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To Tell Or Not To Tell


R. S. Martin
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This is not so much a question for myself because I have basically made up my mind. But I see so many people posting on here about whether or not to tell friends and relatives about their deconversion. I thought having a thread to discuss the pros and cons might be in line.

 

For my own part, I've lied about my beliefs for too many decades and refuse to do so any longer. I lied because I trusted the Christians to deliver on their promises that when I'm older I will understand. Didn't happen. I decided this is it! I will rather be a persecuted atheist than a lying Christian. Except for on this forum and a few key people in real life, I'm in the closet and plan to stay there. Officially, even though there's a "church on every street corner," this Ontario town is a secular culture. I don't want to mess with that by volunteering my beliefs about metaphysics. This can be seen as hypocritical or lying by default. So be it. I am not outrightly lying by saying I believe Jesus is my personal saviour when I don't believe it.

 

I wonder if perhaps our religious upbringing has some impact on how open we think we need to be about our beliefs. I was raised in a church where it was strongly discouraged to talk about one's spirituality; talking about it was seen as bragging. I gather that very many people on this forum were raised in, or converted to, a church where they were expected to give testimonies about their beliefs and spiritual experiences, and that meeting or not meeting this expectation carried social rewards and punishment.

 

My personal hypothesis is that if you were taught that this is the only right way to be, then you will feel guilty for not talking. The purpose of this thread is to talk about the pros and cons of telling/not telling, weighing and discussing what is right or obligatory and what is not, and our reasons for it.

 

Anybody got any questions, comments, observations or other stuff on the topic they want to talk about?

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If someone invades my privacy and asks me directly, I tell the truth. Otherwise I mind my own business.

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Personally, I'm not in the closet, I'm just off to the side in a corner about my beliefs. I just hem and haw and not answer god talk, but I freely admit to practicing Buddhism if the topic warrents it. If I'm with like minded people, I freely talk about being an atheist. Otherwise, it's just nobody's business and they don't need to know what my spirituality is. Mostly that's because I don't want homicidal christian wackos on my tail.

 

I guess I'm lucky that nobody bothers to ask me. Christians and fundy types don't see me on their radar, so I rarely ever get harrassed.

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I haven't seen a great deal of people from church, except for a few of those of my own age that I knew from primary school or saw outside church occasionally anyway. If it comes up, I just say I'm not Catholic anymore. Even to my own ears it sounds strange...and I think it sounds odd to some of them too. Partly because, for most, being Catholic is a culture, not a chosen faith. It's like saying I've changed my race or place of birth. :lol:

 

My dad and step-mum have noticed because we occasionally talk about stuff like that, and obviously they knew something was up when I stopped going to church. It's not something I often discuss with my extended family, but I think they know I don't go to church any more. They go at Easter and Christmas, usually, and some make an effort not to eat meat on Good Friday...so they're not all that bothered.

 

Being the loudmouth that I am, my changes in belief have become apparent to my friends on the whole simply by what I say when there's a discussion or something. Oddly enough, that's how a lot of people know I'm gay. Instead of just 'coming out' with it, I'll just, in the course of conversation, say something like, "Yeah, he's hot," and wait for the, "Wait a minute...HE?"

 

I have an extraordinarily loose tongue, so I doubt I could hide my beliefs even if I wanted to. :D

 

But I do think it's better to be open about deconverting. I wouldn't want people thinking I believed something I didn't, even if that was only through my own ommission to mention it, but that's just me personally, being highly opinionated.

 

More generally, I suppose a pro might be that, perhaps, people will realise that atheists aren't all evil, immoral monsters that kill kids and sacrifice virgins on an altar dedicated to Darwin...or whatever shit the fundies have been spreading this week.

 

Then again, I live in Britain, so on the whole I'm safe from the hardcore of bible-bashing fascists.

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The only people who don't really know are my parents and my one sister. Everyone else knows, even my ex-wife and my sons that live with her. I was going to tell my parents outright, but then my dad and I had a blowout and I haven't talked with them much in months. I used to call them once or twice a week. I finally talked to my mom yesterday for the first time in about three weeks and I said something that I did at work (telling a guy who got physically violent at an event not to "fuck" with me.) and she said "great way to blow your testimony..."

 

My mom is a cool gal, but she is a fundy, though an intelligent and more open-minded one. I often wonder why she holds on to her faith. She and I went through a church scandal together and she's been treated like shit many times by her fellow church members. She's a very generous person and people take advantage of that.

 

So, anyway, I just didn't have the heart to tell her. I just glossed over it like she never said it. One of these days I will, if she hasn't already guessed. I wonder sometimes if she doesn't say things like that in conversation just to see where I'm at.

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So, anyway, I just didn't have the heart to tell her. I just glossed over it like she never said it. One of these days I will, if she hasn't already guessed. I wonder sometimes if she doesn't say things like that in conversation just to see where I'm at.

 

Interesting thought.

