August 10, 2009

Telling Your Family That You Are An Atheist

A family posing for a group photo socializes t...Image via Wikipedia
Disclosing one's atheism to one's family is often one of the most dreaded experiences many atheists will face. While it is certainly safer to wait until one is an adult and no longer living in one's parents' home before choosing to reveal one's atheism, age does not not necessarily make the experience of doing so any easier. In fact, it is quite normal to be fearful of making such a disclosure even as a young adult who is no longer living in the family home.

Our anxiety tends to focus on the manner in which disclosing atheism may affect how we are perceived and treated by our family. It is important to recognize that the impact of such a disclosure may be much broader than this. The way in which many faith communities shield members from outsiders in order to prevent exposure to contrary ideas often means that someone disclosing atheism risks more than the disapproval of the immediate family. The disclosure of atheism to one's family may entail losing access to one's entire support network.

As Richard Collins wrote at End Hereditary Religion (update: link no longer active),
Depending upon how insular their faith community was, leaving can be a wrenching, depressing experience that they face alone. The church and the people they have known all their lives are often the newly converted apostate’s only friends. Since leaving is seen as disloyal and a betrayal, their friends often abandon them. Millions of people leave a faith community every year and the pain they suffer is one of the dark shameful secrets that goes unrevealed in the major media and that is systematically covered up by the churches.
For more on this important subject, see the following: