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Dutchess_III's avatar

What are some reactions when you tell people, or they suspect, that you are an atheist?

Asked by Dutchess_III (44145points) September 27th, 2017

I never spit it right out to any one I know personally, in real life. Especially not family members. Too many would burn me at the stake and I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

I was raised a Mild Christian. I was born again in the 80’s. I was a very active member in my church. I taught in the 2 year old room. (I just baby sat. It was more fun than listening to sermons!)

My children were raised in the church. God was always a quiet part of my life. I believed he got me through some really rough times, and I gave him the credit.

Then in 2007 Rarebear got his satanic hooks on me and all was lost, although it took quite a while. The fact that he was so logical, so patient, never called me names, or even implied that I was a fool, really convinced me. His logic was unassailable.
I finally realized that there was one answer that answered answered every single question about the illogical being we call God.
It really wasn’t easy. Believing that there was someone watching over me was really comforting. Prayer was comforting, so sometimes I still pray. But logic had to prevail. It has prevailed all of my life, sometimes to the dismay of my Christian friends.

Well, today my oldest daughter, who is 32, and I were having a discussion that turned to religion. I just know she has become an atheist in the last few years, but I never said anything. (Same with my son. We never spoke of it outright but I’m pretty sure he has finally figured out that * gasp * Mom, of all people, doesn’t believe any more!!)

When I was at her house the other day, 4 year old Savannah came up with a kid’s book about Jonah and the whale she got from somewhere. So I started reading it to her. Actually, I was telling her the story and carefully asking questions that meant, “Does this sound logical? Do you think he could breath in there? What would he eat? Do you think this is a true story?”
My daughter “caught” us, and without listening to the tone of the conversation immediately shut us down and threw the book away.

I brought that up today. Savannah had picked up a Bible in the doctor’s waiting room (new Doc, she’s not going back) and Corrie made her put it down.
I told her I would have explained different parts of it to her, while asking her the questions I suggested above. I said that to me, that’s a teaching moment, the chance to reinforce critical thinking skills.

So she went off a little. She was really starting to get mad, but I stopped her cold when I quietly said, “Corrie. I’m an atheist.” I heard an audible gasp and a long moment of silence.

Then we talked. She asked how long, and I said, “Well, 10 years now.” She was flat gob smacked! But accepting.

Maybe now she’ll view many of my actions in a different light.

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50 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone suspect I’m an atheist. Among Jewish people if we are talking religion we might ask each other, but in most of my Jewish circles it’s more like a point of reference, but no one cares what the answer is. I guess that counts as suspecting, but it’s such a nonissue.

Among non-Jews I think I’m always assumed to be a theist. That’s how it seems by what people say to me. I often don’t correct them. I do sometimes say I’m not religious, but I almost never say I don’t believe in God. Except, when someone else says it first then I’ll say I don’t either.

So, to further answer your question; The people I have told either know me well, and don’t let it faze them much, or they are Jewish, again not fazing, or if I don’t know them well I find their reaction to be one of surprise. Sometimes they follow it up with something like, “nothing? you don’t believe in anything?”

As far as other people’s children I never impose my religious or God related beliefs. If I read a book to a child with bible stories, because their parents gave it to them, I just read it. I would never encourage them to question it. These are your grandchildren, so it might be different than other children, but I think for me it probably wouldn’t be, unless I really though the religion was dangerous. My niece and nephew were raised Catholic and they had zero idea what I believed. If they asked me a question about Judaism I answered it, but I never told them I was an atheist or that their religion was wrong. Now I would tell them, they are adults now. They probably know, because their mom knows I’m an atheist.

I think if I had adult children they would know if I changed my religious beliefs, but maybe not. I can see how it might not come up.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I would never impose my religious or God related beliefs on any child either. When I read the story to Savannah I asked her questions relating to logic. I didn’t tell her it was just a story and wasn’t true. I certainly did not tell her it WAS true. I mean, I do the same thing when I read almost any book to the kids, even Go Dogs Go! I ask questions. Corrie reacted under the assumption I was still a believer. She reacted to my comments about it being a teachable moment under the same assumption.

