Author Topic: How to tell your family you are an atheist.  (Read 5235 times)

Tank

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How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« on: June 15, 2010, 06:19:08 PM »
WARNING! This may not work!

Right, now the disclaimer is out of the way and expectation levels set I'll proceed. I have many years experience in sales, buying, product management and project management. To succeed in these areas one has to know how to negotiate. Telling your family or friends you are an atheist is a type of negotiation in that you want them to accept your world view as your world view.

The principles behind negotiation are to bring the other person to a point where they feel changing their mind, or accepting your view, is the right thing to do. I'll make no bones about it this is about hard nosed self interest. The most important negotiation tool is emotion followed by logic. Nobody ever agrees with an enemy, they may acquiesce but they will not agree. You'll never bully your family or friend into really agreeing with your world view, they'll just stop arguing. What we want is true agreement.

So in no particular order these are the things you need to consider.

Choose one person. Rome wasn't built in a day, don't expect to come out quickly to everybody. Who is the person least likely to freak out or possibly even support your position? You absolutely must not blurt out your new found atheism in front of an audience potentially hostile to your world view. Select one person, preferably the one who you are best friends with or you know for a fact loves you e.g. your Mum.

Do this at a time and place of your choosing. Choose your battle ground. Make sure you will have the full attention of the person you are going to disclose to and enough time to have a discussion, and also for the other person to cool down and assimilate what you have told them. Sometimes a car journey is a good place to do this, or a long dog walk or a fishing trip. Somewhere where the other person can't immediately call on reinforcements (You wait while I get your Father!) or shut down the conversation. You'll need at least a couple of hours of quality time to get this done.

Do not challenge their world view. This is critical, as you wish them to accept your world view, that you have to accept their world view in return. If you set your world view up as somehow superior to theirs you're done for. Sides will be taken and war will break out. Saying things like 'While I respect you're world view I don't feel comfortable with it, I need to find my own way.' is the way to go. This does not put the other party in the position of having to fight for their view. It also leaves the door open 'I need to find my own way.' This is giving them a place where they can accept your current position as it could well not be your final position. A number of religious figures have spent time on their own finding their own way. I seem to recall Jesus is supposed to have spent 40 days and 40 nights doing exactly this. So you're in good company. Do not take the line 'I'm an ATHEIST FU!'

Ask for help. There is nothing less hostile than asking for help, it is the ultimate submission and puts you in a very non-threatening light. The person you ask will immediately feel sympathy and worry and will wish to help you. Don't say you want help with your atheism (that's not up for negotiation). Ask the person if they love you. This will set off huge alarm bells and the person will immediately jump to the worst possible scenario from their perspective e.g. you're gay or pregnant (from a Fathers perspective  :) ). This usually sets their expectation level very low so if you then go onto something less terrible they will immediately feel relief. If atheism is their worst fear then you have lost nothing doing this. Tell them you need help telling the rest of your family/friends about your world view. Don't make atheism the issue, that's not negotiable, what you're looking for here is a comrade and ally in telling people about your new world view, whether they agree with that world view or not. Tell the person you are anxious about telling the others and you need their help.

Leave some slack in your argument. This is difficult but again crucial to successful negotiation, nobody likes to feel cornered or that they have somehow lost. Leave the other person some neutral place to stand. Say things like 'I'm not set on this but this is how I feel I must go on for the time being.' This allows the other person to stand near your position. The critical thing is that you've got the subject out into the open in a non-aggressive and non-adversarial manner.

You have a spokesperson. Once you have one person onside then get them to do the work with the others. Let them become your spokesperson, your defender. If your Dad is likely to explode get your Mum on side. She'll know how to deal with him and the reverse if it's your Dad you've 'come out' to.

I've never had to do this myself but years of professional negotiation have helped me hone my skills in this area of human interaction so I hope some of the above is of help.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2011, 11:30:58 AM by Tank »
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett

The Black Jester

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2010, 06:30:14 PM »
Well considered and helpful advice, thanks Tank!
The Black Jester

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pinkocommie

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2010, 07:41:49 PM »
I sure don't envy people who have to go through this.  :(
Ubi dubium ibi libertas: Where there is doubt, there is freedom.
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Laser Sailor

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2010, 09:34:31 PM »
Man, I wish I came across this advise a few months ago. . . My own "coming out"went poorly.
When I was little, I prayed to God for a new bike.
But then I learned that God doesn't work that way.
So I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness.

Tank

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2010, 07:48:54 AM »
Quote from: "Laser Sailor"
Man, I wish I came across this advise a few months ago. . . My own "coming out"went poorly.
Please feel free to tell your story here, one can learn a lot from badly handled situations, if only how not to do it. Annoyed to hear it did not go well.
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett

Laser Sailor

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2010, 05:20:31 AM »
I didn't have a plan in mind when it all came out. I stopped going to church, first with excuses, then without excuse. When questioned about my faith I denied misgivings and faked having faith. A person can only keep a lie going for so long eventually the truth has to come out. So I told my family flat out I do not believe in god and have no interest in going to church. My mother still insists that I am in fact a believer saying thigs like "You know the truth." and "We raised you to know and believe, you'll come back when you're done with this phase."  I tried to explain my thoughts with this note, which I pasted up on my facebook. It didn't help.

