Edited 3/4/2012: I shortened up the summary a bit and add the following update:

Thanks for the lively comments. As a preliminary summary of things I've found quite useful/helpful:

Overall, I was initially a bit discouraged. This took a lot of effort and so it's frustrating to contemplate changing directions. Due to reading a very generously shared similar PDF document (from someone I'll leave anonymous unless they'd like to be named), I'm much more upbeat about doing so. I plan to:
  • Create two documents. One very simple, plain-language, frank relating of the fact that I no longer believe in god. I'd like to write it just as though I were saying it personally to someone, easing them into hearing this (like Bugmaster suggested, except that actually doing this in person is impractical for me)
  • The second will be my actual list of reasons. I think it will be valuable to actually spell them out, and many will want to know reasons anyway (and probably ask)
A question that came up in me from the comments below is what worth this actually brings about. I don't find myself compelled to write a dissertation-style document defending my power tool purchases, Linux custom kernel options, or why I listen to the music I do. I am aware of a desire for validation, to feel that I've done enough with respect to my "quest," to prove myself on this topic. I'm still wrestling with whether this is completely irrational and unnecessary, or only partially so, validated by the fact of my social/environmental circumstances that do present some real obstacles that this document could help alleviate.
Open to any thoughts on that last bit as well. Thanks again for the valuable input.

It's almost one year later, and I've finally made tangible progress on some of the input suggested in my post about being non-religious in a primarily religious environment. That is, I have a near-final draft of a "coming out" statement I plan to share with a majority of those who know me.

I was involved in two religious communities for about six years of my life (SPO and CCR). Two years post-deconversion from Catholicism, many of them still do not know I no longer believe in god. This can make for awkward interactions for myself, as well as for my wife, who's still a believer. She thought it would be helpful if everyone was on the same page, as did I.

I'd like input from anyone willing to read my statement below. Whatever comes to mind will be helpful. I had a first draft done in Sept 2011 that I sent to my parents and brother (both non-religious) as well as a few of my blog readers. I'll post their input in perhaps a week to avoid influencing any expectations you currently have for the document.
Many thanks for thoughts and comments (or support/hesitation concerning with proceeding as described above). Also, thanks to the LW in general for all the previous support and encouragement during a difficult time. For a sometimes intimidating band of rationalists, your words have been surprisingly comforting and helpful when I've come here in emotionally difficult times. Many thanks for that; I think this document will help a lot with me moving on with my life and I value the input from this community.
As a forewarning... it's 10 pages single-spaced. I don't anticipate it to be an agonizing read, though. I hope it's well written enough to be interesting and easy reading.


New Comment
90 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:09 AM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

My sad prediction: Few will read past the title page. Maybe as far as the first paragraph.

Why? Because you're implying that them being wrong about everything is possible. This generates an ugh field of overwhelming strength.

Likely results: nothing you say in the paper will be taken in by your intended audience. Worse, they will read as far as that first paragraph and then fill in the blanks with their received preconceptions of atheists. If they discuss your apostasy amongst themselves, it will be in terms of said stereotypes, and nothing to do with anything you've actually said, written or thought, ever. Perhaps I'm being unduly pessimistic ...

The document is worth having for yourself. I expect some will read it and actually take you seriously. This will make it worth it.

Edit: I've just realised the above falls afoul of "plausible is the opposite of probable" - a compelling story of a possible outcome is strictly less probable the more details you add. Still feels like an outcome of sufficient likelihood to be prepared for, though. (Am I wrong there?)

Thanks for the comment. I hope that won't happen, but definitely see your point. Assuming you read it (or the first page), do you think that my paragraph about intentionally not offering any specific reasons will be any encouragement/enticement to stick around for the rest? I didn't add any arguments specifically because what you said above is so true. No one can listen or empathize once they feel the need to defend. Also, given that many of these people really do care about my wife (and I), do you think personal connection would offer any additional incentive/motivation? Thanks for the valuable input. My brother suggested that writing it for myself was perhaps the most valuable aspect of the document as well. ETA: Having re-read the freethoughtblog post, I think I get it more now. It's not just the content... it's my existence as an atheist and admitting it that's potentially offending. To be fair, I did very much want to insert quite a good amount of hope and happiness toward the end to remove any views that to deconvert alone is what causes sadness/bad fortune, etc.
Yes, that's what I was trying to say - "atheists exist" is a sufficiently threatening thought to block all further consideration. (And, of course, Catholic apologetics is some of the most sophisticated in Christendom.) Idea that occurs to me: Do you think you could do a single-page summary? There's a chance they might read it and not just go "ah, an atheist - tl;dr". Then they can have the ten-page version if they like. "For the full version, see my blog."
Gotcha. I'm still not sure my specific readership will say, as you put it, "An, an atheist -- tl;dr," but I'll keep thinking about this. I hoped it would be concise (not necessarily 1 page, but not 10, either). As with most of my things, it ended up much longer than I expected. Thanks for the continued input.