Rarebear is an Atheist Jew. It came from his grandfather who said, after the holocaust, “If we are worshiping a god who would would do that to his own chosen people, I want nothing to do with such a god.”

johnpowell's avatar

For me it would be the opposite. I think I would have a lot of bewildered family if I started to go to church. Pretty sure they wouldn’t care since my aunt and uncle are pretty religious and nobody cares about that. But they never bring it up. I will spend the weekend there and they head out to church on Sunday and they tell me pizza is in the fridge as they walk out. I can’t remember them ever asking me if I wanted to come along.

janbb's avatar

I’m an atheistic Jew and also a Unitarian. If it comes up in conversation, I have no problem sharing it. It’s never been a big issue in any of the circles I’m in; I suspect different parts of the country have different cultural norms about this.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It rarely comes up. When it does it’s usually by strangers. The rest of the family just assumes I believe and I think it’s fine to let them.

I was at one of Rick’s reunions several years ago and they always have a prayer before we eat. I respectfully bow my head. At one point I realized that a young man to my left was standing defiantly, arms crossed, head up, with a disgusted look on his face. I wanted to say, ”And your point is???” That doesn’t do any body any good, and might well upset some people for no damn good reason.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I usually have to have my arm twisted a bit. It can ruin a relationship, or even be dangerous to tell some.

Interesting that the person who doesn’t believe in an imaginary being, is the one who has to keep it under raps…

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It really never comes up. It’s not a huge deal whether someone believes in god or not where I live. Nobody gives a shit, I suppose, but assholes. LOL.

flutherother's avatar

It is not a big deal over here and I rarely discuss my religious beliefs (or lack of them) with anyone. When I am in a church I look at the carved wood and the stained glass and the worshippers and I think only of humanity. When I am in the mountains, in the silence and the beauty of nature I think of God.

janbb's avatar

@flutherother That was beautiful – even to an atheist.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The last time I was in church (for a funeral) I was bored and I grabbed the hymnal to see if there was a hymn 666. There is! At least in that book there was.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It very rarely comes up. In fact it is such a rare event, that the only episodes I can bring to mind are the encounters with the occasional Mormons and Jehovah’s witnesses who happen to ring the doorbell.

NomoreY_A's avatar

I just tell people I’m agnostic, and leave it at that. As I have said before, if there is any deity it is not Bible God. And I can be reasonably certain that Jesus never existed. And I may have posted this before, but I was raised in a mildly Fundie family, but my parents were never Bible thumping in your face types. When I fessed up in early adolescence, that, if not atheist I was at least agnostic, they took it in stride and caused me no grief. So I returned the respect and consideration I was shown, by never openly critiquing the Bible or Church, at least never in front of my folks and their churchy friends at any rate. This was a great compromise, and when I reached adulthood, I adopted a live and let live approach to things spiritual. Just don’t preach to me preach to me or thump a Bible in my face, and I’ll allow you to indulge in your religious phantasies unmolested.

Zaku's avatar

I am so grateful to never have been really in community with strongly religiously intolerant people!

I did grow up with some kids who had a sort of default-assumption Christianity, and a few times they looked surprised as said something like, “wait, you don’t believe in God?” But it was like it was just weird/unexpected but not really something they’d really considered.

Of course I’ve had various Christians who I don’t even know assuming I’m ungodly and trying to bully me into some BS one way or another.

One of my “favorites” was the guy I was playing an online game with, who after a while asked me some Christian test question. When he didn’t like my answer, he rage-quit the game.

I don’t think I’ve ever been exactly atheist. I’ve been sort of agnostic, but I’ve always had a spiritual connection to nature and to interpersonal (and interspecies) love. And I’ve always felt an innate (and taught by my parents’ stories about Sunday School) revulsion towards pushy/authoritative/arrogant religious misbehavior, which I’ve mostly experienced from people calling themselves Christians, though I reject their behavior and their ideas as strongly as any nasty mistake I know.

I did have one “Christian” grandmother who thought of me as having no religion. As soon as any sign of that showed up, I would have none of it till she stopped.

tinyfaery's avatar

No one even seems to care. I have an atheist symbol on my car. I do not hide it and I do not lie if asked. Eh. I couldn’t care less who know.

muppetish's avatar

When I was eight, a classmate asked me over lunch whether or not I believed in god. I had only recently come across the word atheist, but it felt right, so I told her that. She promptly told me that I was going to go to hell, and it was a conversation I had to swallow down since I knew I couldn’t talk to my pseudo-religious parents about it.