 

You know... you might hint at asking your mother sometimes whether she would rather know a truth or be left alone with a comfortable lie. Maybe you could couch it in some ethical issue at work.

 

I simply don't talk about it with my Mom. She is too old for that. Let her believe whatever.

 

My siblings simply have no choice but to deal with it.

 

Mongo

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My parents and siblings know, and most of the profs I've been working with since my deconversion. I told the profs in order to avoid embarrassing situations in public class discussions. I also told one classmate when we got to talking real personal stuff. Beyond that, I have felt very little obligation to mention it.

 

My landlady has not asked. She knows I don't go to church. I have been to church perhaps two or three times since I'm living here. She puts a really warm glow in her voice when she finds out that I am going to church. Once or twice there has been reference to God. I just let it all pass. The experience I had when family members found out (I accidentally let something slip) was so negative I just don't want to risk it with people I live with.

 

I play Dan Barker songs and I sing old-fashioned Christian hymns. She can't help but hear some of it. Mostly we just don't talk religion. She has had student tenants from all over the world. Surely not all of them were Christian. Religion does not seem to be a condition but not smoking and not drinking are conditions, and not having men over for the night. I do none of those things. And, outside music and not going to church, I keep my religious views to myself. It's an old survival technique for a person who has all her life had "weird ideas" about life and ultimate reality while existing in a hostile environment.

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Otherwise, it's just nobody's business and they don't need to know what my spirituality is. Mostly that's because I don't want homicidal christian wackos on my tail.

 

*thumbs up* :HaHa:

 

I guess I'm lucky that nobody bothers to ask me. Christians and fundy types don't see me on their radar, so I rarely ever get harrassed.

 

Same here. I still wear traditional Old Order Mennonite garb just because I don't want to go through another identity shift right now. When people see this and hear where I am studying they assume that I am "very religious." Last winter a neighbour gave me a ride and gave me that kind of response. I was open about not being sure that I am all that religious but I had not yet consciously deconverted. I had not figured out how to describe my beliefs in a few short words. I didn't feel obligated to do that until this past summer. And the consequences were severe. There is no incentive to tell and people seem not to care whether I come or go so long as I mind my own business, which I do.

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Guest Rammknot

The only people who know about me deconverting are a few friends, I think most people know how I feel about religion because of the music I listen to, but I have never confirmed it. Whenever people start talking about god, I usually try to stay out of it but if people ask me if I believe in god I normally don't feel comfortable unless its a close friend. I hope that soon I will be able to come out to my family and more friends but at this point and time I feel they may not be ready for it.

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I wonder sometimes if she doesn't say things like that in conversation just to see where I'm at.

 

You just might be right on that. Religion and scripture is discussed in my family from time to time so I did not suspect anything just because it cropped up. However, I am beginning to suspect that some conversations this past year were intentionally inserted to "make me think." What I would have been supposed to think about was my soul's salvation but I didn't know this--the thought never even occurred to me.

 

When I just took up the conversation for its own sake they got seriously upset and accused me of ulterior motives. It took me a long time to connect the dots and know what they might possibly mean by ulterior motives. I found the entire thing so hurtful that eventually it led to a total break with them. This group was of major help. This was back in Nov. through the holidays. Things still aren't fully settled but so be it.

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I don't think there's a one size fits all answer to this question at all.

 

On one end, we're weighing banishment from one's family, and on the other it's a piece of news thats no big deal at all.

 

Some were badly abused and screwed over by their families, and the family religion may have been one of the central tools for the abuse, while others may have had loving families.

 

Some may have been raised in the most rigidly extreme families, while others may have been raised in very religiously liberal families.

 

One may or may not anticipate persecution if s/he "comes out."

 

Terribly difficult for some, is that one is married to a very zealous xian, and then deconverts. And there may even be kids involved. I've seen the demonization the non believing spouse gets in fundy churches. It isn't pretty. It can almost be like "sleeping with the enemy." It can be a terribly difficult and complicated situation.

 

There's probably representation for all these and everything in between on this very board, and the answers to where one lies on the above scales by no means provides answers for any one individual as to how to approach things with their families.

 

And then there's friends, and then there's the world at large. I personally think we have more of a luxury with friends, not being born to them. If your friends reject or persecute you because you've deconverted, you'll quite honestly probably be better off with different friends.

 

The two places that are left for things to make a difference are with family, and with Big Brother. I hope that things in our country and in our world don't deteriorate to the point that it becomes a danger or serious handicap to be an atheist, or not a xian. Such conditions have existed in the past and it's not impossible for them to exist again in the future. Currently, there's merely some degree of personal advantage to being xian in this society--the advantage is a little more important if you need to "win people over," e.g., get their votes, their money, etc.

 

In general, I, too, am not in the closet, but more off in a quiet corner with my position on god.

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Reading this thread I have to say I'm amazed at the extent to which this is such a big deal. I don't know where you're all from, but I'm guessing the US? Because here in the UK I really can't imagine it being a big deal unless you were very seriously deep into you're faith community before leaving.