What is the objective you're trying to achieve with this document ?

Neither are nor my close family members have never been religious, so it's hard for me to put myself into your target audience's shoes. Still, if I did something radical, like joining a snake-handling Pentecostal cult; and if I chose to announce my decision by way of a 10-page, single-spaced document full of scholarly references; then I would expect my family members to feel hurt. They'd expect me to talk to them on a more personal level.

Those are just my two cents, though.

Fair points. Did you read the document? Other than a handful, none of my footnotes are scholarly references. Some of this is from a practical standpoint. I had coffee and dinner and lunch dates with many, many close friends/acquaintances to tell them in person. The community I was involved in contains some 500 people. I don't know if I can have such an interaction with all of them. I'll keep thinking about this point, though. Maybe this would be counter-productive. ETA: Oh, and sorry... I didn't answer the main question. My primary objective is simply to inform all those who still don't know after two years. I was a member of a community and disappeared. I'd like people to know why, and not have heard via a telephone game. Those who are really important already know. Many beside that know me, don't know yet.
I just finished reading it, and I found it quite moving. It has a few minor syntax errors, but other than that it's good. Ok, I see, your family is an order of magnitude larger than mine. In this case, a document is probably the best way to go, otherwise you'd have to dedicate a year of your life just to talking to everyone :-) That makes sense. There's a danger that some people might find your document a bit, well, preachy; they might feel that you're trying to deconvert them, not merely inform them. I personally don't think your document comes off that way, but I'm trying hard to put myself into your audience's shoes. But maybe I'm over-compensating.
Thanks! I got some specific corrections from a blog reader; I'll update and re-upload the new version to avoid repeat corrections. Glad you liked it. Well, community of religious believers. The family who will receive this, if any, is probably only ~20 strong. Which, in that case, perhaps I should wait until the next family get together to announce in person. Though, the best time tends to be at meal time, and the last time that would have happened, I got asked to pray at Thanksgiving because my family thinks I'm the "holy one." I didn't think it was the best time to deny or announce my nonbelief... so, embarrassed as I am to admit it, I faked it. Apparently, they didn't know the difference. Fair enough. My brother commented that it was "processy." I could see taking my explicit explanation of how I go about things as implying that however they went about their belief isn't as good as mine and thus they would deconvert if they investigated as well. I'll keep that in mind. Many, many thanks for reading the whole thing and providing input.

My immediate gut reaction (to your first paragraph) is that you're trying for a deeply profound style, and that makes me want to stop reading. I understand exactly why that feels like the right style for an account of apostasy, but it's infinitely better to be as basic and plain-spoken as you would be in a casual conversation. (After all, you're not trying to win a prize for style or satisfy the requirements of academics, you're trying to help your friends to see and respect where you're coming from.) Edit your first page until you can read it out loud to a stranger and have it sound like natural speech.

I agree, and I was. I also started that first (naturally), so I think the idea of finally writing this was more dramatic to me at the time, hence what you're picking up. Hopefully the rest isn't like that (as much). I'll re-read with this in mind and try to be more natural. Well put, especially in terms of having something tangible to know when it's right.
You're right, the rest of it is much better in style (although the last paragraph has the same problem). Also, thanks for the link to the Outsider Test- this is exactly what precipitated my own apostasy as well. In the midst of my usual cycle of faith and doubt, I started asking myself what someone who was like me except for my social and psychological pressures would think of the evidence. The answer was frighteningly clear once I started thinking like that.
The conclusion was also written on the very early side :) Re. the Outsider Test, one of the most eye opening things for me, albeit recently and much post-deconversion, was listening to an Islamic convert from Christianity (example). While I still might not agree with his reasons, it was enlightening to hear someone talk with passion, conviction, reasons, scriptural backings, and so forth about a completely alien faith... all while using the same language, emotion, and excitement that I did about my faith.
I sensed this but couldn't put words around it. Thanlk for doing so, as I will now have a better idea of what to say about this kind of writing.

