Many of us have friends and family members who think we share their religious views. But what if we are religiously unconventional – atheists, agnostics, naturalistic theists, neo-Pagans, or just too creative to classify? Shall we tell others about our theological differences? And if so, how?
I’ve recently read a series of thoughtful comments about this issue on a web site called THE CLOSET ATHEIST.
This blogger is a young woman who attends a Christian college and has Lutheran parents. She recently wrote about a successful effort to tell a friend about her non-belief, but indicated that it’s still hard to imagine telling family members. Here are a few comments posted by her readers:
“Ask them whether they think someone should be free to believe in Christianity if they live in a Muslim community, or Judaism if they are in a Hindu community. Being an atheist is no different to that.” I agree, and this approach could be helpful in dealing with friends who are fairly open-minded. But I can’t agree with the next comment:
“Ask them if they consider themselves to be a Fascist, because if they don’t respect your right to freedom of belief, that is undoubtedly what they are!”
I’m confident that this line of questioning will shut off positive communication. It may indeed seem odd that so many people don’t grant others true freedom of belief. But this just points up the limitations of human nature as it’s developed so far. People live by agreement with others. Disagreement about such a fundamental point is deeply unsettling to many, many people. Another comment:
“… to the majority of people who are religious, I try to put out the concept that we have a common interest -to have a more loving, peaceful world.” Yes, look for common ground!
“Personally, if I knew you IRL [in real life], I would want to know how you really think and feel. I don’t want you to be afraid to live as yourself and not as a dancer in a masquerade.” Lovely, well put.
“… it’s OK not to tell them everything all at once. For many de-converts, including me, it took a while to discard belief … If you just drop this whole thing on your folks, that’s expecting them to be able to deal with your change all at once. If there’s any way to let them in on your journey a little at a time, with time in between to see that you have not become an evil person, that might help ease them into it.”
This line seems well worth repeating: “with time in between to see that you have not become an evil person.”
“It’s not because YOU’RE atheist it’s because it challenges THEIR own belief and they were all comfy and secure in their belief and now you’ve resigned from the club. Yikes!!”
“… I tend to use the term “non-believer.” Whether we agree or not, Christians have been taught that ‘atheist’ is a bad word (almost as bad as a ‘cuss’ word!” Right. Some words tend to shut down clear thought and constructive communication.
If in doubt, watch the other person’s body language and facial expressions. Start with less threatening comments, notice reactions, and keep going if it seems safe to do so.
And good luck to us all, believers and unbelievers alike!
Roger Christan Schriner
For my main web site, click http://www.schrinerbooksandblogs.com