 

There are about 3 practising Christians that I know of in my year of about 80 people. And none of them ever volunteer opinions or talk about their religion. Most people couldn't care less.

 

peace

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Reading this thread I have to say I'm amazed at the extent to which this is such a big deal. I don't know where you're all from, but I'm guessing the US? Because here in the UK I really can't imagine it being a big deal unless you were very seriously deep into you're faith community before leaving.

 

There are about 3 practising Christians that I know of in my year of about 80 people. And none of them ever volunteer opinions or talk about their religion. Most people couldn't care less.

 

peace

I am from the US. With the exception of two rather unpleasant pieces of mail, it's been 4 years since I've heard from my mother, and yes, it's basically because I "came out." And no, I don't regret it.

 

Of course, I wish we were more like the UK and other places where it's more unheard of for something like this to be a big deal. And I'm not sure EXACTLY how Americans are perceived around the world (though I have an idea), but I think it really is a mixed bag here, and a continuum. You don't have to look very far to find either sane, reasonable people, or nut jobs who want to impose their Ultimate TruthTM on everybody else.

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shackled no more said:

 

Some may have been raised in the most rigidly extreme families....I've seen the demonization....It can almost be like "sleeping with the enemy." It can be a terribly difficult and complicated situation.

 

This feels about right for my situation. Had I been married--I shudder to think about it. I would have been totally trapped with absolutely no way out unless almost taken by force by someone on the outside. I am finding that even the "outsiders" of the area are hard-core fundamentalist. The only difference between them and us is that they adopt mainstream material culture.

 

If one is a child in such an extremely rigid and religious family/community--nay geographical area twenty miles square without radio, telephone, or TV, not only must one "sleep with the enemy," one also depends on the enemy for life itself, for one's very identity. This includes emotional, physical--everything one is. The power that is excercised over such an individual is cosmic, like an almighty ruler of the universe. Were it not for liberal Christians in the neighbouring city I would probably not be alive today.

 

These liberal Christians provided community, friendship, listening ears, alternative values, but most of all support in the form of unconditional love and a place to vent. It is not without reason that I refuse to condemn all Christians in one fell sweep. Christianity is not defined by the fundamentalists, no matter what the fundies think. One of these liberal Christians, who considers himself fairly conservative, asked me exactly why these fundies get to define Christianity. In other words, they don't.

 

Fortunately, the community I come from does not have a ban on literature. That allowed me to explore for decades before I actually left. I am now in the "neighbouring city." I thought I was safe here. I'm not. If I keep my mouth shut and am aware of the dangers, I can navigate. For example, last fall my aunt and uncle (who left the old order Amish and Mennonite groups fifty years ago) invited me over for supper and to attend church with them afterwards to hear a special speaker.

 

I knew from things my parents said that they belonged to a church that was so "slippery" as to "draw one in without realizing it" to convert to their religion. My parents came at it from a conservative religion that considered them to be lost to the world. I came at it from the opposite direction. I was hit by the irony that I agreed with my parents on this but for opposite reasons. I believed I was strong enough and smart enough to withstand whatever they subjected me to.

 

Repeatedly throughout the evening over supper, the conversation turned to religion. I just thought very carefully how to respond so as not to lie, but not to reveal my personal position, either. I don't know the name of their church or denomination, but I could tell right away that the sermon is thorough-going fundamentalist, no questions asked. Immediately after the sermon, before I had a chance to really collect my thoughts, my aunt started questioning me about various beliefs held by various churches. Suddenly she let up and said, "I think you're okay." That was when I understood the reason for her questions. For me, it had simply been an impersonal discussion of theology. At no point did she ask my personal position; she simply referred to the various churches. I spoke for the churches, not my own position.

 

So thoroughly were they convinced that I was "okay" or saved that in the end I had to tell them where I stood. A that moment they turned cold. All the same, the very fact that I was able to pull this off assures me that I can cope if I keep my mouth shut and am aware of the dangers. Readers may say but this was family. True. But I learned the hard way not to trust professional service providers here in town. Some of you may remember the story from other posts.

 

It started with my optometrist when I went for my regular check-up last summer. He obligated me to tell about my beliefs and ended up evangelizing me. He turned out to be Baptist. I had gone into his office assuming he was part of the secular culture of this city. That was a pretty rude awakening and led to all kinds of problems with my family. Maybe it had to happen so it might as well have happened by accident.

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Robbie, like I say in the my avatar, I'm in Ontario, Canada. Read my posts if you think it's no big deal. Maybe family and community does not mean much to you. In that case, I can see that it's "no big deal." I also know of a family in the UK where the apostate son is not loved as much by the parents as are his Christian brothers. Geography is irrelevant when one happens to be in a family and/or pocket of society that is extremely and rigidly Christian. Even so, the rewards of leaving out-weigh the persecution. Having a place to vent, however, is of critical importance.

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