General Question

dxs's avatar

Should I tell my family that I am not Christian?

Asked by dxs (10511 points ) September 15th, 2013

I’m away studying right now, so I am not with anybody in my family. I call my aunt a few times each week and talk to her a lot. I also talk with my grandparents a bit. They all still talk about things like going to Church and God. They asked if I found a church nearby. I said “yes” but haven’t been going because it’s far away. That’s true, but not the main reason I didn’t go. I am a very honest person, and I am always truthful, especially to people I respect such as my aunt and my grandparents. But agreeing with religion is a hard thing to avoid denying. I respect them a lot, and they are very nice. They are not crazy religious Christians or preachers or anything; they’re Catholic. More about morals than the bible. Should I tell them? If so, how should I approach it?

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55 Answers

DWW25921's avatar

If you tell them than they will feel that they failed you somehow. It’s a guilt thing. The best thing to do is just not bring it up. I mean, why cause them stress? Do they really have to know?

glacial's avatar

Personally, I would be truthful about it when asked. Only you can guess how it would affect your relationship with them. In my life, it has not been serious because my close family is agnostic in all but name anyway. But I hold plenty of beliefs that they do find difficult, and I have never shied away from expressing them.

Seek's avatar

In my opinion, it might be better to just let it happen organically.

When you’re visiting, attend Mass as you normally would, but don’t partake in the sacrament. It will be obvious to others, but it’s inappropriate for them to ask you why you didn’t take Communion.

If someone offers you the honor of saying Grace over a meal, politely decline.

Catholicism offers many opportunities to gracefully show your apostasy without making a big deal about it.

dxs's avatar

@DWW25921 The problem is that situations like the one mentioned always come up, and I try my best to beat around the bush. I can’t lie but I can’t just blatantly be truthful about it either. @Seek_Kolinahr I have taken steps like that. I don’t say anything at Mass and I don’t even receive the communion, granted I’m always behind her. But even then I am afraid of anyone figuring out because it’s just going to cause problems. My aunt is a very sensitive person. She’s one of those people who has a very defined comfort zone that she can’t bear to fall out of. So, if she finds out that I am not Catholic, that will be out of her comfort zone and I don’t know how she would handle it. I’ve been waiting to be asked about it by all of these small signs, but so far nobody has said anything, and it makes me hate myself because I feel like I am lying to them.
Thanks for answering everybody!

gondwanalon's avatar

This is no big deal. There is no need to rock the boat. Religion is a harmless game to play. If it pleases your family to think that you believe in God, Jesus or whatever then why not just go along with it. It is no skin off your nose. Just let it be.

I don’t believe that Jesus is God but I see that others like it when I say that I believe. I say that I like Jesus and everyone is happy and the subject is changed. There are no awkward moments and everyone is happy. I really believe that I want to believe in Jesus. And it is cool to think that the bible might have some truth to it.

marinelife's avatar

Why is it important that you tell them? You will open yourself up to having to defend your beliefs. I would just not talk about religion.

filmfann's avatar

Be honest with them. I hope you find your way back.

Pachy's avatar

I say kudos to @dxs for finding a way forward.

fundevogel's avatar

I sorta dropped my atheism on my dad like a rock. Granted, he was the first person in my family I told and the one I was least worried about, but it was still sort of a I’m-going-to-run-into-this-wildly-flailing-my-arms-because-i’m-scared-and-nervous. Honestly the only turbulence in that particular event was from me.

However, it went differently with others. Specifically after I told my dad he told me not to tell my mom, that it would break her heart (side note my parents had been divorced like ten years so they were very different entities). I listened to him because I respected his judgement and I knew how important religion was to my mom. This was a bad decision. Like you I don’t like to lie to people and losing my religion changed me profoundly. For the first time in my life I was able to sort out the world and what I thought of it for myself, listening to others, but knowing none of them had the authority or knowledge to impose their beliefs and morals on me. It was amazing. And it was obvious I was different. Because I was honest I didn’t try to hide the new things that were in my head and it became obvious to both me and my mother that we were avoiding the matter of my faith and it was hurting both of us.

So I year after I told my dad, I told my mom. It did hurt her. She did feel like she had failed me, which in turn hurt me because it told me she thought there was something wrong with me. Something that I had worked hard to find in myself. But ultimately I it was the right thing to do and I think that both my father and I underestimated her when we thought she couldn’t handle the truth. I’m glad I told her. That sort of deceit, even without technical lies, was killing us.