I’m twenty years older now, and being an atheist very rarely comes up. I forget that religion and spirituality are important things to other people, and have to consciously remind myself of that sometimes. I’m very fortunate to live in an area where I don’t have to be concerned about this aspect of who I am.

Muad_Dib's avatar

Everyone who knows me knows already.

Everyone I don’t know… Well… I get funny looks from the old ladies in the laundromat when I wear my “Satan loves gravity bongs” t-shirt.

Keeps them from bothering me.

kritiper's avatar

Varying degrees of shock.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m pretty sure @rarebear’s father was an atheist also, but I might remember it incorrectly.

I think questioning a biblical story for some Christians is a problem, I’m not saying that’s the case for all, you know your family and what is ok. In my experience Jews are very different than Christians on this. I could be wrong. Most Christians I know feel they can’t say they are Christians anymore if they are atheist, not the case for Jews. Most Jews are taught to question. 40 % of Jews identify as secular. Atheists are a large part of our group.

I might be making some wrong assumptions about Christians. I do know more than one has said to me that if any part of the Bible is false then it’s all false. Those Christians are all or nothing Christians.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I don’t really advertise it, but I don’t hide it ether. There’s a lot of my relatives who would be bothered by it, and who would try their damnedest to win me over to Jesus, but I don’t really care to associate with those folks anyway (honestly, most of them are kinda shitty people).

Mimishu1995's avatar

“Maybe you are just too naive to understand this deep topic”. Yes, that’s a legit answer from some people when I told them I didn’t believe in their supernatural shit.

A bit background: religion here isn’t like what you think it is. Most people follow some kind of belief system that is a mixture of Buddhism and traditional belief. It isn’t all Buddhism, so there’s no hardcode Buddhism practice here. This belief system is more about using Buddhism logic to explain the world, and people use traditional belief to practice rituals that conform to the logic. So when people say “atheist” the just mean “not being a hardcode Buddhism or whatever”. In people’s mind, you should at least believe in some kind of supernatural being operating the world. It never crosses their mind that someone would believe in nothing whatsoever.

And I take lots of heat for that. The above conversation was about some kind of medical ailment. The people said that they went for a diagnosis and the conclusion was that they had imbalanced “air” yeah, it also belongs to the confusing belief system. I said bullshit because no one can confirm the “air” exists, and that was the response I got. I learned to keep my mouth shut since.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@Mimishu1995 LOL, Did you mean the “Confucius” belief system? LOL. If you did, I can see how it is the same thing. LOL Especially the Chinese medicine thing with the four elements. LOL.

Pinguidchance's avatar

Wow an atheism symbol

I can see the motto now:


Loosely translated as NO FISH TODAY

I’d prefer a red line struck through a fish in a red circle.

We could do dress up and hold meetings and everything, with funding now (10% net) and forever (inheritance of all worldy possessions via the will), what a jolly thing it would be.

And a supporters song based on the Herman’s Hermits tune, no milk today.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie well it was Rarebear’s father’s father that said, about the holocaust, “If we are worshipping a god who would let this happen to his chosen people then I want nothing to do with such a god” then he raised his son, Rarebear’s dad, atheist who raised Rarebear atheist.

JLeslie's avatar

^^If his dad was an atheist then how is his grandfather going against his dad’s religious views? It’s the same as a Catholic grandma reinforcing Catholic lessons to their grandchildren who attend CCD classes because the kids’ mom is getting them ready for confirmation.

If you could easily search on fluther you would see I’ve said more than once part of the reason a lot of Jews are atheists is because the world has done horrible things to us many times over history. It’s hard to believe in God when He tortures and kills us. How can there be a God that sits by and watches the Holocaust and so many other horrible things in the world? This is a common thought among Jews. Additionally, Jews are very logic and science oriented. Religion and God take faith, and accepting things that are illogical.