If you want to know how religious people will react to it, it might be helpful to get feedback from religious people.

Good point, and I am. I've cross posted at my blog where I have religious, non-religious deconverts, others in similar situations, and religious readers. I'll also be sharing with closer friends in the target groups for pre-screening. This was one of many places I wanted to turn for input.

Very well written piece. I enjoyed reading it.

The parts discussing the evidence on the historical existence of Jesus are likely to be the most provocative parts, and they are practically the first thing you discuss. I understand that this was an important part of your de-conversion process, but if there were a way you could eliminate or delay this discussion, I think it would be helpful in preventing your intended audience from being turned off by the writing.

The bits on Josephus soft-pedals the state of affairs (i.e., the whole paragraph was likely a complete lie inserted by Eusebius). However, quoting from the Catholic Encyclopedia on the subject may help (a suitable authority to refer to).
That's a good point I hadn't considered. Maybe I should stick to my overall plan and keep all reasons out of it. Your'e correct about my reason for including it; it was the major turning point. The point where I first questioned. I'll think more about rearranging or just ditching it and linking to it somewhere else.

That's inspiring, and beautiful. You should be very, very proud of your rationality, adherance to the Socratic method, and your determination to create and maintain a happy marriage and beautiful life. I know you will achieve your goals. You deserve to.

I agree that jwhendy should be proud of himself, but "You deserve to achieve your goals" and "You will achieve your goals" are probably not related. Don't assume that this will turn out great with everyone receiving the document crying and hugging and saying how they'll always love you no matter what. The world doesn't work that way, and being prepared for that is more important than praising the (admitted) inspiration and beauty of this piece.
Well, of course things may not work out exactly like an Oprah special. But I think that even if there is anger/bitterness/backlash at first, things will, in time, work out and his family will accept him, provided he handles the situation with care (which I predict he will) and provided that his family is composed of people who are somewhere in the vicinity of reasonableness. They may not be. But permanent disownment by a family for purely religious reasons is rare, in my experience. Don't get me wrong: it happens. But as someone who grew up and lives in the bible belt, it is not common.
Thanks for the comment. Similar to atorm, I did think it was perhaps a bit over the top in terms of its optimism, but I appreciate the gesture.

I found it pretty readable and interesting, though most of what was new to me was how you were treated by a lot of the religious people you know. I was surprised that Jesus not making more of a splash in his own time was that important to you.

How are you and your wife handling your children's (ir)religious education?

I was going to recommend Julia Sweeney, too.

Thanks for the comment. I kept some of the worst reactions from my religious acquaintances out of the document, by the way :) It wasn't, by itself. But consider someone with belief in belief, but who doesn't know it. Imagine the first time they encounter some belief that doesn't pay rent (say the bit about flour impermeability) and it brings down the whole thing. I actually think I had real belief... but I'm just illustrating the nature of what I think happened. Reading this bit about Jesus was the first time I actually saw that my religion might fall into the category of something to be examined, just like everything else. It was the first time I realized I had never researched it to begin with. Hopefully that makes more sense. On it's own, it probably is inconsequential (many apologists have plenty of reasons for why Jesus wasn't more noteworthy). As the first chink in my armor... it was life changing. Good question. It's up and down. I advocate for raising them aware of religious beliefs, but not teaching any one of them as true. My wife is [obviously] more inclined to raise them Catholic, and sometimes feels very obligated to do so. Recently, she attended a conference for women in which the speaker made the point very emphatically that raising one's children Catholic was one's duty to god. She came home and was very renewed in her conviction that this was her mission. I was very troubled by it, mostly because it felt like she had been invigorated to disregard my opinion and rights as a parent, not necessarily because it would have led to raising my children religious. She talked about the matter like it was a one-sided decision. Subsequently, her trusted Catholic small group informed her that she didn't need to be this forceful and that she could just "live as a witness" and that would be fulfilling her duty. So... I guess we're back to where we started. My older daughter (3.5) does pick up quite a bit of religious stuff ("playing Mass," singing alleluia, e
If you haven't already, you might want to think about what to say when your daughter gets told about hell. I didn't get told about hell as a possibility when I was a kid (my background is not-very-religious Jewish), but I gather it can be quite a shock.
Good point, though Catholics are (can be?) pretty darn mild when it comes to hell. My wife and surrounding community are super tame concerning things like that. There's no outright judgment, but they still probably pray for the future of my soul. I also plan on opposing things that seem to be unjustified/unreasonable outright. Hell would be one. First communion at age seven is another example. No child can comprehend what they need to in order to profess that a wafer just had it's essence turned into the flesh of a non-physical deity while retaining all of its physical characteristics. While things seem to be okay at the moment, we haven't crossed a time-sensitive binary option bridge like communion yet. Thus, I don't know what the reaction will be toward my resistance. My wife is very sensitive to her social environment and I think she will feel a lot of guilt and shame for not having her kids go through visible rituals like the sacraments (like everyone else's kids). Not to mention, once they're at that age, all of our friends' kids will be receiving communion and ours will be sitting there. This will be a stab in the heart every single week.

