Preparing to come out
It all started with the best of intentions.
First, there were a lot of issues that were flying around my head. My previous beliefs were becoming ever less secure, but I’d been through this before. Most people find their beliefs wax and wane, so this wasn’t anything I was going to bring up out of nowhere to people who I wouldn’t normally be discussing my theological positions with. It was just business as usual.
Then I started to drift away, losing my fear of unbelief and increasingly exploring those areas and imagining a life without religion. It was different, but possibly no more than increased empathy and openness to different arguments. I stayed put in the church, and nothing really changed. Still nothing that was worth specifically mentioning to anyone.
But then there was That Day. Tuesday 12th June, 2012, and the church put itself undeniably on the wrong side of the big issue of the day, in a way that wasn’t just wrong, but spiteful, disingenuous and vindictive. That could have been the moment, but there were problems. I didn’t want to walk without giving myself time to reflect, and it’s an issue on which many people would vehemently disagree with me, turning my reasons into fighting words rather than an explanation. So I waited.
And when I eventually did decide that I couldn’t continue to have anything to do with the church that produced such a nasty, bigoted statement in my name, the issue was no less divisive, but it wasn’t fresh enough to make it a natural topic of conversation, and I still (probably foolishly) imagined that it might be a temporary blip. Again, nothing was said.
Once something’s been going on for a while, it becomes difficult to mention it in conversation. The longer it’s been going on, the harder it is, because if it’s that important, you should have said earlier. Some things you’d rather not talk about (divorce, illness, bereavement) become obvious, and people can fill in the gaps. But some need to be specifically explained, and worse, are all about you and your thoughts and feelings, inviting people to dissect and challenge your reasons.
I’ve already had slightly awkward conversations in the street with acquaintances who assumed that I still believed what I did when we last spoke. A very reasonable assumption, and one that’s hard to correct without an overly long conversation, making a bigger deal of it than it ought to be. I’ve let it go so far, but I can’t carry on like this, and it’s high time to go public.
The first and most daunting step is the in-laws. They care about this – it’s not like casually mentioning that I’ve bought a new pair of shoes. They also support the Church of England’s line on same-sex marriage, so that explanation isn’t going to be helpful or productive. And the encouraging news that they actually know the odd atheist is tempered by their constant reference to one couple as “our atheist friends”.
The plan is to find a way of engineering it into conversation when they’re here over the next few days. I don’t know how, but I need to do it, before the whole situation of not talking about it starts to look like a bad sitcom. I’m telling you now because it reduces my chances of chickening out if I might then have to explain my cowardice.
For better or worse, I’ll see you on the other side.