In a society that largely takes the existence of God for granted, it can be difficult for non-believers to express themselves to friends and family. But there are some methods that can make it easier for atheists to broach this controversial subject.
In many families, it’s actually considered taboo to even discuss religion or politics at all. But if you stay true to that rule, you’ll end up ignoring your family members’ positions on some of the most important topics in life. And there are practical matters to consider, too, such as how to handle church invitations or questions about potential baptisms of any newly born children. Either way, if you’re an atheist with believers in your family, the topic is bound to arise eventually.
Studies from the Pew Research Center have highlighted a “rapidly growing” group dubbed the “nones,” because they don’t identify with a religion. Largely made up of young people who were raised in a faith but later left it, the “nones” are changing how religion is seen in the U.S. And while not every single “none” is an atheist, it’s clear that the younger generations are disregarding religion at rates never seen before, and that more Americans than ever are going to have to inform their families that they don’t share their faith. With a stigma against atheists that often paints us as Satan worshipers or even worse, that task can be daunting for some non-believers.
But for many people who don’t believe, the time for delay is coming to an end. And if you are a non-believer hoping to live your life honestly, and you’re wondering what to do next, here are some tips:
PLAN OUT WHAT YOU’LL SAY AND WHEN YOU’LL SAY IT – If deciding to tell loved ones about your de-conversion is the first step, then timing and planning the delivery is the second. Planning can prove to be very helpful in this area in that a spontaneous, off-the-cuff, announcement through an argument can catch your family off guard, leaving yourself and loved ones unprepared.
THE EARLIER YOU SPEAK UP, THE BETTER OFF YOU ARE – It may seem like a cliché, but, in the context of speaking out to family about controversial subjects, time generally does heal all wounds. Religious family members may be upset to hear about your lack of faith in the tradition that they practice, but time will always help those who truly love you to understand and accept that you simply aren’t convinced by the claims made by any world religions.
EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST STARTING TO HAVE DOUBTS, EXPRESS THEM – Expressing your doubts in religious institutions as early as you begin having them can help you transition smoothly into an openly non-religious life while making sure your doubts aren’t misunderstood. This is not to say that the first time you question religion you should immediately tell your family that you’re an atheist, but openly expressing doubt may help plant the seeds with religious family members for a future revelation. What it does mean is that, if you are sure that you want to share your secularism with your family and friends, then the earlier you make the information known, the earlier they can solve their own issues with your deconversion and accept your choices, hopefully ensuring everyone’s happiness.
DON’T MAKE ANNOUNCEMENTS DURING A FAMILY FIGHT – As tempting as it may be to yell exactly how you feel when tempers start flaring, that’s probably the worst time to make an important disclosure. As you might expect, it is usually considered bad form to ‘come out’ in an argument about religion—and it is certainly in poor taste to purposefully belittle one’s beliefs. This type of confrontational behavior will ensure that your message is delivered to family in a time of stress or tension and will subsequently convey those negative feelings; in most cases, that only serves to make the acceptance process more difficult for you and your family in the long run.
IT’S NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE MINDS – When talking to family about something as controversial as a difference of opinion over faith, it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t your job to convince them of anything. These are beliefs that have been flourishing and fortifying in some cases since childhood and today may provide comfort for those who fear the unknown or even retain a fear of purposelessness in a more general sense, and they will not be easily shaken. Nor is it your responsibility to de-convert your family; instead, think of it as your obligation to present your opinions in a logical manner, educate loved ones on your motives for separating from religion if prompted, and love your family no matter what they believe. After all, it is a person’s actions that define them—and not their belief system or lack thereof.
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The percentage of Americans who are dropping religion increases every year, so the chances are if you aren’t questioning your faith, someone you love just might be. And wherever you are in your journey to answer the world’s most important questions, keeping these tips in mind will help you interact with family members about the contentious topics of religion and atheism without severing important familial connections.
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