I don’t know what sort of relationship you have with your family or what they’re like. I certainly don’t feel like I owe everyone an explaination of my beliefs and opinions. You pick your battles. Ultimately you’re the only one that can figure out which ones are worth it.

rojo's avatar

Tell them you are a Satanist. Once they come to then you can tell them that actually, you are not really, you are ONLY questioning your religious beliefs. It won’t seem as bad.

ETpro's avatar

I feel very strongly that in a society where Christian Fundamentalists are trying to change school science curricula to require teaching young earth Creationism; and succeeding in Texas, Tennessee and other states; it is incumbent on atheists and agnostics to be open in opposing them. Of course, when it comes to immediate family, then keeping relationships that are vital to you intact carries great weight as well. Use your best judgment about how an open admission would affect your parents. Was it Sun Tzu who said, “First decide whether that’s a hill worth dying for.”?

jca's avatar

I wouldn’t tell them. I figure they’re on a “need to know basis, and they just don’t need to know.”

CWOTUS's avatar

It all depends on why you might feel a need to tell anyone. If you’re asked to do something that would dishonor you (or another) by participating less-than-wholeheartedly, then it’s time to say something; your hand is forced then. If you’re just chatting with the family and making conversation, then there is no need. Between those two points is a pivot point where it’s “do-I-or-don’t-I” tell them. It’s going to be up to you to discover / decide where that point is and how you make your announcement at that point.

So you might want to work on the announcement that you will (probably) have to make some day, and continue to think about when you might have to do that.

antimatter's avatar

If your family truly loves you and respect you they will not love you for your religion, but they will love you for who you are. I had the same problem when I told my family that I am not Christian and had the same questions like how would they react ext… My Advise is taking one step at a time. First tell the family members who you think will take it easier and than let them be comfortable with your decision and get their support first and than move on to the rest. Remember telling the truth is very important and what ever you do don’t condone their religion. Give them an honest and truth full explanation, I don’t know what is the reason why you changed your religious view points, but make sure you have all the answers because there may be a lot of questions and if you are not Catholic it does not mean you are not a Christian. Once opening this can of worms there’s no way closing it again.

Sunny2's avatar

I’d put it off as long as you can. There’s no need to upset them. School can keep you very busy and unable to attend. Mention it only when they press you for answers. Then be honest, but gentle. Confrontation is a final answer to an open question.

ragingloli's avatar

Yes, next time they bring it up. I also hope you can show them reason and turn them into atheists.

JamesHarrison's avatar

If you an honest person so why you are doing wrong thing with your family. I think family is the best part of our life & I don’t think so there are something to hide with them. You should have to tell them about you properly.

Seek's avatar

If you feel that your really need to be “out”, and only you will know when you’re ready, be prepared for a wide variety of reactions.

It took over a year for my husband to accept my apostasy from my first mumbled “I don’t know if I even believe in god anymore” – his reaction “of course you do, I don’t want to hear that again!” – to him watching a DVD of a series of Hitchens debates with me.

Be prepared for a long road to acceptance.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think you definately should tell them, but when you’re face-to-face.

When I converted against my family’s wishes, it went over like a lead balloon, and I just changed from Baptist to Catholic, I still believed in the trinity.

Personally, I would let them say everything they need to say so THEY don’t feel like they failed you, in teaching you or raising you. Be kind, it’s hard.

dxs's avatar

@fundevogel I’m just like you in comparison to thinking and my family! I’m the “different” one. It goes far enough to lead to arguments.
You may think it’s just some easy thing to express to them, but keep in mind, these people are from the older generation, and religion is a very big thing to them. It’s a big part of their life and they make it a big part of mine, so that is why I feel it’s important to tell them.
I won’t say anything now, but eventually will. I think it’s only fair since that’s how they raised me to be. Ill have to think of some way to tell it to them. Thanks for the help everybody!

hsrch's avatar

Do not be too quick to announce your beliefs to others. Christianity may be useful to you in a future career as “protective coloration”. Certainly in politics as well as many other professions where one comes in contact with the general public – especally in a business/social environment. PC is quite useful and valuable in the South.

dxs's avatar

@hsrch
What is “protective coloration”? I’m probably not going to stay here in the South. I don’t even know if I’m actually in it, honestly.

