Monday, September 22, 2008

Should I Hide My Atheist Books?

by Nico Raj Rahm

I know! I know! I must stand for what I believe. But, some situations are more complicated than others. Sometimes, it is not your honor, or safety that is at stake, but your family's.

I love collecting antique books, love reading, and have established a great little library at my home. While my collecting focus is not books on atheism, I do have a formidable collection.

Here is my confession; I hide my atheist books whenever a family member, or distant relative visits my home. Why? It is not that I am scared of the Repercussions but rather do not care for the inconvenience of a long and tiring conversational debate about why I am an atheist, and do not believe in Allah any longer.

I can see it now; my uber religious aunt shocked as she describes her disappointment in me, or the look of concern on my mother's face saying nothing. But the worst of them all are the repercussions brought upon my family by the closely knit network of friends and acquaintances in the community. The repercussions do not bother me, nor my wife, but for my parents it would be an embarrassment.

While I am aware that millions of people, especially teens and young adults are going through similar dilemmas all around the world, my situation is rather trivial. Or at least I believe it is. All I need to do is remove a few books off the shelves of my study and the potential problem is averted.

Am I a coward? Maybe. But at least my family is spared the hassle and trouble brought upon by a characteristicly vindictive religious society. My turn will come one day. For now, let my family live in peace.


  1. I don't see anything wrong with not wanting to get into tiresome discussions between family members that, because of being between family members, are doomed to end badly. It's one thing to argue with strangers, where you can stay somewhat within the limits of a logical discussion, but it's another thing entirely to argue with those you've been raised by, or along with; things could rapidly derail from the logical discussion into family matters.
    I've the luck of not having to hide any books from my family, but that's because most of my family it's not interested in books in general, so "The God Delusion" on my bookcase it's more likely to be ignored.
    Nevertheless, I've experience the frustration of having to keep quiet during family reunions when the topic becomes strongly religious, all because of not wanting to start an argument that could end sourly. It's family, one wants to keep things as peaceful as possibly among family. I'm speaking, of course, from a mexican catholic environment, where atheism it's not yet seem as that much a threat because it's not even acknowledge as anything else than some kind of phase or misunderstanding that will eventually go away. Luckily, for me that is, in my environment whats truly perceived as a threat is other competing religions. Actually, in my case, having the Qur'an on my bookcase it's much more of a source of amazement and/or discomfort from visitors.
    It's indeed very difficult to address the issue, of having become an atheist, with the family, maybe that's why a lot of us prefer to speak loudly outside, in the hopes that the ripples in the pond of human conscience will eventually get to our loved ones, and then the only thing one will have to do is say "actually, I've been an atheist for a long time, ask me whatever you want to know".
    Maybe I'm a coward, but by no means will I ever want to be a martyr of atheism.

  2. It's important to realise that there is a line you can walk in between "coward" and "martyr".

    It only makes sense to stand up and fight if there is a clear and likely outcome of fighting that is better than avoiding the fight when the fallout from the fight itself is also taken into account.

    If you think you can teach your Aunt to be more accepting of other people's choices without hurting your family then you should fight. If not (and this appears to be your view) then you should not fight.

    It is not cowardly to avoid an unwinnable fight. I'm sure Sun Tsu would have written that.

    I see you as a pragmatist, not a coward.

  3. I agree. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to avoid conflict with your family. If you felt deeply resentful about not being able to express your opinions to them, then that might be a different story.

    But as it stands, you don't seem all that annoyed by it. If peace in the family is more important, then you're doing what you should.

  4. personally i would just have them out. and if your relatives ask about them, simply explain that is what you've currently been studying and leave it at that. if they persist then just say that you don't mean them disrespect but it's just not a conversation you feel like having at the present time.

    if they childish enough to insist on making an argument out of it simply ask them to respect your current beliefs and leave it at that.

    i know things don't always run smoothly but arguments are between two people. if you have your books out and your relatives start an argument, just choose not to argue about it.
    the other person should eventually run out of steam once they realize that the argument is not going to be allowed to happen.

    i know how it is about not wanting to upset your family. its a touchy subject especially because i don't know what kind of family you have, but either way a family should love you for who you are regardless of what you believe.

  5. This has nothing to do with books, but I'm facing a similar problem. Next month is my fathers 80th birthday, all his kids and grandkids are surprising him with a party at his vacation house. The main party is on saturday, but we are all expected to attend a church service with him on sunday. My entire family are consevative christian, but unbeknownst to them I'm athiest, how do I gracefully get out of this church service?

  6. It is not cowardly to want to be close to family and friends. As a small child, I spent much of my time feinting religion.
    As an adult, my family and friends are aware of my beliefs, and they don't care, but it sounds like your family might.
    I would recommend not burning bridges, but if someone outright asks you what you believe, you probably shouldn't lie.

  7. Thanks Alison,
    I've never been really close to my family. I spent many years without any contact with them. But now I'm past 50 yrs old and am trying to reestablish some kind of a relationship with them. I would love to be able to put my beliefs aside and join them in this service, but feel physically ill and such a hypocrite when I think of hiding my true feelings and attending this service.

