I'm an atheist in the Bible Belt -- What do I do?

Sent in by Caleb

Well, I sense my whole de-conversion from Christianity is about to come to a head.

I guess it is funny how it is all playing out. You see, when I was a youth pastor and ministry director, my faith and commitment to God and ministry led me to neglect my family. This caused severe problems for my wife and I, because she was and still is a 'closet atheist.' I say 'closet' because she is to scared/embarrassed to admit her atheism publicly.

Luckily, even then, even as a devout Christian, I realized how important my family was to me. I left the ministry so I could become more involved in my wife and children's lives. Through this time, I was able to study Christianity as more of an onlooker. My church attendance dwindled, and my study of what exactly this religion I was following was, became more intense.

I finally let go of my superstitious beliefs in God, and decided to live life free of religion. Through all this time, I kept a my-space profile. As my de-conversion progressed, my my-space profile evolved into a tribute to atheist videos, and blogs.

One day I became worried though. For some reason, I felt like people I knew were looking at me differently. I started to worry that the views I expressed on my profile were offending people. Since I live in Texas, and in a Christian dominated community, I feel like I am the only atheist in town. I help teach classes at the local TaeKwonDo school, and I am an elementary school teacher. Because of this, I began to worry that my career could be damaged if people think I am some kind of Christian-hater.

Let me make myself clear when I say I am not. Almost all of my friends are very devout Christians, and I still love and respect them very much. So one day in an effort to err on the side of safety, I sent out a my-space bulletin to all of my my-space friends. I basically explained that I was going to delete my profile, because I did not want to offend anyone.

I explained that I was an atheist, but not an enemy of Christians. I also explained some of my reasoning for becoming atheist. I finished by asking that the bulletin be kept a private matter, because I wanted to be the one to explain my atheism to anyone that was curious.

Well as it turns out, most people had never read my blogs nor did they watch my videos. They explained that they saw some of my atheist quotes, but never knew exactly what I meant by them. Now they know however, and the rumor has spread like wildfire throughout the community. I have since deleted my my-space profile, but the phone calls and emails have not stopped coming. So much for it being kept a private matter. It's like my wife keeps telling me, "you should have just deleted your profile, and not sent out that bulletin. Nobody even knew you were atheist."

The hard part is that I know the one family that had to have started the whole rumor mill. Besides, I didn't have that many friends on my-space anyway. Needless to say, my wife is very upset. Most of the people don't know my wife is an atheist, so it appears on the outside that I am the source of problems in my family. Of course this comes at a time when we have been at our happiest as a family.

Now I've come full circle, because it is now my atheism that is causing problems between my wife and I. I don't know what to do. I have always wanted to live an honest life, and be real about who I am. For some reason though, I feel the worst is yet to come.

As the rumor spreads and becomes more and more twisted by the Christian gossip mill, will it eventually destroy my family's reputation? What do I do?

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey! just thought id say that i know what its like in your shoes! my husband and i were both very involved in our church, i led in the youth group and he was the worship leader for many years. our new atheist world view caused a big uproar and only a few of our friends remain. it was hard on our marriage but ended up bringing us closser together in the end. hang in there and im sure things will eventualy blow over enough that you and your family will be able to live a normal life again.

sloopy said...

My heart goes out to you my brother. As a former pastor, seminary teacher and youth leader, I feel your hurt. I wish I could help. I do know, in my opinion, that, although I cannot explain the suffering, greed, power mongering and savagery in this world, I believe God loves you and each person on this site.
In a conversation I had in person last Thursday with Peter Yarrow [the Peter of "Peter, Paul and Mary"] we talked about a new song he has recorded, but not yet released to the public, in which he sings that a day will come when bigotry, which children have to be taught, will be revealed for what it is and how all of us are under the umbrella of a God who loves us all-Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Christian, Gay, Straight, Lesbian, Muslim, Atheist etc.
In it are words of hope and acceptance and love of all for all.
Puff the Magic Dragon still lives in all who will be willing to see him.
I wish you the best my friend,
blaine aka sloopy312

Anonymous said...

I'm sorta amused by your actions. You kinda knew what you were getting into by coming out. I myself am tempted a lot of times to just shout to the world that I'm an atheist. I know it's liberating but it will definitely offend my friends and family.

I now know how good it feels for gays to have their parades. Maybe we could have parades in the future as well.

I hope you can fix your problems with your family. I am lucky to have deconverted my wife smoothly. We don't talk about it directly but her buying me Christopher Hitchen's book is a great sign. I've never been happier.

R.S. Martin said...

Caleb, I responded to your question on the forums here: http://www.ex-christian.net/index.php?showtopic=19137&st=0&gopid=312745&#entry312745. You will have to cut and paste the address into your address bar because I don't know how to make live links on this program.

R.S. Martin said...

I see what got posted is not the complete address. I'll try again.
http://www.ex-christian.net/index.
php?showtopic=19137&st=0&#entry
312729

Jack Delmoso said...