ETpro's avatar

@dxs “Protective coloration” is an interesting euphemism for being politically correct among a group who claim to hate political correctness, but who insist everyone always be politically correct according to their particular brand of politics.

glacial's avatar

@ETpro I think the phrase “protective coloration” in this instance is a euphemism for lying about who you are in order to gain acceptance in a powerful group that wouldn’t otherwise accept you.

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dxs's avatar

Either way, I still don’t get how “protective coloration” has to do with to telling my family about my lack of Christianity. They’re not politicians or employers, they’re my family. Why would they use something like my religion against me?

ragingloli's avatar

children have been kicked out of their homes because the christian parents found out that the children were not believers.

http://www.atheistrev.com/2011/05/damon-fowler-kicked-out-of-parents-home.html

Religion simply is more important to some than family.

hsrch's avatar

ETpro has a good definition of protective coloration – which, of course is a biological term. I agree that PC has nothing to do with the original problem of dxs. I only wanted to comment about some disadvantages of ‘coming out of the closet’. Christianity and Christians are a powerful force in the US – especially in certain regions. Being known as non-religious may perhaps be harmful economically and socially. It may be prudent to remain silent on the issue.

dxs's avatar

@hsrch “It’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not.”

hsrch's avatar

@dxs Bravely spoken. Your actions, however, may cause quite a bit of grief to other family members. It seems to me there is an ethical dilemma here that you will have to face. Sincere good luck to you.

Erich's avatar

Well you can look out for a church that is near your place and try to go there sometimes, then you can tell your grandparents that you are trying to stay in touch with christianity even if you don’t care about it so much right now…

fundevogel's avatar

@hsrch I take issue with the idea that it might be unethical to be honest about who you are because the mere knowledge of that may cause others hurt or discomfort. It’s a bad road to go down when the acknowledgement of simple fact becomes “dangerous”, especially one that is often very important to the person expected to supress it. Such suppression in itself can be harmful. It might seem like nothing to closet a part of who you are when you’ve never had the need, but stop and think about how it would actually feel to make secrecy and deceit a part of our every day life because of the expectation that part of you is unfit for human consumption (so to speak).

It’s a selfish thing to others to protect your own sensibilities at the expense of their own. And at the very least how can a person really be expected to intuit the limits of anyone but themself? You should know that we find our own boundaries by testing them. This is natural and healthy. There is nothing healthy in guessing just which of your features is unexceptable and then, from that guess, practicing systematic self-supression.

It can sometimes have utility, but only because sometimes it is better to hide if we live in a situation where the truth would result in unreasonably negative consequences.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@fundevogel Well, the OP did write that they’re very religious people, it sounds a lot like my area, when church and everything is really important.

If he doesn’t speak up, he is hiding his authentic self from the people who love him and want his happiness, which is not cool. He deserves better and so do they.

If he does speak up, he may be alienated from their affection, it could make his time with his family very difficult.

hsrch's avatar

@fundevogel – An independent thinker develops a consistent philosophy for his life based on his own ethics and morality. This is often slowly developed over a lengthy period of time and is influenced by experience, thought and study.

What @dxs proposes to disclose will be quite hurtful for those family members with strong religious beliefs. They will fear for his immortal soul and they were looking forward to being with him in the afterlife. This is serious stuff! He should not proceed without careful, thoughtful consideration of the gains and losses to him and to his kinfolk.

I understand your point of view and do not dismiss it. It has valid, valuable ideas stated. You, essentially, advise him to do it and see what happens. I do not, on balance, agree with this. I feel that any gain to him via his ego will be outweighed by the damage to others.

Anyway, what’s the hurry? Let it ride for five years and see how you feel then. The older family members will not be around forever. If he acts brashly now, religion may win – which may not be the outcome he desires.

Seek's avatar

Five years of going to Mass, acting in hypocrisy? Sounds like torture.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@H It’s just as hurtful to know you’ve been lied to for years. At least they can pray for his soul & be comforted.

fundevogel's avatar

@hsrch I never claimed to know the right course of action for dxs. I simply shared my experience with a similiar situation in hopes it might help dxs figure what made the most sense in their case. As I said, there can be utility in keeping something like this to yourself. What I take exception to is your prioritization of the presumed negative feelings of others over whatever consequences being closeted may have for someone in dxs’ position.

