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Reader Brian was in the middle of a mission trip five years ago when he realized he was an atheist.

Since he had no other way to tell the people close to him what was really on his mind, he sent them an email.

Was it the best way to come out? Who knows. But it’s brutally honest and it gets right to the point — kind of a “take me or leave me” attitude:

People I Know:

I write this letter with no small amount of trepidation. Given the majority of my mailing audience, I have no doubt that I will receive a lot of responses. Please try to keep this to a minimum. I don’t like communicating this way because of the confusion and loss of meaning that comes with the written word. It is because of a friends insistence, and my own feeling that you have a right to know, that I tell you now instead of waiting until I get home, as I had originally planned. I know some of you will be hurt by the fact that I didn’t tell you sooner. *shrugs* I did what I thought was right at the time.

For a while now, about a month before I left for Florida, I had a sense of growing doubt. This was nothing new to me and I certainly did not think it important enough to call off my trip. It was about small things, the kind of things only an extremely analytical person such as myself would care about.

Things like contradictions between the Resurrection accounts, the inefficacy of the letter-style of the New Testament, and the inefficacy of the entire book of Revelation.

Training in Florida did not absolve any of these issues. If anything, the ‘Christian’ environment only served to heighten the problem. I prayed and read the Bible and sought Christian fellowship, to no avail. When I arrived in Romania, I felt a darkness that I have told some of you about. It can be likened unto an immense burdening of the soul. A feeling of being overwhelmed by evil, washed in it, beyond missing friends or home. I am not an emotional guy, yet I spent several nights crying for the burden I felt.

I cracked. I had the gun against my head, and I cracked. I turned to alcohol. It’s cheap and legal here and it has granted me the only moments of peace I had felt in quite some time. Alcohol is not evil; it’s what you turn alcohol into and what you use it for that may be evil.

Then doubts began pouring in like a flood. The injustice of the Atonement, the injustice of damning good people to hell because they didn’t believe, the injustice of the Mosaic Law, the injustice of some of God’s commands to the Israelites, either the lack of care or lack of power God displays by allowing atrocities like genocide in Sudan and Rwanda and the Congo to continue, his lack of care for sex-slaves in Colombia and starving orphans in Romania and the Jews that died during the Holocaust. Above all these, though, was one thought: God not only abandoned me, he was never with me in the first place.

He never gave me power against temptation. He never helped me resist lust for flesh or alcohol or violence. Not once have I seen the power of his kingdom manifest in my life. The closest thing I have seen to it is *name removed*, and this one exception can be written off as psychology. Every time temptation came, I held on by my nails. Through my own strength of will I succeeded against and by my own weakness of will I fell to it.

What choice did I have? A man may defy his mind if his heart is into it. He may defy his heart if his mind is into it. But a man cannot defy both mind and heart, and that’s precisely what I would be doing if I clung to faith in Jesus.

So write me. Show love. Show hate. Act like you’ve never met me. Whatever you do, know this: I am, and always will be, true to myself.

Peace,
[Brian]

Brian says the responses he got ranged from a friend who was “proud that I had stood up for what I had believed in” to the group of Christians who told him “it’s not too late to turn back to God and away from hellfire.” In any case, I don’t think Brian regrets what he did.

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Dan Barker wrote a similar letter (via snail mail) to his close friends and family when he needed to come clean about his godlessness.

If they wanted to tell people they were an atheist now, I imagine they could just post a note on Facebook.

To those of you who once came out as an atheist to a number of people all at once, what did you say? Do you still have that note, letter, or email?

Feel free to post your message below. Maybe it can serve as a template for others who will one day come out to their friends and family.