I've been an atheist for over four years and my mom has known about my atheism for around three. Up to this point it hasn't really caused a problem, mostly because we really don't talk about it, probably because it keeps the peace, which in general I'm fine with. Most of the time it just never gets brought up unless she tells me as a mere statement of fact that she went to church earlier in the day or something and it's relevant to the story as a whole.
I don't really have plans of getting married in the near future, but I have been dating my girlfriend, who is also an atheist, for over three years so it's not like the subject has never come up. With respect to marriage, you could probably infer from my previous posts that I would want a marriage ceremony completely devoid of any religious references, and given how it's seemed to be a non-issue with my mom over the past few years, I wasn't concerned that she would care either way if I had a religious wedding... that was until last week.
Over the weekend I was going to attend my first secular wedding (I couldn't actually end up attending because of car issues), and about two or three days beforehand my mom asked, "What kind of church is [he] getting married in?" which was a particularly awkward question for me, because as far as I know, this friend was the first atheist I ever knew. The most awkward part of it though, the part that gave me pause, was the way she said it. I could tell by the way she said it that she was trying to figure out if I was the only one of my friends who didn't believe, and whether they play Christian for their parents when they get married, and from that I could kind of gather that she had a twinge of hope that I would do just that. Fat chance.
I don't mean to be so glib about it, but for something that's so personal I'm not going to sacrifice my identity for someone who's not even part of the contract that is being celebrated. The person I would take longer to consider "faking it" for would be my grandmother. This is because she is so much more serious about her religious belief, e.g. believes in hell for nonbelievers, and I can tell if I ever confront her on the issue of the existence of God, while I love her to death and she shows me great compassion, she can also be incredibly stern (I hate to invoke stereotypes, but we're of German heritage) and I know she would get very defensive about it. If and when the time comes where I need to bring this issue up with her, which I imagine it will (she was only 50 when I was born, making her 70 now), I will just try to let her know that I have been this way for longer than she realizes and that I have been the same well-behaved, loving grandson she's known for this whole time. I'd hope that her believing I was going to hell didn't hurt her so much that it strained our relationship, or even worse, emotionally damaged her in some way.
If you have come out to a grandparent, which is probably harder than a parent (for me it probably will be), I would I would love to hear your advice as far as how to break it most gently. I don't plan on doing it soon, but it would be great to know for future reference.
You can read more from Kevin at his blog.
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