You only need this bit:

http://www.ex-christian.net/index.
php?showtopic=19137

Also, live links are created using <a href="URL"> User Clicks Here </a>

thread

Orion said...

Caleb said; "As the rumor spreads and becomes more and more twisted by the Christian gossip mill, will it eventually destroy my family's reputation? What do I do?"

Problem; you actually gave the Christian gossip-mill the perception they had a say in your life, by submitting a bulletin and trying to "explain" yourself, as if they held authority in the matters of your life.

Solution; define yourself and in doing so, defend yourself. If you don't, the opposition will. Reopen your My-space, and don't "explain" yourself to anyone... present who you are, an elementary school teacher who loves educating children, field trips coming up, rubrics, homework, community events, friends that you have (who just happen to be Christian, from multiple churches, etc.

The longer your site is down, the longer the rumor mill will continue. The fact that you had a My-Space site, and now you don't, will be used to make you suspect.

Re-establish your page, and don't mention it to any of your friends. When people attempt to look you up, to see if they can find any dirt, they will find an honest description of yourself, and perhaps your family instead.

Force those who want to make contact, to come see you, face to face... if they aren't willing to make the effort, they really didn't care that much about getting your side of the story anyway; and, the only ones you need to really worry about, are those who will take the time to be in your life.

Chucky Jesus said...

I'm from Texas also, so I can relate; however, I'm in Dallas, so it's big enough that almost nobody cares if I'm an atheist or not. Having said that, I don't trumpet it to the general public.

If you're reasonably close to a metropolitan area (Houston, Austin, or Dallas/Forth Worth [not sure about San Antonio]) there are many freethinker organizations which you can connect with. There's the North Texas Church of Freethought, which is essentially a "church" for atheists. There's a sister organization in Houston -- the Houston Church of Freethought. Austin has a couple of groups, but I'm not sure of their names at the moment. If you google all of this, it would help you. Being part of a support group where you actually meet people will help.

There's also the Metroplex Atheist group, which meets up more towards Fort Worth.

notabarbie said...

Caleb:

There are so many of us here that understand completely what you are going through. I’m a fairly recent de-convert and am dealing with some of the things you are. I was very involved at the churches I had attended. I lead women’s bible studies and sang on the worship team, etc. When I felt I should study my Christian religion with the same scrutiny that I had studied others, it didn’t take long to see my religion was no different from any other and based on nothing but myth. I understand the emails and the phone calls all to well and I haven’t really even come out except to family. I’m just getting pressure because I don’t attend church anymore. I’ve been called a sinner and a possible apostate, etc.

I’m learning, with the help of other de-converts, to set my boundaries and to remember that just because someone is a Christian, it doesn’t give them the right to make judgment calls on my life and to gossip about me or others, yet we know that as Christians they believe that this is their calling. I agree with what Orion says. Reopen your myspace and be who you are-a nice guy that teaches kids, etc. We still let religion define us because it did for so long, but we don’t have to anymore. It is a hard road I can’t lie about that, but in the end you will be able to live free and honestly. I’m sure there are others here that can tell you what it’s like to be firmly on the other side of Christianity. There is light, or rather enlightenment, at the end of the tunnel.

Anonymous said...

Ignore them and get on living. Believers survived atheist Soviet Union. Atheists survived Franco's Spain. So why are you complaining?

Anonymous said...

Worst letter...Sounds like you want controversy in your life. Stand up and be alive! Live for you and your family and don't sweat the small stuff. If people don't like it they have problems, not you. You can't worry about what other people think about you, or they way you believe. Take control of your family and your life.

Aspentroll said...

They say "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me".

If I were you I would try my best to act natural as tho nothing is wrong and go about my day smiling at the usual contacts.
I know it's easy for me to say these things but if you let them destroy you and your family because of looks and whispers you will be partly to blame. You will have to be strong.
I doubt they have the power to get you fired from your job. They wouldn't want the publicity of a lawsuit.

Caleb said...

To R.S. martin / ruby sera;
Thanks for that post on the forums, and for the encouragement. I wasn't going to reply here at all, at first, because I did feel a little embarassed by some of the replies. But when you put yourself out there, guess you risk being rebuked so it's all good. I actually do feel better each day that I was honest about my thoughts. And my real friends, seem no different towards me. My wife is still very shy in her athiesm, but she has become more understanding of my desire to be real. Things are good between us again. I guess I kinda burn with the desire to set people what on who I am, because I was "Mr. Christian' for so long, and now I despise that whole mentality. Not the people at all, just the mentaity. Anyway, thanks again.

R. Black said...

Wow...I can't believe some of the stuff you people go through. I am in northern Kentucky, and I trumpet my atheism everywhere I go. Ok, I don't exactly wear a shirt that says "I'm an atheist", but I do always tell people at every opportunity. I never get any backlash, and in fact I tend to find fellow atheists everywhere. Keep in mind this is Kentucky, might not be southern Kentucky, but it is Kentucky none the less. Is there anyone else out there like me, who lives openly and doesn't have any associated problems?

