Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Are Closet Atheists...Spineless Cowards?

I've been listening to some podcasts from The Thinking Atheist and was particularly drawn to "Help! I'm a Closet Atheist!"

This resonates so strongly with me because obviously I'm a closet atheist - I've worked in a Christian industry and a Christian company for nine years now. I've established myself professionally in a Christian environment. I've surrounded myself with Christian colleagues. More importantly, my closest friends and confidantes are Christians.

While I'm glad I'm not alone in being a closet atheist, I'm horrified at those who call us names like spineless and coward.

Wow. I don't care if you're Christian, atheist, or whatever - this kind of name calling just isn't cool. Have you walked in my shoes? Do you know what it's like to be me? What gives you the right to call me spineless?

Just the fact that I've admitted to myself, after careful thought and study, that I can no longer believe in God - that alone has taken tremendous courage.

If I came out of the closet, the first thing that would happen is I'd lose my livelihood. In the space of a moment, my family's income would be cut in half (right when I have a couple of kids headed for college). And it would be worse than simply getting laid off or fired: I'd be blackballed in my industry and unable to get a job.

Making it worse, there are literally hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people who would take my renunciation of Christianity as a betrayal. Yes, a lot of people know me. And there are probably at least a hundred who would take it as an absolutely personal and very painful betrayal. You'll have to excuse me if I don't relish the thought of this. The desire to spare many loved-ones real pain and worry is not spinelessness.

Until I find a way to make a living outside the Christian realm, I'm stuck without many good options.

But here's my bigger problem with people saying closet atheists are cowards. Do we really have to be willing to give up everything for the cause of atheism? Isn't that just as bad as giving up everything for religion?

Embracing my disbelief in God and renunciation of Christianity means freedom for me... and although I won't be totally free until I come out of the closet, I can still experience freedom in my mind and heart, which are now, for the first time in my life, all mine. I'm no longer sharing every thought and desire with this all-knowing god. I'm no longer wondering about all the inconsistencies in the Bible and Christian theology. I'm no longer in fear of somehow missing out on heaven. I'm free. And I want to embrace and enjoy my freedom in the way that I choose.

This means, I'll come out of the closet when I'm damn good and ready. And when I do, I guarantee it will take a LOT more courage than many of the name-callers have ever had to muster in the name of their atheism.


  1. You are not spineless...I am regretting that I asked my wife to tell her parents the truth about our de-conversion.

    I can really relate to your situation, I worked over 20 years in the CBA market. Almost 10 years for one of the major Christian music companies.

    I know how weird it felt when I decided to vote for a Democrat. And I was still a strong believer at that point. I could only tell one other co-worker, and that was at lunch as we spoke in whispers.

    I was on my way out of the CBA industry when my faith took a dive, so I was spared the agony you are now facing.

    1. Christianagnostic, thanks for sharing your thoughts here! I know what you mean about voting for a Democrat! I wish I could find a good way out of CBA and I know I will, but it will probably take a few years. Meanwhile, I need to be in the closet and hate being judged for it!

      Seems like no matter what you do, you're going to be judged... by the Christians, the atheists, everyone. I guess that's just human nature.

  2. I too am very well established, and respected, in my chosen Christian profession. I can relate to everything you say here. Coming out of the atheist closet is not as simple as some people think, in particular for those of us who would lose our livelihood for doing so (not to mention relationships etc.). We have a family to think about. Don't let anyone bully you into coming out of the closet. I, like you, have decided to stay in for now (and for very similar reasons). There's also the fact that it would break my mother's heart. You aren't alone in this. Thanks for putting yourself out there, I look forward to following along with your blog!

    1. I wonder if maybe your mother doesn't believe anymore either and just doesn't know how to stop.

  3. Rest assured that the vast majority of fellow Atheist "Get" exactly where you're coming from, support & sympathise with you. The last thing anyone needs is to be made to feel guilty for doing the right thing. There are people(Atheists) out there who'll disagree with you sure, but i think you can safely ignore athem until "They've walked in your shoes", Peace!

  4. "although I won't be totally free until I come out of the closet, I can still experience freedom in my mind and heart, which are now, for the first time in my life, all mine."

    This absolutely nailed it for me. I fight that feeling of cowardice constantly, and I feel I am somehow betraying those who have always know me in my passionate Christianity. But I know that this will mean a huge change not only for me, but for those around me. A fight. A possible loss of friends and family. A label of negativity that, catch 22, will only be broken as we ex-religious come out in the open.

    And some day I will. Some day that risk will be worth it to me. But that day has not come yet. Thank you for the solidarity, and for reminding me that not only are are we not cowards, we have a brave-ness that is all our own.

  5. Being in the closet was (and is) one of the most frustrating and challenging times in my personal life. Being honest and forthright about who I am and what I care most about is paramount to me--it's vital in my everyday life.

    I have thankfully gotten to the point where I am only closeted to my coworkers (as I also work for a Christian company) and one family member (because I'm an admitted coward where he is concerned). Still, everyone else knows. I am open and happy about it, and I think it makes a difference--in my life and in others'.

    I fully support you moving at your own pace. Courage and opportunity don't just pop up when someone says "Come out!"

    You're not alone, and those of us who are out or on our ways out will pave the way a little more for you when you're ready.

