a bird's life. There's just no way around it. To forever deny such a basic, defining part of one's identity is bound to have deep detrimental affects. But coming out as nonreligious is different. Lack of religion isn't necessarily intrinsic to a person's life and happiness. Not believing something is passive, not active; to "not be" something, all you have to do is nothing.

Still, there are arguments to be made that nonreligious people have a duty to out themselves, especially when they have children who are looking to them as role models. And certainly, there are benefits to speaking "your truth," both for your sake and, many would say, for society as a whole. But there are drawbacks, too.

So help me out here: Have you "come out" as a nonbeliever to anyone? Why, or why not? And what difference did it make in your life?