Coming Out as a Nonbeliever

It's the most Wonderful time of the year... unless you are expected to participate in meals & attend services with still-religious loved ones. In that case, it's the most Stressful time of the year.

Many of my clients who are fairly new in their deconstruction/deconversion journey painfully waffle between wanting to declare their deconversion to all and wanting to hide it entirely, in order to keep the peace. This makes sense, given the internal war raging between our desire to be known as we truly are (a sort of integrity) and the desire to retain our relationships as they are (wanting continued acceptance & intimacy).

This tension can push us to our brink (note the upside-down "Xmas-in-distress" flag). Until we address the issue, our struggle can wreak havoc in relationships due to a shorter fuse; require extra sick/stress leave; and leave us feeling like there is no way we can win.

Before declaring your religious deconversion, it is wise to contemplate the following:

WHY: Examine your motives for declaring your unbelief.

Is it because you can't abide one more dinner with your fundy Aunt Hilda? or because you want to inflict pain on your parents after so many years of brainwashing? or because you want your loved ones to know you fully? Being honest with ourselves about motives is a good way to avert potential problems.

WHEN/WHERE/HOW: Determine when is the best time, location, & method for your Irreligious Coming Out.

We must keep in mind that this news is very likely the worst possible news our loved ones can imagine, barring our untimely demise. You have had time to walk through your deconversion pros and cons and landed solidly on the side of being a nonbeliever - but to them, it may be a huge shock. Also, you have an understanding of where your religious loved ones are at (ie. how it feels being religiously entrenched) - but they have no idea what it feels like to reject the faith. You feel FREE, but they only feel FEAR.


For this reason, blurting out your deconversion over the holiday table might not be the most gracious approach. We must allow time and space for people to digest (see what I did there) this important news, preferably in private. Imagine how you would feel being in a public setting and learning that a loved one died. It's an extreme comparison, but for religious parents their greatest fear is that you won't be with them in eternity. They often take it as a personal failure to impart the single greatest lesson to their child that they were tasked with imparting. Some hope that Coming Out in a public setting will help avoid an emotional scene, but such is not necessarily the case.