Annie and Brandon Kelly, both 26, are a married couple who grew up in evangelical families. They both now call themselves atheists. Their parents have not officially been told.
The Weekly met with the Kellys outside a shuttered café near the University of Arizona, where they’re both graduate students. Brandon, who was wearing a striped polo shirt, had a solemn demeanor. Tattoos festooned Annie’s arm; she also sported black fingernails, a nose piercing and dangly earrings.
They got married about five years ago in a “Christian, very religious wedding,” Annie said. Three years ago, after moving to Tucson from Michigan, they started questioning. They put a name to their new worldview last year.
“Getting past that initial step of actually being honest with yourself and saying, ‘OK, I really don’t believe in my religion anymore; I really don’t consider myself a Christian anymore,’ is probably the hardest step to get over,” Brandon said. “For a long time, I sort of–on an intellectual level–didn’t really believe it anymore. At the same time, when you grew up with it, and you’re told, ‘Be a Christian; it’s part of your identity, and everyone else is Christian, too,’ it’s very hard not to believe it anymore.”
“It’s scary to start questioning it, and be like, ‘I don’t know if I believe this anymore,’” Annie said. “And you start feeling guilty that you’re not as strong a believer as some other people.
“I kind of had the assumption that if you’re not a Christian,” Annie said, “there’s no reason to want to be a good person. But when I finally came to the realization that I can still be a good person, I can want to live a good life, there doesn’t have to be a reason for me to be a good person–if that makes sense–then I became more comfortable.”
With a state of mind that sounds similar to the one experienced by homosexuals when they come out of the closet, Annie and Brandon haven’t had the “very special talk” about atheism with their parents; the couple thinks they’ll be be disappointed when they get the official word. Mom and dad undoubtedly know on some level, but the negative (atheism) is downplayed while the positive (the potential for their return to the fold) is accentuated, Annie said.
“My parents will be like, ‘Where did I go wrong?’” she continued. “My mom will probably say that she didn’t do this enough for me, maybe she wasn’t in contact enough for me, maybe she didn’t send me enough books–which she did. I still have all the books sitting on my bookshelf. It’ll be a big disappointment.”
Brandon added: “I think also that both of our parents will blame the spouse to a certain extent. But it’s not easy to bring it up. It just hasn’t really come up, and it’s been such a gradual process for us. It wasn’t like we woke up one day and were like, ‘Oh, we’re atheists.’ They don’t really make a card for it.”
The experience of Annie and Brandon Kelly is typical of the personal stories you read on exChristian.net of people recovering from religion. A common thread running through these “true confessions” is that many children dread telling their parents. Depending upon how insular their faith community was, leaving can be a wrenching, depressing experience that they face alone. The church and the people they have known all their lives are often the newly converted apostate’s only friends. Since leaving is seen as disloyal and a betrayal, their friends often abandon them. Millions of people leave a faith community every year and the pain they suffer is one of the dark shameful secrets that goes unrevealed in the major media and that is systematically covered up by the churches. Parents do not seem to look this far ahead when they consign their children to the control program used to trap and keep children in the fold. If they knew what lay ahead, would it make them at least stop and hesitate before consigning their children? Joining a faith community is a private decision for an adult to make based on their freedom of conscience.