Monday, June 13, 2011

My Current Dilemma

Alas, the time for wearing
funny hats is over. Now
real life kicks in.
Last Saturday I graduated from college, and now I enter a period of uncertainty. As uncomfortable as it makes me to say it, my life so far has been a sheltered one, and I don't feel at all prepared to bear the full brunt of the real world. I'm still not totally sure what I want to do as a career, and I still depend a great deal on my parents for both financial and emotional support. At the same time, though, I don't feel like I can spend much longer living under their roof while keeping my atheism a secret from them. While I can fake a Christian outlook as well as anyone, I consider my current double life to be both ethically dubious and emotionally draining.

My parents and sister are fairly fundamentalist evangelicals. On a 1 to 10 scale (1 being casual, non-churchgoing Christians, 10 being full-time missionaries or Pat Robertson) I'd rank them around 7 or 8. As far as I can tell, they're young earth creationists, biblical inerrantists, and believe the rapture may well occur in the next few decades. They're not universally extreme—they don't constantly attribute every event to God or Satan, for example, and they seem at least somewhat ambivalent on the gay marriage issue—but they're definitely more entrenched than the average American.

My sister is heavily indoctrinated via both church and school, and was even the head of her school's "Know Your Faith" club last year. She would put up the best apologetics of the three, but on the other hand, she's generally a rational and reasonable person when it comes to non-religious topics. My mom was raised Pentacostal and is pretty devout. I think she would be the most emotional about my deconversion, and I can't say I'm optimistic about her openness to reasoned arguments. My dad is a convert from Judaism, and he doesn't seem to know all that much about his new religion. Although I'm far more familiar with Christianity, he can debate a point well and tends to be stubborn when he thinks he's in the right.

One of my main problems is that I have virtually no concept of how my family will respond to the idea that a close loved one is an atheist—just about the most foreign, backwards and frightening kind of person you can be. I'm very close to all three of them, but I've never been had any really serious conflicts with them before. No failing grades, arrests or drunken parties. This is bound to come as an absolute shock for them.

So how will they react? I know they'll be upset no matter what, but aside from that, their potential reactions range from mild discomfort to constant attempts at reconversion to kicking me out and effectively disowning me. I don't think either the first or the third is very likely, but again, I've never been on bad terms with them, so I don't have much of a point of reference. I'm also not sure how to break the news to them. Should I sit them down all at once or individually? Should I do it in person, or would writing a letter be less aggravating? I've done some research, but I haven't found any solution that appears to be significantly more successful than the rest.

From what I've read, it sounds like I should hold off on laying out the specific reasons for my unbelief, as they may take those as a personal affront. It's hard, though, because I cringe every time I hear one of them make a derisive comment about evolution or parrot a Bible story without considering its morally repugnant implications. I can't stand the idea that the people I love—people who are otherwise intelligent, wonderful human beings—can display such ignorance in certain areas. I want to educate them, to enlighten them. I imagine a day when we look back and laugh at the things they used to believe, and it pains me that such a day will almost certainly never come.

I've been putting off the announcement of my atheism for a long time, and I'll probably continue to do so for at least a little longer. It's without a doubt the deepest struggle I've ever gone through. The fact that religion has the ability to cause such anguish and uncertainty even in nonbelievers, to potentially rip close-knit families apart, only causes me to oppose it all the more.

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