This is little different than expecting people to be protected from being offended. Everyone one has a different threshold, there is no objective standard by which we can judge what is and isn’t reasonable offense and frankly none of us have the right or privilege to expect to never be offended. We also don’t have to right to expect that our loved ones will never disappoint us, hurt us, test our comfort zone or challenge us. Compelling such expansive protection for a person is another way of saying you don’t think they can deal with reality. An adult deserves better than such mollycoddling. Unless they truely are so maladjusted that they can’t deal with reality. But barring some serious mental issues I think it’s a terrible idea to endorse maintaining a fantasy just for the benefit of people who really are too old to be treated like children.

dxs's avatar

@hsrch Again, I try to be a sincere person and what you are saying is exactly what I have been doing for the past 18 years that has been bothering me. I don’t think I’m ready to do it again for another five years. @Seek_Kolinahr exactly, but secrety I actually love Catholic Masses, though. I’d go just to hear the music. I grew up on hymns, so I love hearing a folk group perform them.
And what do you mean by my ego? Doesn’t that word carry a negative connotation? And what do you mean by mentioning independent thinking? You use such complex vocabulary that I get confused as to what you’re saying.
@KNOWITALL I wouldn’t say I’ve been lied to. Maybe a bit brainwashed that’s all, but at least I thought of things on my own. Honestly, it hurts me to realize that there’s no assured Heaven or afterlife or deity, especially after having been told that for my whole life (granted I started questioning these things at a pretty young age). I would like there to be, but I am not going to limit my life here on earth for it because it’s not guaranteed.

hsrch's avatar

@dxs – ‘Ego’ was not a good choice of words. It has a meaning that I did not intend. I should have said ‘self image’ which would better communicate my thought.
By ‘Independent thinker’ I simply meant independent of dogma.

@fundevogel – You are correct. I mischaracterized your response to @dxs.
In your latest response you use the term ‘offended’ to characterize the consequences of @dsx’s declaration of apostasy. It seems to me to be a bit soft to describe the reaction to a possible cruelty. @dxs will have to judge the probable extent of the damage that will result. He certainly seems like a thoughtful person and will make good decision. I hope that he has benefited from these two-sided discussions.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@dxs I’m a Christian, not a great one by any means, but I do believe. ;)

Actually I meant lying to your parents and going through the motions of participating in religious activities (ie Christmas, etc..) when you don’t believe. I’m afraid if you don’t say anything they may be as upset about being lied to as that you don’t believe.

As far as your faith and being hurt that Heaven doesn’t exist, just remember that Christianity is a faith-based religion. Jesus said whomsoever believeth in me shall not perish, but have everlasting life. I went through a questioning phase and eventually came back to Jesus for my own good and happiness.

I’ve tried to explain to non-believers here, but they don’t get it. The fact is life is not always beautiful and joyful, and it helps me and comforts me, to believe there is something pure and good, and that it’s attainable for all of us. You know as well as I do that we can see thing’s from a pov of belief or non-belief, and we are the only ones who can make that choice, just like Adam and the apple in Eden.

Whatever choice you make for yourself now, you can always come back to Jesus. Just don’t let anyone else here or elsewhere in the world, make you feel like you’re stupid for believing if that’s what you want to do. There is only one life and it’s ours to live however we see fit.

What do you mean limit your life? You mean act like a good Christian? Hey brother, Jesus doesn’t expect perfection. I drink on occasion, I cuss on occasion and I don’t even attend church much, but I’m not turning my back just because I can’t be perfect. I strive for perfection but I’m only human, like you and everybody else. Don’t put that kind of stress on yourself, please.

From what I’ve seen and heard in my life, there are some people who choose not to believe and feel very lost and unhappy. We all need something to believe in, and if it’s not God, then make sure it’s something worthy of you and something that does good for your soul. :) Good luck to you.

fundevogel's avatar

@hsrch You need to read me a little more carefully. I didn’t say their reaction was to be offended, but like being offended in that

1. what would prompt such reaction is widely variable from one person to another, (and thus be near impossible to sheild everyone from without inflicting crippling restriction on normal human expression and behavior)

2. not a reaction anyone is entitled to live without experiencing.

I think we’re off track though. No need to spin our wheels over misunderstandings.

kritiper's avatar

A Christian is a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Do you follow the teachings? If not, you are an Infidel. Do you believe in God? Then you are a Theist. An Atheist doesn’t believe in the existence of “God” or any other “god.” Can an Atheist be a Christian? Yes, basically. One only has to follow “The Golden Rule” to be a Christian.
Honesty is always the best policy, so just tell them how you feel and think.

dxs's avatar

@KNOWITALL Great response.

