I think I’m going to have to agree with everything L6 and Screwtape have said, even though I thought L6’s “spineless cowards” comment was a bit harsh. I understand not wanting to cause distress and hurt feelings to family, especially depending on how much you love and care about them and want to have a healthy relationship with them, but those hurt feelings are not justified and are drenched with bigotry. So if someone reacts badly to their child/niece/nephew/grandchildren being an atheist, it’s not the child’s problem, it is the family’s problem, and they should learn to deal with it. The child should not have to lie for the sake of their family’s feelings (prejudices).
Every family is different, obviously. Some may be open-minded and others might not be opened-minded at all, but I think regardless of how open-minded they are, I think it’s best to be honest, rather than continue to live a lie and carry a heavy burden in order to give your narrow-minded family a false sense of security about who you are, especially when there’s no reason for their need to feel secured anyway. And in reality, no matter how well you think you know your family, you can’t be 100% certain how they’d react. Their reaction might be better than you think.
The fact of the matter is, often times people just don’t understand atheism. The fact that they seem to hate atheists so much is really because they’ve never actually interacted with an atheist before, and have been raised to believe all these negative stereotypes that atheists are just immoral, God-hating heathens, who get sick thrills out of blowing kittens up in microwaves, or something batshit insane like that. They’re just ignorant. By being open and honest, you can show them that these stereotypes are wrong and undeserved. We hate these negative stereotypes, and we hate the fact that we are believed to be hopeless beings with no happiness in our lives by pretty much everyone around us, and because of this bigotry, we are afraid of telling our own family that we share a different viewpoint than them. The irony is the longer we stay in the closet, the more these prejudices are prolonged. Only by speaking up do opinions change. It takes time, sure. Some people are going to take longer to come around than others. Some may never come around. But by just saying, “I’m an atheist,” you have contributed to the cause. Those three words DO make a world of difference. By not saying them, you are doing harm not only to your mental health, but you are doing harm to the change that we so desperately need.
Obviously if you have abusive parents, whether physical or verbal, then it’s best not to say anything. There’s no sense in putting yourself through that. And only tell your family when you think the time is right. Don’t just walk up to them, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m an atheist!!” Try waiting until a religious discussion comes up, or if the “Do you believe in God?” question comes up. I also think it’s best to maybe tell one person at a time, and not wait to tell a bunch of your family members at once. You don’t want to take on a bunch of people at once, especially when it’s your own family. That’s just too emotionally distressing.
Also, I think the next most important thing an atheist should say to their family after they’ve come out of the closet is that they are no different than they were before they told their family the truth. Remind them that you are still the same person you were just three minutes ago before you told them. It might not help in some cases, but I still think it should be mentioned.
I’m sure people didn’t want to this topic discussed any further and I‘m sorry to keep beating a dead horse, but I really wanted to add my two cents in, if not for the OP, then perhaps for someone else who is possibly faced with this difficult decision.