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Family and Coming Out of the Closet

By A ~

I’m facing a bit of a difficult decision with which I would appreciate the insight of the ex-Christian group.

I come from a Christian family. We may not have been fundamentalist or anything, but Christianity permeated our lives as long as I can remember as a child. We went to church regularly and, even if some of the Bible was interpreted figuratively rather than literally in our household, yet we were taught that the only way to a needed salvation was through Jesus Christ. My father is a controlling man. Not violent or openly abusive or anything of that nature, but deeply controlling. He wants what is best for his children, but he simply can’t let people live their own lives and offers strongly worded advice at every turn. And he never misses an opportunity to point out how wonderful life is when you put your faith in Jesus. I’ve seen him do this both with family and in general with others. In the years after I first left home, all his letters to me were full of encouragement to put my trust in God and he would bless me in life.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I found myself in my thirties going through the doubts that many of us have experienced, and eventually I completely rejected Christianity and religion of all forms and embraced atheism. But, I didn’t share any of this with my extended family. My parents and siblings and I all live in different places, so reunions were very, very rare. I’ve often gone several years without seeing my father, not through a particular emotional distance, but only because we live in different countries. This allowed me to go about my life without the issue of religion really ever being discussed. The occasions when I did see family were so few and far between, that time was spent catching up on other aspects of our lives and there wasn’t time to sit around and philosophize about our religious beliefs, nor for family members to realize that I’d walked away from Christianity. I felt no particular need to share my position with my family if they didn’t ask. Sometimes, when my belief in Christianity was assumed far too much, I considered making my position and lack of religious beliefs known. But, in some ways I chose not to share my de-conversion with family to protect my mother. She and my father have been divorced since I was a child and, although she is very religious, she is much less pushy about it. She seems to accept that other people have different points of view, and I value my relationship with her and don’t really want the issue of religion to be something that gets between us or that causes her unnecessary grief. She’s been through a lot of pain in her life and I know that finding out one of her children is no longer a Christian would cause further hurt. So, since she has never pushed the issue, I didn’t feel the need to either.

Partly because of the distance and partly because I’ve slouched towards middle-age, the frequency of the proselytizing from my father had diminished in the past decade of so. I thought, perhaps hoped, that either he was mellowing a bit on religion, or at least he was starting to accept that his children might not see things his way, and perhaps be OK with that. I assumed in recent years, that I have found a comfortable existence in which there would never be a need to share my position with any family.

But recently there has been a resurgence of my father’s pushing of religion. I’m not sure why. It may be that he’s reaching old age and sees his own mortality. It may be the result of a few health scares he’s had recently which have re-kindled the fire of his own faith. It may be because he senses that some of his children are not following Jesus the way he thinks they should (I have at least one sibling who I think has left religion behind though we’ve never actually discussed it). Or it may be any number of other factors. Whatever the case, letters to me (or more accurately, emails in this day and age) have started to include the odd paragraph proclaiming the need to put trust in God. The funny thing is, his preaching to me has always been more of an affirmation than a true proselytizing. His tone has always been a mix of: “You are so wise to put your faith in God” (an assumption that I do so on his part), combined with “You must put your faith in God in order to be blessed in life.” Perhaps subconsciously he recognized that I was not a true believer and he needed to convince himself.

In any case, recently I had an email from him in which he told me about a vivid dream he had some 15 years ago in which I was seriously hurt or killed. He told me about the dream at the time it happened as well, and even then I dismissed it. I have long since put it out of my mind. He called it a vision rather than a dream, and both times in his interpretation of it, he assumed that I was in some grave danger (which obviously never materialized the first time around). Both previously and this time he has reminded me that he prays for my safety regularly and that I am in God’s hands. To me, this seems like the classic old trick of delusion surrounding religion and prayer, and of older generations trying to control younger ones with authority and fear rather that discussing things in a rationale manner.

So, the position I find myself in is a tricky one. Do I say nothing, carry on receiving these types of letters and put up with them, and just wait it out knowing that I will never have any quality relationship with my father because of the huge discrepancy in our beliefs and my inability to share mine. Or do I open the closet door and jump out? I’m still leaning towards the former option, partly because it is easier and partly because I just don’t think I need to share my position on religion unless I am openly asked. And I know that if I choose to make my atheism known, I’ll face all kinds of ramped up energy on the attempts to convert me back again, which might be something I regret in the sense that it will bring even more of the kinds of letters that I’m annoyed with in the first place. But, there’s only so much a person can take without saying something.