As far as your faith and being hurt that Heaven doesn’t exist, just remember that Christianity is a faith-based religion.
True, but when I was taught Catholicism at a young age, they didn’t factor in the “no guarantees” part, so I thought it was for sure.

The fact is life is not always beautiful and joyful, and it helps me and comforts me…
I know that. It took me a while to realize that life wasn’t whatever my parents decided to reveal to me and act to me. But having never really had anybody in my life for true support, I learned to cope and to support myself and do things on my own, so another reason I don’t need God.

Just don’t let anyone else here or elsewhere in the world, make you feel like you’re stupid for believing
I know. I completely respect people that believe in a deity and I understand their need for one (for the most part). It’s funny how even on a thread like this where I’m asking about advice on if I should talk about my true religion with my family, they use it as a channel to bash Christianity even more and not even bother to answer the actual question…and apparently modding does nothing.

Jesus doesn’t expect perfection
What he may consider sinful I may not. Actually, I am pretty much in agreement with anything that Jesus said about morality. But any other parts of the bible I definitely don’t agree with, and I don’t feel bad or sinful for doing things that the bible deems “shameful” or “an abomination”. How could I say the Act of Contrition “I firmly resolve….to sin no more” when I know damn well I’d sin again. I was being realistic and then felt sinful for being realistic. And even God said people would always sin because it is in their nature.

@kritiper
_ Can an Atheist be a Christian? Yes, basically. One only has to follow “The Golden Rule” to be a Christian._
I’m not really sure about that. To quote you, since “a Christian is a person who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ”, Jesus Christ taught that he came to save us from sin and open the doors to heaven for us. If I don’t believe in God, then I don’t believe in heaven. If I don’t believe in heaven, then I don’t believe in all of the teachings of Jesus.

Seek's avatar

@kritiper

As an apostate, who knowing fully the gospel has rejected it (just like Judas!) I can’t agree with you.

He that believeth and is baptised will be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned.

You don’t get to call me a Christian just because I don’t kill people or steal things from my neighbours.

glacial's avatar

@kritiper Yeah… show me one Christian sect that believes that good works alone will get you into heaven. It doesn’t happen.

“No one can come to the Father except through me.” Ya know?

kritiper's avatar

Ah but there are those who always take things so literally! Be open minded and see things from a wider point of view! Don’t focus so much on those darn details!

glacial's avatar

@kritiper Christ was pretty darned clear about the path to salvation. Perhaps that is a mere detail to you, but to most, it’s the entire reason for their faith. You can redefine Christianity however you wish, but if no one else in the faith agrees with you, what’s the point of being insistent about it?

kritiper's avatar

What is salvation but another theist based fantasy? No one else has to agree with me for me to be content about what I believe. Or don’t believe.

dxs's avatar

@kritiper But it shapes Christians as it does my whole family. If they thought that it shouldn’t all be taken so literally and saw things from a wider point of view, I’d have no problem telling them of my true beliefs.

kritiper's avatar

Do like I did with my very Catholic mother: tell her and leave it at that. What YOU believe is what is important because it is YOU that has to live with yourself..

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kritiper's avatar

I have a Christian friend that seems to think he can sin all he wants because Christ supposedly died for our sins. That’s like saying murder is OK because the murderer can’t get caught. BELIEVING in Jesus Christ is not enough (nor important). You have to FOLLOW the teachings! You have to LIVE IT, not just make excuses. And on top of that, as the dictionary states, being a Christian is FOLLOWING his teachings, despite what any religion says or thinks appropriate. The LESSON is what is important, not the man!
Sure, I’m an Atheist. But being a decent person means following the teachings of Jesus Christ without actually trying to be that way or trying to be a Christian, unlike my so-called “Christian” friend who thinks he’s a good Christian, but who really isn’t.
@glacial – Being insistent about it matters to me, if not you. Education is the key and I strive to educate. You don’t have to listen to my educational POV, but there may be others who would.
And I go by how the dictionary defines “Christian”. See note to @dxs below.
And as to what Christ said, as you state, who is to say what he really said (or meant) since the Bibles have been translated and retranslated so many times by so many who might have had their own religious agenda? You can’t just take it so literally, at so much face value.
And what about Heaven and getting there? As a devout (hard) Atheist, there is no such place, so why bother to tell me that there is??
@dxs – Like myself, and so many others, “To each his own.” If you ask 1000 different people what they think God is, or Christianity, you’ll get 1000 different answers. You are obviously no different. It’s something you have to do, if compelled.

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