Thackerie said...

R. Black: "Is there anyone else out there like me, who lives openly and doesn't have any associated problems?

Yes. No problems here. Of course, it should be kept in mind that I live in Washington D.C., where politics is the local religion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Caleb,
I'm so sorry that you are in a predicament. I just happen to be a Christian but please don't hold it against me. I know how judgmental some of us can be and it makes me very sad. I wish only the best for you!

Lorena said...

Caleb,

It's happened and there is nothing you can do to change the past.

Just weather the storm buddy. I find that when I am in trouble doing nothing is more effective, as just about anything I do encourages the flames.

It is easier said that done, but the happiest people are those who aren't worried about their reputation. That worry caused this problem, and the more you worry about it the more problems you will create.

The guilt and worry are killing you. Consider seeing a professional counselor to help you get rid of that awful stuff you learned as a Christian. You are almost behaving like a pastor who needs to keep his public image intact.

your wife is going to have to let go, too, but you can't be responsible for the way she feels, because you aren't GOD, so you can't change her or help her. Yes, be nice and supportive but don't expect to play God in her life.

The waters will become still again, eventually, just stop stirring them.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in hearing from you, Caleb. People who grew up free to choose their beliefs (or ones who had NO opposition in their communities) just have no idea what being in your shoes is like. Please drop me a line at infidel888@wowway.com Even when you come clean with yourself about atheism, you still have a ways to go. In stifling environments, it seems easier to pretend and go along with them. That can cost you. If one lives in a country/city/home where they can be out and in peace, they are fortunate. Some are killed for not believing in their country's god.

Fredrick2003 said...

When I first became an atheist, after about 4 years of studying (started at 15...) I didn't think it was a big deal. I mean, it was just a personal choice and all, and it makes a lot more sense than believing some old book!

I didn't know what I was getting into however, when I said things like "nah I don't go to church" (upon being invited) the backlash and just pure evil was amazing! I lost so many friends unintentionally by publicly voicing my thoughts.

Just know this - You are smarter than them. I mean, they still believe in imaginary friends! haha!

Bill said...

Hey Buddy, I read the post and feel for ya. Give yourself some time. Things will come around. People are people no matter what they say they believe. Give me a holler at my email again.

Bill J.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Caleb
God loves you and God is love. He gave us his word through His Son that we are to love one another and by this love we show our unity. There are negative, threatened and hurtful people everywhere and among atheists and believers alike. Maybe your expectation of persecution is greater than the reality. I will pray for you that you will look for truth while it may be found and walk in the Light of the gospel truth again. Know the truth and the truth will set you free. Paraphrase of John 8:32 May God bless you and keep you and your family. Kristine

jim earl said...

Get a clue, Kristine. Caleb doesn't need help. You do. Get it?

Ryan Scott said...

if it gets bad, i'd move. i find it a little difficult to understand how someone could stay in a place that's full of religious nuts.

the major cities have far less of a problem with this insanity. europe has far less of a problem too. i don't feel its worth staying in a place that's just so insane, how can it be? i wouldn't want to bring my kids up in that environment either.

maybe its just me, but isn't a place for the most part about the people who live there?

hey sloopy - your god does not love me and i sure as hell hate him. he's a dangerous illusion and must be stopped.

Anonymous said...

ryan scott said:

"if it gets bad, i'd move. i find it a little difficult to understand how someone could stay in a place that's full of religious nuts."

It's easy. I live in the bible thumping south myself. I love the land more than the people. I want it to be a better place, and I'm not going to give up on it and move away. Change comes slowly down here, but it will come. I want to be a part of that change...either as a participant or as an observer. My country, my state, my county, my community, my home are worth fighting for to me--literally with words or weapons. A host of bible-thumpers will never run me off. I'll die or go to prison first. I don't know how Caleb feels, but I feel tied to the land. To leave it permanently would greatly destroy the essense of who I am.

I'm not a violent or militant person. Nor am I some environmental extremist. For me, it's way beyond words or stereotypes or categories. It would have to be experiences rather than explained.

Hope that makes SOME sense and/or explains it to you a little bit.

Astreja said...

Kristine, why don't you pray for something useful? For instance, you could ask that Caleb's believing neighbours start acting like decent human beings: No e-mails, no phone calls, no gossip mill.

Not that it'll do any good, mind you. Prayer is not exactly known for its ability to alter external reality.

Oh, and by the way, "gospel truth" is an oxymoron.

Joe B said...

I don't think you get to keep your Christian friends when you deconvert, unless the church you're leaving is extremely liberal, and those are not the rule in the parts of the South I've lived in.

Leaving the church means leaving the people behind. But that's a price worth paying, IMHO.

houndies said...

Hey, I'm an atheist in the bible belt to, so your not alone.

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