Advice for “Coming Out" as an Atheist

| by Luke Muehlhauser

Many people contact me for advice about what to do now that they’ve become an atheist. How should they ‘come out’ to their religious friends and family? It’s a tricky situation.

Here is my advice.

It’s almost certainly a good idea to go public with your unbelief. Living a lie is no way to happiness and fulfillment. The question is when and how to ‘come out.’

If your situation is extreme, such that coming out will cause you to lose your job and all your relationships, then you should extract yourself from that unhealthy situation before you come out. If your whole life depends on your Mormon community, and they will break all contact with you if you come out as an unbeliever, then first you need to make some non-Mormon friends and get a job outside the Mormon community.

But for most people, coming out as a skeptic need not mean the loss of a job or family. It will mean more stressed relationships, perhaps, but you can focus your efforts on making things work despite the tension. Place priority on your relationships and your financial support, not on proving to everyone that their worldview is deluded. Make your loss of faith a personal thing that is about you, not about their irrationality. Say things like, “I just can’t believe any more.” Better for people to pity you than to be angry with you, though both are annoying.

Feel free to engage with all-out arguments about the existence of God with strangers, but when it comes to your family it’s probably more important to show them continued love and respect and affection than it is to introduce those particular souls to rationality.

On the other hand, if your family and closest friends seem to be open to rationality, or are in general persuadable, it may be valuable to gently offer up your reasons. Maybe they’ll be persuaded, and their lives can be freed from centuries-old dogmas, too.

Coming out as an unbeliever to your fundamentalist spouse may be the trickest situation of all. I know a surprising number of marriages that have survived this departure in worldviews, but they often survived just barely, and of course many marriages do not survive this. On the other hand, for how long can you live a lie? One may also need to consider children, who generally are negatively impacted in a major way by the divorce of their parents. On this subject, I have no advice that can generalize. You’ll need to think through the utilities and probabilities of the situation on your own.

My own experience? I didn’t lose a single friend or family member for switching from fundamentalist Christianity to rabid atheism.

Perhaps most importantly, have lots of conversations with lots of atheists. Be open and honest about your situation. You’ll hear lots of perspectives. You’ll find lots of other people who went through your situation in the last few years. You’ll realize there’s a huge community that you can join. You’ll see a variety of ways to see the world without gods.