@rarebear’s father and grandfather are not unusual among Jewish people, except that I think his grandfather was orthodox? So, among the orthodox I’d say that’s more rare, they more typically are theists, if indeed that was the case that he was orthodox, I just don’t remember exactly. I too grew up raised by atheists.

josie's avatar

No reaction.
If they say anything at all, they say ” It figures”

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

My family does not really talk much about it but I never believed, like ever. By the time I was old enough to understand the concept I had already outed santa the easter bunny. It was such a social institution in the south that we still periodically went to church but I suspect both of my parents to be either athiest or indifferent. I identify as agnostic when asked directly but I’m really an agnostic athiest when using formal definitions. I generally just keep it under wraps because everyone around me is religious. My wife believes and I make no attempt to try to change her mind.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@JLeslie What are you talking about?

JLeslie's avatar


Darth_Algar's avatar

I’m not sure that I, personally, have ever met a Jew who wasn’t an atheist.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

^^ LOL. Me, too, for the most part. I met a few at Berkeley and San Francisco State that claimed to be Buddhists, but most by far claimed to be atheists.

The only time I’ve ever been asked about this IRL was in the States and by Jesus Freaks, aka evangelicals. I have a variety of answers for them, dependent on their level of aggressiveness.

I usually give them this spiel about being a Jew, or being a newly converted Jew and if they persist, I will proudly offer to show them my newly circumcised penis to prove my commitment to my new religion. I’ve never had to do this yet. The offer usually shuts the fuckers down immediately.

I recommend this to all circumcised guys who find these people obnoxious.

Darth_Algar's avatar


Hmmm…..I think I’ll try that next time.

NomoreY_A's avatar

Myself as well. Always knew that had to be useful as more than just a conversation piece for women, LOL

janbb's avatar

Foreskinned is forearmed?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Ha ha! I think just the threat of whipping out your penis is what scared them!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

@janbb LOL. You ever think about writing headlines for a living?

JLeslie's avatar

I know zen believes in God, he was one of our Jewish jellies that did. I definitely know Jews who believe in God. One of my closest friends is Jewish and believes. You can count my husband too I guess, but he’s so lackadaisical about the whole God thing. Plus, he was raised Catholic if that makes a difference. I know a few others, but most Jews I know are atheists. It’s probably 70/30 for the people I know with 70 not believing.

Darth_Algar's avatar

For that matter most Catholics (well, raised Catholic) that I know are atheists as well.

Dutchess_III's avatar

People who have hideous up bringing, especially due to religion tend to become atheist because it’s allowed today.

Most Catholics I know are still very religious and they are the worst about believing in magic without question. Bad with critical thinking skills all the way around.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar I’m seeing a pattern with the people you know. Lol. Most Catholics I know believe in God, and I think their religion is part of their identity similar to how Jews are about the identity and ethnicity thing. Contrary to what Dutchess_III stated, most Catholics I know aren’t die hard followers of the religion, and they are much more flexible and open politically and person to person regarding other people’s beliefs and rights compared to other Christians I know. I do know more than one fallen Catholic though.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh the people I grew up with ended gping to non Catholic denominations as an adult including my mother. I’m saying that their strict Catholic upbringing left them fearful of questioning things. They lost critical thinking skills and retained superstitions. They don’t view it as superstition of course.

JLeslie's avatar

^^I think a lot of Catholics are fearful of questioning things. I’m always shocked when a Catholic goes to a different form of Christianity. It’s almost as shocking to me as when a Jewish person goes to Christianity.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@JLeslie “I’m seeing a pattern with the people you know.”

Actually I don’t really know that many Catholics or Jews, but of the few I have known….

But, by and large I’m surrounded by Bible-thumping evangelicals.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, it wasn’t odd in my world @JLeslie. One of my best friends was raised Catholic and for a time we went to the same church, a Pentecostal church. Then I found one closer to home.

My Mom was raised Catholic. When we went to church when I was growing up it was a Methodist Church.

Many Christians are fearful of questioning things, period. And the way questions are frowned upon, I can see why. It’s frowned upon because there is simply no answer to the questions, certainly not in the Bible, although they’re constantly saying all the answers are in the Bible. That’s a lie.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’m not religious at all, but I identify as a Catholic and those of us who went to Catholic school for a great many years identify as Catholics as well. It’s a strong culture and, in many families like mine, it is multi-generational going back hundreds of years. Most Catholic identifiers I know are either agnostic or atheist. LOL. And we have a kind of Catholic radar as well. We’ll pick up on a phrase or usage of a word right out of the Jesuit handbook. LOL. It’s a dead give away to other Catholics who spent years in indoctrination.

