Patrick Mitchell of Coffee Shop Atheist has put together a comprehensive and practical guide for atheists looking to come out of the closet. Mitchell is aware that atheists risk censure, anger, and outright excommunication from family, friends, and their communities, for their belief in the non-existence of God. So Mitchell's put together a set of best practices to follow, when it's time to come out.
Needless to say, not all atheists face the same kind of pressures when it's time to make their "deconversion" public. Many people are fortunate to have understanding families and friends, making the coming-out process considerably easier. But as Mitchell notes in his article, that's more the exception than the rule — particularly when the Bible Belt is concerned. "Many other parts of the country (and world) do not have the same situations, but in many states in the south (and isolated communities in the north), apostasy is tantamount to pedophilia in terms of loss of social currency," he writes.
Mitchell divided his deconversion guide into three parts: How to come out, dealing with different kinds of believers, and understanding various types of atheists. The first section is filled with sensible advice — a kind of do's and dont's of going public, with much of it drawn from personal experience.
For example, Mitchell says you should never put it up on Facebook first:
This was a tremendous mistake on my part. It was dumb dumb dumb. My parents heard about my deconversion secondhand, after my entire extended family was viciating over it. I could have easily saved a lot of pain if I had explained myself first, but I didn't.
If you plan to go public, do so after everyone who will ‘freak out' already knows. If you already hate everyone close to you and don't care what they think, still call them anyways.
As for the best way to come out, Mitchell advises the recently deconverted to be very selective about who to tell and when to do it:
This question depends entirely on where you are in your life, and more specifically, how your parents will take it. It is not uncommon to be kicked out of your house for being an atheist, and the point at which parents cherry-pick enough that their version of ‘love' is kicking you out, you can bet they don't really have a good enough hermenutic to care what what the bible says about it. So if you're under 18 and have strong fundamentalist parents, the answer is, don't come forward. Just wait.
Mitchell also provides very sensible advice about how to open up to potentially unresponsive family members and friends. Taking a book out of the LGBTQ community, he strongly recommends that people bring a significant other to the coming-out meeting and hold their hands. In addition, he suggests staying seated, taking breaks, listening — and speaking in such a way that everyone is reminded that this isn't about them.
Image via Mopic/shutterstock.com.