I was in a car with 4 other people, on the way home from a party last week. It was a little after midnight and I was chatting to some friends I hadn't seen for a while. As college students who have just finished a gruelling academic year are apt to do, we were discussing summer plans. I said I was going camping.
Friend> With who?
Me> My girlfriend (this in itself a revelation when said by someone who is perceived to be at the heights of frumkeit)
Friend> Who is she?
Me> You don't know her (how could she? She's not Jewish and doesn't appear in any Jewish social circles).
Friend> Ok, but what's her name
Me> G. (real name given).
An Observer> Is she Jewish?
I proceeded to explain that I didn't believe in Judaism any more, and identified more with atheism than theism. This entire episode was a nerve wracking experience for me, considering the only people I've told have been told on a one-to-one basis and are people I can absolutely trust with my life.
And so, at least for these car-people, the image of a "gut, frummer yid" was shattered. I confirmed I don't keep shabbos, kashrus, or anything else. We got into deep conversation about the source of my morals (are there indeed objective truths? Perhaps, but they are few and far between) and the history of religion. Slowly slowly, I am breaking this news to people who knows me and thus, more and more people within my social circle are being made aware that I no longer believe as they do (i.e. in a God).
Well, that's not entirely true. I have two social circles. The first is made up of entirely chareidi people; those who I went through 7 years of highschool and an intense year of "yeshiva gedolah" with. The sort who invite me to shabbos meals and who debate points of gemorrah and halacha with me. The second is made up of secular Jews, traditional Jews and ex-Orthodox Jews.
Some of my closest friends are in that second circle. This is because they're so accepting and open minded, and understand that there's more than one way to live life than just the "jewish way," unlike the chareidi friends of mine who define "open minded" as "watches movies" and "closed minded" as anyone who thinks it's wrong for guys to wear anything but dark pants and a white shirt. Non-chareidim do not for a second think to disown me because of my religious views (or lack of them) and make a concrete effort to understand where I'm coming from, contrary to the first circle, who believe I will go straighgt to hell for apikorsus.
In a discussion with a member of the first circle - the white-shirt wearing, black-hat donning, tzitzis dangling, shidduch going, 4th-year-yeshiva sort - I was told it was apikursus if I didn't believe in the concept of a bashert. I said outrightly there and then (perhaps unwisely) that I did not believe in such a concept, and watched as this friend struggled to reconcile his perception of me as a kindred spirit, to the perceived comment of apikorsus which I had dared to utter. He seemed to conclude that I was a smart, frum fellow and probably knew what I was talking about, and didn't push the topic further.
Ultimately, the Chareidim who claim to be caring and morally upstanding (or who should), are the least likely to stand by a decent person if they don't believe exactly as they do. Obviously, they are the group I am least likely to confide in about my beliefs, as their judgement about me will emulate that of the God they claim to worship: quick, swift and eternal. Once labeled an apikores, the word will spread like a forest fire in summer, leaving me with no - or precious few - friends in that circle. So why ever bother? It would be much easier to just fall out of contact with these folks, whilst starting new friendships with more accepting people.
As my friend in the car pointed out, I am living between two worlds, but hiding from both of them. It's time I pick a side, and I'm confidently siding with atheism and the second circle of friends.