With the publication of the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008, we learned that a full 20 percent of the U.S. population claims its religious identity as either a “none” (one who identifies as non-religious) or a “don’t know” (one who chooses to not answer the religion question or has not thought about it).
The last people to find out about a person’s religious identity (or lack thereof) always seem to be the family. So shouldn’t you take advantage of this week’s big family gathering to let them know your status? Isn’t this Sunday’s family dinner the perfect time to come out of the closet?
For those who are unsure how to proceed, I offer some tips for the strategies you can use for a smooth transition into the category of “no religion,” aka “none,” aka “nothing.”*
*Results not guaranteed.
Strength In Numbers
If you are not heartened by the 61 million Americans who join you in non-belief, find others in your family who you suspect might share in your rejection of religion. Ally yourself with them. The more the merrier. So call that cousin who always sits alone in the corner, maybe they don’t go to church either. Or maybe they are just weird, or a pedophile, or a homicidal maniac — but it is worth a shot. Using “we” instead of “I” makes coming out of the closet a little easier. But watch out — after the initial “we,” as in “we don’t believe in this and such,” you probably won’t agree on anything else. “Getting atheists to agree on something is like herding cats,” a wise man once told me. Meow.
Avoid the A-Word
The term “atheist” tends to set people on edge. It might be what you are once you give up (or admit you never had) a belief in a god or gods, but it might cause unneeded drama and unrest. There are hundreds of other words to use, so maybe you can start with those and work your way into your new identity as an atheist. You can use some of the more known words like Rationalist, Humanist, Skeptic, Free Thinker, or the slightly easier to digest Agonistic. Or you can try to confuse the folks by using a string of “isms” and “ists.” Try describing yourself as an anti-supernaturalist, or a neo-philosophizing inter-humanist pro-Darwinist.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
This policy has had mixed results for gays in the military and I don’t recommend it. But if you are really unable to spill it, you can continue to give it a try. Be sure to use it with a stiff drink or two. But not more than four, since alcohol is a lip lubricant and you are trying not to loosen those flappers. Just a note: I tried this technique for a few years with my in-laws and ended up writing a book about my non-belief status which caused a family drama since I included the aforementioned in-laws in said book. So beware of the results of taping your mouth shut.
The Door Knob Declaration
In order to allow sink-in time, you can drop the news at the very last moments of the gathering, also known as the tail-light tell all. As you leave the family home, gathering, or reunion, you can make your statement of newly found life philosophy the very last thing you say. “Bye everyone, and there is no god!” might work, or, “See you next year; I’m a non-believer!” is another good line to use. Added benefit: you don’t have to see their reactions. That can wait till next time . . . if there is a next time.
Subtly might be your best bet. If you can work the truth in to a casual conversation, you might be able to say it and have it go right over your relatives’ heads, at least momentarily. “Pass the beans to the humanist over here.” Or, “Hey, Mom. I love your new couch; I don’t believe in God.” Real smooth, like frosting on the cake. They might just nod along and not realize what you said until later, after you are back on your home turf. Sure, you might get a frantic call at 2 a.m. “What did you say?” But hey, at least you a) got through another family dinner and b) told the truth.
The Band Aid
“Just rip it off!” That’s right . . . just do it! The faster you get it over with, the less it will hurt. Or that is the theory anyway. Anyone who has ripped a band aid off with speed and brute force knows that it can sting. But still, when it comes to telling your family that you no longer believe just saying it might be a relief, and then the hardest part will be over. So walk into that house and stand your ground. It will certainly be a Sunday dinner you will never forget. Just be sure to bring the bactine.
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