Quote
I don't believe that any of the major religions have all the answers, and I detest the dogmatic view of the world that they tend perpetuate. I was born into a strongly christian family. I was a strong believer for most of my life. About two years ago I took a class called "The way of the master" it was a course on evangelism and apologetics. The main point of the course was to circumvent a person's intellect and go after their conscience (emotions) in order to convert. This sparked me to dig into evangelism and apologetics, I couldn't find one reasonable, logical argument for christianity. Most of the arguments are based in circular logic or mere wordplay. This was also the time I was taking a lot of GE classes, and science classes. The more I learned about the scientific method the more I began to agree with it. The more I studied subjects like anthropology, geology, biology, and astronomy I found that they were all interconnected and theories and proofs in one dicipline supported theories and proofs in another. The theory of how the solar system was formed, an astronomical theory balances perfectly with proven geological forces at work in the earth today. Thus I came to the conclusion that the creation story was no more than myth. Then I took biology and anthorpology, learning the theories of evolution, and framing them with the proven facts of biology I came to the conclusion that the theory of evolution was pretty solid.

I mean it just makes more sense. Which sounds more reasonable?

That the processes we can observe and measure in the Earth and it's ecosystems today have always existed and are ongoing. They have been slowly changing the Earth and it's ecosystems for a very long time, and will continue to do so in the future.

Or

God made it all with his magic?

So I disregarded the Bible as fact and began to view it in it's cultural and historical context.
Many things in the bible strike me as wrong. Like stoning women to death for not being a virgin on her wedding day (Deut 22:21) yet there is not such punishment for a male. Or god ordering the jews to commit genocide (Deut 7:16-24).
These are some of the many problems I have with the bible. I can present more.
So I'm not a christian anymore. Has it changed me? Not really. I'm still the same guy I was before. Most of my morals are intact. In fact I'd say my moral reasoning has improved. I no longer oppress people because they are simply different (gays). In fact I have become a straight, gay rights activist. I believe the fight for equality is far more important than some petty religious rules. Yet I detest abortion, one shouldn't get to kill a baby because it's inconvenent. If there's a valid medical reason maybe, but not because someone acted dumb. Those are two hot topics right now, if you want my opinion on something else just ask.

Whew. I've never actually wrote all that down before. And getting it all out is somewhat therapeutic.

I know who I am.


My suggestion to anyone who wishes to "come out" is simply have a game plan, do not try to wing it. Also it's going to come out on it's own eventually, it'd wise for you to choose the place and time.
When I was little, I prayed to God for a new bike.
But then I learned that God doesn't work that way.
So I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness.

Obii

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2010, 08:22:30 PM »
It's really sad to me to see someone have to go through a deconversion process such as you. How can parents do that to their kids? They say they raised you to believe this certain thing, that you're going through a phase, that you "know the truth"... it makes my blood boil. My condolences, and best wishes in the future. Keep moving on the path towards REAL truth, and you will end up happy in the end.

Martin TK

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2010, 08:35:43 PM »
Quote from: "Laser Sailor"
I didn't have a plan in mind when it all came out. I stopped going to church, first with excuses, then without excuse. When questioned about my faith I denied misgivings and faked having faith. A person can only keep a lie going for so long eventually the truth has to come out. So I told my family flat out I do not believe in god and have no interest in going to church. My mother still insists that I am in fact a believer saying thigs like "You know the truth." and "We raised you to know and believe, you'll come back when you're done with this phase."  I tried to explain my thoughts with this note, which I pasted up on my facebook. It didn't help.

Quote
I don't believe that any of the major religions have all the answers, and I detest the dogmatic view of the world that they tend perpetuate. I was born into a strongly christian family. I was a strong believer for most of my life. About two years ago I took a class called "The way of the master" it was a course on evangelism and apologetics. The main point of the course was to circumvent a person's intellect and go after their conscience (emotions) in order to convert. This sparked me to dig into evangelism and apologetics, I couldn't find one reasonable, logical argument for christianity. Most of the arguments are based in circular logic or mere wordplay. This was also the time I was taking a lot of GE classes, and science classes. The more I learned about the scientific method the more I began to agree with it. The more I studied subjects like anthropology, geology, biology, and astronomy I found that they were all interconnected and theories and proofs in one dicipline supported theories and proofs in another. The theory of how the solar system was formed, an astronomical theory balances perfectly with proven geological forces at work in the earth today. Thus I came to the conclusion that the creation story was no more than myth. Then I took biology and anthorpology, learning the theories of evolution, and framing them with the proven facts of biology I came to the conclusion that the theory of evolution was pretty solid.

I mean it just makes more sense. Which sounds more reasonable?

That the processes we can observe and measure in the Earth and it's ecosystems today have always existed and are ongoing. They have been slowly changing the Earth and it's ecosystems for a very long time, and will continue to do so in the future.

Or

God made it all with his magic?