I hope you make your final version available as HTML as well as PDF so I can link people to it - thanks!

I could do that -- I wrote it in org-mode, which lets me export to nearly anything. I'll have to tweak some of the LaTeX specific stuff, but should be doable. Is it that the html version definitely displays in a browser vs. having to download a pdf if no browser plugin is available? Or to read on mobile devices? Just wondering what the appeal of html is. Thanks!
All of those. And: * the pagination of an html page (i.e. none) is better for reading on a computer screen, * text resizing/zooming for people who need larger text, and * (I have a feeling that) screen reader software can read a webpage more easily than a pdf.
Thanks for clarifying.

I have a low attention span but I read through your entire document and when I reached the end I was surprised because I had the impression I was still reading the preliminary part. So, for what it's worth, I found it easy to get through.

That's a good sign. Thank you for your donation of time and effort!

Upvoted for honesty, and for conscientiously documenting it in a very readable format, and for courage. Of course, we who already choose to read LessWrong are not the intended recipients of this message -- we're the choir, and don't need to be preached to. We've arrived at this forum from many different backgrounds, along many different paths. You came from Roman Catholicism. Eliezer came from Judaism. Some LessWrongers were never religious at all.

Your message is not to us, but to your own friends and family, who remain active believing Catholics. By co... (read more)

Thanks for the note. Hopefully it will be well received by others. I've listened to Sweeney's main audio/tour/thingy (can't recall the name at the moment), but may have to revisit it again. (I noticed NancyLebovitz also mentioned it.)

Good read. I think that's a description of an intellectual journey, if is not so similar to EY or Luke, maybe is the beggining. Joining in the Bayesian Conspiracy put you in a good path. Rationalists should win.

Thanks for the comment. As I put in the document, I'd like to move toward what I consider to be more productive endeavors, including diving in more fully here at LW.

I enjoyed reading that. I spotted a few grammatical errors, so I will offer this: if you make this available to me as a Google Document and give me commenting rights, I will go through it within the next week with my editor hat on and mark up everything I think should be changed. Even if you don't want to do that, good job: that was a fairly enjoyable read and will probably do what you want it to as is.

Thanks for reading it. I can export from org-mode into open document format and probably upload it. I'll get back to you if I do so. Many thanks for the proof-reading offer! Anything that would make it more enjoyable? Or any examples of what mad it "fairly" enjoyable vs. "very" or simply "enjoyable"? (Just curious.) Same for the comment "...will probably do what you want it to..." is that simply based on not knowing my exactly situation or due to some particular content that has you hesitant about saying it will do what I want it to? (Just inviting specifics if you have them; if it was just a general impression, no worries!)
It was fairly enjoyable because it was no Terry Pratchett or Ender's Game, not because of any points that really hurt it. And you are correct about "probably" referring to my lack of knowledge regarding your situation (mostly the people involved).
Indeed, I'm no pro. Thanks for the clarification!

Don't take this the wrong way at all, but I did not read all of it; it was not interesting enough. (I read three pages) But that is due primarily to a complete disinterest in religion, nothing else. It was very well written, and I suspect that my apathy wouldn't apply to your target audience.

For what it's worth, congratulations on taking the time to write all of this out so that you can explain to people. It is imaginably a very difficult thing to do for someone in your situation.

Thanks for taking the time and effort to read what you did and for the kind words.

New to LessWrong?