  8. I'm in a similar situation currently. I hide my atheism from all family outside of my parents and my sister. I too just want to avoid the hassle it would cause me, and moreso the drama, and most likely fighting, that would occur between my parents and other family members as they would argue about how my parents "let" me slip away. I grew up as a fundamentalist christian and only de-converted last year. My parents did not even know until this past May.

    You're no coward for wanting to keep peace in your family. A time will come when having them know will be the better choice than not having them know. Until then, I would try not to stress about it too much.

    Peace out.

  9. When you hide your atheist books, you're not just adding comfort to you and your family's lives, you are giving up your freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is a founding principle of democracy. Without citizens utilizing their freedom of speech to spread ideas, the old ideas gain strength and live on longer. and the new ideas are stopped from permeating through society. Don't be a coward.

    None of your religious family members are scared to discuss religion with you, why should you be scared of discussing it with them. Worrying about the conversation devolving into a fight says more about your social skills than your religion. Any disagreement can become ugly, if you are clear, calm, and not insulting there is no reason why a religious conversation can't be benefitial for both sides. I proudly mention my atheism in all settings. Just as the mormons, catholics, and the rest do.

  10. Islam is being hijacked by terrorists and the world needs to here from ex-Muslims and Muslims against terror. Perhaps you should hide your books from your family, but not from the world. We need to here your thoughts, Islam needs to off the hook from it's own fundamentalists that believe the Koran sanctions murder (maybe it does, I still don't know). When I read a passage about murdering non-Muslims I'm told it's out of context. Is it? I'm not religious BTW. I think it's the cause of division in the world. No one should use God and Hate in the same sentence. Rock on!

  11. I find it hilariously ironic that you have and ad for "Single Muslim" at the top of this article.

  12. I agree with baalcebub. I'm a nursing student who attends a characteristically religious school. Right now I am assigned as a community health nurse in a program whose mission statement includes the words "Christ-centered." I didn't have a choice in the matter, but every patient whose house I walk into wants to ask me about my religion. In order to perform the care I am required to perform in order to pass the class, I lie. I'm not proud of it afterward, but I don't have much of a choice in that matter, either.
    I made the mistake of telling a client the truth once: I ended up with a 40-min lecture before being forbidden from touching the client or returning to the home. When I told my (very religious) clinical instructor she just gave me that pitying "I can't believe you're not going to heaven" look.
    Honesty is often more difficult, but there are times when it is no more beneficial.

  13. I honestly don't blame you here. I too am an atheist, but my grandmother isn't aware of this fact. She's hardcore southern baptist. Religion comes up very seldom in my conversations with her, but when she does make a comment about praying for me for this and that, or that I need to marry a good Christian woman, I just let it slide and continue on with my day. It's one thing to stand up for what you believe in, but in some situations it's best just to leave things be. It's not that I'm scared, just as you aren't. It would just be too tiresome and annoying to have to discuss it, so I avoid the need to.

  14. If you feel the need to hide your atheist literature from your family, you should look at whether you really want your family around you at ALL. You shouldn't HAVE to explain yourself.

  15. my boyfriend hides his playboys when his parents visit. We have a different view on sex than they do, and I don't think there's anything wrong with not wanting to talk about religious differences with your family. Sometimes sanity is more important than self expression, you know?

  16. @Shred

    If you're any kind of respectful Athiest, you'll suck it up and go to the church service.
    I am an Athiest myself, but out of respect to my grandmother, if she were to ask me to attend church with her for one stinking Sunday, I'd go. Just to make her happy.
    My boyfriend's family is also church goers, as well as him, and I'd go out of respect for them as well. What's the worst that happens? You start believing again? Pretend you're attending a play or something, sit back and enjoy it, and secretly giggle at the sermon or something. Don't be a prude Athiest!

  17. The integrity and goodness of your life that your family is crediting to Allah is rightfully yours. Own it!

    You have an opportunity to personify atheism for them. Your family and friends may never acquire your level of enlightenment but certainly they'll no longer see atheism as the practice of evildoers and demons - atheism is their own beloved and intelligent daughter/cousin/sister/friend.

    Another reason to be honest about it: Religion of all sorts is hampering our global progress. By calmly defending your philosophy, you give courage to others who are on the fence. Vocal atheists will provide balance and dilute the negative effects of religion.

    Showing more tolerance and respect for the religious than the religious will EVER show to atheists contributes to their power.

    My opinion comes from having the same choices as you at one time. It isn't easy.

  18. Blame it on my parents. They always told me to "think for myself". I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that.

    Now, I suspect what they meant was, "Think what we tell you but do it in your own words." Too late. When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent.

    Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they lived.

    When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they “Would make me go."

    I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?” Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else they would tell me.

    Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone's time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “Talk some sense into me.” (as if they ever works for anyone) After about 15 minutes, of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were.

    I told him, “If there is a Hell I'll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?" He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats.

    For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent's home and didn't see them again for well over a year. By then, I had completed a couple of years of college, which fortunately, I was able to pay for myself. I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again.

    The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I'd like to say that worked, but slowly subtle hints became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention.

    What did I learn? Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. Would I do it differently now? No, there are times when you must become your own person and stand firm in what you know to be true.