  6. Makes you wonder how many of us that work(ed) in Christian companies still believe?

  7. You are very courageous simply because you have done what so many are unwilling or unable to do: be honest with yourself. I was a fundamentalist Christian for more than twenty years and it took me some time to come out of the closet but I finally came to the conclusion that I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not. Granted, each case is different and yours is further compounded by the issue of your career. You will do whatever you need to do in order to be okay. And if you ever need a shoulder or an ear, this wonderfully accepting community is here for you. Myself included. Be well.

    --Nathan A. Ingold

  8. Would you mind my asking what factors made you choose atheism over God? I hear a lot of support here coming from other atheists, but no one is really asking your reasons for this choice. Mind you, I'm not judging and I'm not personally an atheist - I fully believe in God and Jesus. What I do not believe in is the church and I do not attend any church either. I've spoken with many atheists and there are many of them who do believe in God and when it really comes down to it, it is the church that has actually made them decide to become atheist and turn away from God. I've done a great deal of scientific study on this point and have come to my own conclusion that God does exist and that he is real. However, in looking much closer, I've also determined for myself that the Christian churches are corrupt and run by men and that God and the church are not one and the same and that they don't truly support one another. I have a blog you might actually find interesting - and if you decide to have a good read, I hope it won't waste your time to have a looksee.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I have been 'non-religious' (not attending church and actively avoiding any religious discussions or topics) for a long time but only recently accepted that I really don't believe in god. I am a forty year old man and I am married with two kids. My wife knows I am an atheist, she still believes but has some doubts. My parents and the rest of my family don't know, they are fundamentalists. My Children don't know. One of my children even attends church with his grandparents. That has been the hardest part for me, trying to reconcile my lack of faith with allowing my child to be indoctrinated in christianity.

    Most of the posts I have been seeing online have been heavily encouraging atheists to come out of the closet no matter what the consequences. I have been struggling with this as well. But I fear that the relationship I have with my family, who I love, would be severely strained if not completely severed. It just doesn't seem worth the risk to me. Perhaps I am a coward. I most certainly would like to be open and honest with my family but the risks just seem too high a price. Your entry here confirms a lot of what I have been struggling with and I really appreciated reading it.

  10. I know how you feel about not coming out - we have the same problem. But at least blogs and websites like this help a lot. is great,

  11. Everything you just said reflects how I feel. Only I'm 18 and living with my parents. They are incredibly religious, and I go to a very strict organised church. I've come to terms with my atheism, and it honestly gets better with time. I lost my boyfriend who is also atheist. He stopped attendeding church. And I feel so much emotional pain, but I don't delude myself with belief in deity. I'm happy that I am an atheist, even if I'm a closet one. Just remind yourself you will be able to tell people one day and that what you feel in your heart and mind is Your's and no one can ever take that away. Thanks so much for posting this. I cried reading this. It's good to know I'm not alone.

  12. Your blog is great! It takes a lot of bravery to examine long-held illusions. I totally support you handling this situation however you're comfortable doing it. It's heartbreaking to imagine the number of people trapped and living a lie--I bet there are more people like you than Christians want to think about! It's all very fine and good for other people to armchair quarterback and decide how they would handle a situation, but you're the one living that situation. You're the one whose family depends on you. If trash-talkers aren't willing to help you pay your bills or protect you from the harm that would result from coming out, then they've got no right to complain about how you're handling things.

    In time, the social backlash from coming out as a non-believer will become less and less of a factor. There are just about always risks of some kind in announcing dissent, and we've all got different levels of risk. My risk level was much lower than yours is--I was the wife of a Pentecostal preacher/youth minister but had no real involvement beyond volunteer duties, and neither of us drew a paycheck from the church for anything we did, so my risk involved purely social and marital factors. So I'm out, and there'll be people who see me and others like me and come out too. And as more of us do that, the penalty for dissent will drop as the burden gets shared, and between that lowered penalty and your own efforts to lessen your financial dependence on religion, you're sure to get to a point where you feel safe to come out. I've got confidence that you won't be living a lie forever.

    I'm glad I found your blog :) Thanks for sharing yourself with us like this.

  13. Do not feel guilty for not disclosing your true believe. Buddha's counsel is that "Every action will bear fruit. Act skillfully."

    Revealing will cost you not only economically but socially. Hence, you need to consider the fruit it will bear if you reveal.

    Act skillfully - act with thoughtfulness that maintains unity. An enlightened being sees how everyone is ignorant but does not tell people that they are ignorant. An enlightened being does not tell people that he/she is enlightened. It is not a lie. Enlightened being simply is enlightened to the true nature of reality and has no need to forcibly tell others that they are not enlightened.

    Everyone believes that there is a self in their individuality. Enlightened or spiritually awakened beings are aware that there is no-self. There is operating self but there is no soul or static self. Everyone behaves as if there is a self.

    As a non-Christian, you are enlightened to the truth of nature with respect to the presence or absence of god. There is no need to tell others that they are not enlightened.

    Simply, just show act of silence instead of praying. Simply avoid making any statements about Jesus or God. Eventually, it will come natural. You are not lying at all. You simply choose to be compassionate by not pointing out others who are ignorant.