I went to school during and after the Second Vatican Council when the Church dropped a lot of mysticism in their teaching in countries like the US, began rationalizing incorporation of science without appearing hypocritical or heretical to the old school followers. LOL. Quite a feat. A lot of old people, like my father’s mother, were upset, but it brought in new converts.

At this Council, there was a wave of liberalism in reaction to centuries of Inquisition, which didn’t die off entirely within the Church bureaucracy until the 1940’s. The Church had used spies and counter-spies on priests and bishops and had been reporting them back to the Vatican for years. Many liberal priests of “questionable” loyalty were persecuted within the Church. Their careers were frozen after a lifetime of devotion, or their talents were purposely wasted in parishes inappropriate for their gifts and accomplishments. And they would never know why until the records of this persecution were revealed after WWII.

A scholar would be placed to run a pre-school for camposinos in Guatemala instead of teaching young future scholars at Loyola. Or a priest good with people and of rural upbringing who would do well with the camposinos, would be placed in a parish in New York City. Many good men left in disappointment, others disappeared into desert parishes. The Council represented a new, liberal way of rationalizing the Catholic theology with the outside world. And it was the birth of liberation theology—the kind of Jesuits who taught me in high school.

As a result, we were taught not only our catechism, but critical thinking as well. LOL. Big mistake, if they were interested in keeping us within the flock. But certain things did hold among the Catholics I know. Serving the greater good when possible and serving the poor in some way either in donations or service are biggies.

They aren’t unique in this by any means. But those were the lessons we took with us. I think. It was burned into us and later, as adults, it made sense to us. And although most whom I know left the theology, catechism and rituals behind because it doesn’t make sense to us anymore, they kept the really good stuff.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

None anymore. I used to get harassed but i don’t get bothered anymore. I would tease back.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If you thought it would upset people, would you tell them?

Muad_Dib's avatar

I wouldn’t allow people to believe I was something I was not, in order to spare their feelings, no.

I might not make a federal case out of it, but if I was aware someone thought something inaccurate about me, I would allow it to be known they were mistaken.

As far as I see it, no one has the right to be upset at my lack of belief, and if they want to carry the burden of being upset about it, that’s on them, not me. I’m way happier now than I was under the yoke of bondage to the church.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I was thinking more of family members than anything. My daughter said her 14 year old daughter has accepted atheism. For whatever reason she told her family on her dad’s side. It was not well received. She continues to get push back. I think she shouldn’t have said anything at least not now.

Pandora's avatar

It doesn’t bother me unless that person actively tries to convince everyone that there is No God or if they come from a very Christian home and they were solid believers until something bad happened in their life, and become anti bible thumpers themselves.
I’ll give an example. My daughter dated and atheist. (So called claimed atheist). He decided God didn’t exist after his grandmother got sick and died. He said he prayed a ton and she still died. Well this happened to him as a grown man. He said he didn’t believe but at the same time if God did exist that he was cruel for letting her die. So either way he would have nothing to do with a cruel God. He was still very much angry with God. So that means he wasn’t an atheist like he claimed. You can’t be angry at someone who doesn’t exist. But what was the most annoying was that he would look to argue with people to try to prove that God doesn’t exist. That grew old fast. But mostly what annoyed me was his reason. His Grandmother was old. She wasn’t going to live forever. Grandmothers die. It’s expected. So I didn’t understand how he went from alter boy all his life to quitting God at one of lifes many tragedies. He came from a nice home and able to attend college. He was very much blessed.

I equally dislike people who try to push religion in my face as I dislike atheist who try to challenge my faith. It’s not that I mind getting into a conversation about faith. I can actually enjoy them so long as the person is being respectful. I just get peeved when they expect their argument to win me over and see the light or see the darkness and become nasty and condescending. I’ve known good and bad people on either side so it doesn’t matter to me which side of faith a person is. Just don’t ever try to force the cool aid.

Actually thinking back. I think I just hated his drama. Shit happens.

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