So I disregarded the Bible as fact and began to view it in it's cultural and historical context.
Many things in the bible strike me as wrong. Like stoning women to death for not being a virgin on her wedding day (Deut 22:21) yet there is not such punishment for a male. Or god ordering the jews to commit genocide (Deut 7:16-24).
These are some of the many problems I have with the bible. I can present more.
So I'm not a christian anymore. Has it changed me? Not really. I'm still the same guy I was before. Most of my morals are intact. In fact I'd say my moral reasoning has improved. I no longer oppress people because they are simply different (gays). In fact I have become a straight, gay rights activist. I believe the fight for equality is far more important than some petty religious rules. Yet I detest abortion, one shouldn't get to kill a baby because it's inconvenent. If there's a valid medical reason maybe, but not because someone acted dumb. Those are two hot topics right now, if you want my opinion on something else just ask.

Whew. I've never actually wrote all that down before. And getting it all out is somewhat therapeutic.

I know who I am.


My suggestion to anyone who wishes to "come out" is simply have a game plan, do not try to wing it. Also it's going to come out on it's own eventually, it'd wise for you to choose the place and time.

Well said, and very similar to my own deconversion story.  I think the best advice I could give is don't allow the pressure to "go back to living the lie" get the best of you.  I know the allure to just lie to everyone for the sake of peace is very attractive, but for your own mental health, it isn't worth it.
"Ever since the 19th Century, Theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are NOT reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world"   Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

lookitsaustin

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2011, 04:23:50 AM »
My close family knows I am not religious, but my grandpa knows I am an Atheist. We were talking when he asked if I believed in God and I flat out said "No.", he wasn't really taken aback about it. I am lucky enough to have a pretty cool family. He said he would still pray for me and I told him that that would be fine with me. When he said that, I told him that if I was him I would be doing the same thing. He told me that he did not understand what I meant, I told him that if I were a Christian and I knew someone in the family was a non-believer that I would pray for them as well.

My parents live 9 hours away and when they visited last year I gave my mom a copy of "The God Delusion" hoping they would read it but she called me later that week and said they had nothing but bad luck once they got it and that she would either throw it away or send it back, I asked her to just send it back.

It really saddens me that my parents are wasting their lives and effort for something that too me is so childish...... I really do hope they see the light one day.

If they asked if I didn't believe at all I would tell them, but other than that I don't really bother with it.

As a side note of proof: I didn't tell them I was gay until my dad finally asked when I was 21, :|

periwinklefish

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #9 on: January 12, 2011, 09:10:54 AM »
:)

Tank

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2011, 03:34:00 PM »
Bump for n00bs :)
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett

Poptop

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2011, 07:40:48 AM »
Clear advice.  I've not heard a 'how to' on coming out. Thanks.

Tank

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #12 on: May 29, 2011, 07:46:23 AM »
Clear advice.  I've not heard a 'how to' on coming out. Thanks.

Appreciated. It's very difficult giving advice like this as a) I've never had to do it and b) all situations are unique and sometimes very different. So at best it'll be a generalisation. And the synthesis is 'take control' of the situation don't let the situation take control of one.
If religions were TV channels atheism is turning the TV off.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” ― Richard P. Feynman
'It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.' - Terry Pratchett

LukevanVeith

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2011, 08:58:15 AM »
This is gonna be hard for me... But thanks :)

Good and Godless

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Re: How to tell your family you are an atheist.
« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2011, 10:56:20 PM »
I'm just now reading this thread.  I'm fairly new and slowly making my way through the forum.

Anyway, I recently came out to my father when he was visiting in August.  Even though I didn't read your advice, I just happened to do most of what you said, and it went surprisingly well.  He did say, "Well, I went through the same thing when I was your age.  Now, I know there's a god and that he has done some things for me in my life."  I didn't really like the implication that I will one day re-convert.  I get the de-converters like myself.  I don't really understand people who go the other way.  I would think it would be more difficult to be brainwashed as an adult, but I guess most people just need something to believe in.  My dad converted for my mom, and you know the saying "love is blind."  Love can be dumb, too.

To get back on track, we had a great conversation.  I think two of the important points Tank makes is to leave slack in your argument and respect the other person's world view.  Your "coming out" is not the ideal time to try to talk sense into believers.  Fortunately, my dad wasn't argumentative with me.  He did ask me what I thought about my mom, since she died of ovarian cancer about 8 years ago.  He asked if I thought she was "just gone."  I told him that yes, I think she is gone in that she isn't up in heaven or hovering around as a spirit somewhere.  However, I think she lives on in my memories, in the genetics she passed on to me and my kids (she sadly did not live to be a grandmother), and in the stories I will be sure to tell my kids about her so that they "know" her as an influence in their lives.  He nodded his head at that and seemed satisfied.

Overall, I was happy with the conversation and feel it brought us closer as a father and daughter.  My dad's history as an atheist helped make him sympathetic to my worldview, even though he clearly thinks this is a fleeting "phase" in my life.  I imagine it might be more difficult to come out to a person who has never been skeptical.

Good luck to anyone who has this conversation!
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