Coming out: is it really that bad to be an atheist?

JAC: Grania has fairly strong feelings that if you’re not facing immediate ostracism or other sanctions by coming out as an atheist, you should do so.  She wrote a brief post on her opinion, which is conditioned by the unique situation in Ireland, where parents are forced to dissimulate about their beliefs, and it’s below. Readers should feel free (even though you aren’t really free in the dualistic sense!) to agree or disagree in the comments.

*******

by Grania

Jerry posted about the Dawkins Foundation’s “Openly Secular” campaign last week which you can read more about here; and includes resources for parents, school students, African-American, Spanish and other groups. The reader discussion on his piece was interesting, and I was not surprised to see that there were a significant number of people expressing reluctance to ever admit to atheism—especially online.

It’s something I’ve come across before in Ireland when I was part of a group of like-minded atheists setting up Atheist Ireland. As secular as modern Ireland is, it has a particular problem with primary education, for the vast majority of taxpayer-funded schools are under the control of the Roman Catholic church. In this situation, children can be denied a place in a school if they—or rather their parents— belong to a minority religion or no religion. For this reason a number of atheists or nonbelievers in Ireland hide their true thoughts, some even going as far as having their child baptised in the Church to try to ensure that their child has access to a local school.

It’s something that I simultaneously understand and have reservations about. Nobody wants to be ostracised, let alone have their family or children isolated or shunned, or worse. But every time someone chooses to maintain the status quo, they effectively pass the problem onto the next generation.

There’s no one right answer to the problem of atheists hiding their identity. A lot depends on where you live. Cities tend to be far more tolerant than small towns. Certain states and countries are far more open-minded and hospitable than others. I certainly would never advocate that someone risk their life, their safety or their livelihood. However, in places like Europe, America, Canada and Australia, it is highly unlikely that any of us is going to end up in jail and flogged repeatedly like Raif Badawi; or brutally murdered like Niloy Chatterjee, Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman Babu, and Avijit Roy; or forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital like Mubarak Bala.

It’s certainly true that being openly atheist can net one a measure of disapproval. Friends and family may be shocked or in some cases quite hostile. But is that really enough to make you live your life under cover?

139 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I’m in agreement with Grania but there are some circumstances where remaining closeted makes sense… young people still dependent on religious parents, for example, might want to wait it out if they are going to be cut loose prematurely. And I understand the plight of atheist religious leaders who are trapped without other apparent job opportunities.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      So sad to think that parents might actually cut their kids loose for no better reason than that a child has adopted a rational, empirical approach to answering ontological questions.

      Can’t fathom cutting my kids off for anything like that — hell, not even if they ran off and joined one of those wild-eyed Episcopalian or Presbyterian cults you hear about all the time.

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        I was cut off for 6 months after getting caught smoking pot. My dad made me take bible study lessons with him twice a week to “make amends” and then he helped out with college again. So dumb. I remember once right after the bible study I went into my room and took a hit of acid. I was very rebellious back then and religion made it worse.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Funny it should be acid; I’ve always thought of that as a quasi-religious sacrament. (Reminds me that Hunter Thompson said he kept a couple tabs of Owsley’s LSD-25 at the ready to dose his buddy Jimmy Carter if JC ever started laying that evangelical rap on him. Which maybe explains Jimmy’s encounter with the killer rabbit.)

          • Mark R.
            Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            lol! I’ve never seen that…straight outta Monty Python.

  2. Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Why? Whether one says he/she is a theist, an atheist or other says nothing about their values and behavior.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      I agree. But it’s not really about values and behaviour though.

      Perhaps I should have made it clearer in my piece, but it’s about living in a country or community where the status quo suppresses secularism in a variety of ways and it is justified because “everyone” is a Christian (or insert whatever religion is applicable).

      If you don’t self-identify as not belonging to that in-group, the status quo prevails unchallenged.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        If you live in a country or community where the status quo suppresses secularism, I agree. I have never lived there. I grew up in small town Mid America where one’s church labels had meaning on Sunday morning or Wednesday nights for Baptists and Friday night and Saturday for the one Jewish family.

        Religion or not was only an issue for those who pressed it and they had trouble finding company.

        I was a liberal Methodist then, although I learned what that was later, and am a UU today, mainly because I enjoy meeting with and working on social programs with like minded folks.

        • Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          *If* secularism is suppressed? *If*?

          Are you aware of how busy the FFRF is?

          • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            I am and I am also aware of the SPLC and ACLU, both of which are on similar missions in their respective domains. My point is not that the ultra-religious are harmless, only that the vast majority of religious persons are unconcerned with whether an acquaintance is theist, atheist or other.

            FFRF “works to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.” My issue with this is that there are nontheistic religions, religious humanism being one, notheistic Christianity and Judaism being two others.

            • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

              And my point is that your neighbor never asking what religion you subscribe to is not evidence of the success of secularism.

              Various flavors of theism are being promoted every day in all sorts of contexts where there should be strict neutrality. Theists get away with this because of their numbers. Atheists need to stand up and be counted.

              • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                If by secularism you mean “the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries”, it won’t happen until religious people are no longer elected to or hired by government institutions.

                My point is that limiting the characterization to theism, as many do, dismisses the nontheist groups which self identify as religions which inhibits discussion.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      I am not so sure that is true. It sure doesn’t seem accurate at the level of populations. Yes I’d agree that the incidence of many, perhaps even most, values and behaviors are indistinguishable between the two groups. I’d also bet that there is a correlation between the incidence of certain values and behaviors and increasing degree of religiosity.

      But what the actual case may be is sort of beside the point. Many people, particularly among believers, believe that saying you are an atheist does indeed say something about your values and behavior. Something bad.

      And that’s bullshit that should be opposed. I agree with Grania, though I would never pressure anyone who was fearful of the consequences to “come out.” I might, under some circumstances, try to convince someone but I wouldn’t harass them about it. I doubt Grania would either.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        Maybe I live too cloistered a life. I participate in several organizations and am seldom asked my religious views. When asked, I tell them I am a UU and that usually settles it.

        For me, it’s about participating both apart from and as a part of a larger community. Labels are distractions. Behavior is the core issue.

        • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Maybe you’re just lucky. I live in Wichita Falls, Texas. A few years ago when my daughter was younger, she mentioned at a local summer camp that you didn’t need to believe in a god to be a good person, and she was ostracized by the rest of the kids until it faded from their memory. She wasn’t even saying that she didn’t believe, just that you could be good without belief.

          I remember another time when I was still Catholic, and mentioned to a guy that I went to the Catholic church. He told me that was okay – unlike a lot of his friends, he didn’t have anything against Catholics and didn’t think they were tools of the Devil.

          Certain areas are still very close-minded about religion, and if you’re not part of the right group, it can be pretty rough. I’m not super-secretive about my atheism, but I also don’t advertise it. Unless I know someone well, if they ask I just tell them I’m not religious and don’t go to church. Even that’s bad enough to some people without bringing up the ‘a’ word. Perhaps in a couple years once my daughter goes off to college I can be a bit more assertive.

          • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

            True. Still, making it an issue can be an issue. As for your daughter’s experience, it is tragic, but I don’t know any kids who haven’t had painful experiences. Kids can be brutal.

            On the other hand, there is a UU Fellowship in Wichita Falls and I suspect other groups.

            The attraction of religion varies. For me it’s being able to participate with a community focused on helping which can ignite the wrath of those who are terminally self-reliant. Illegitimi non carborundum

            • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              Thanks. I hadn’t realized there was a UU fellowship here. Last time I checked a few years ago, the closest was down in the Metroplex. I may check it out.

              As far as my daughter’s experience, I know kids can be mean, but the whole point is they were being mean over religion, and it taught her very quickly to not be too open about her religious views. If she’d continued being so open, I’m sure it would have happened more. As it is, she’s still had to deal with (substitute) teachers insisting that only Christians can be good people and that evolution is a lie.

              One of your previous comments about “Religion or not was only an issue for those who pressed it and they had trouble finding company” just doesn’t match with my family’s experience, unless by ‘pressing it’ or ‘making it an issue can be an issue’ means doing anything other than silence when someone else brings up religion.

              • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

                I don’t know Wichita Falls except having to have a blown tire replaced on my way from Lubbock to Duncan, OK, to visit the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center (hope you have been there. great cattle drive theater).

                One of the problems we church deserters have is continuing what was so great before: fellowship, community action, small special interest groups. It seems to work better when there is a place to meet and some organization to it.

                Liberal Methodism, which can be nontheistic, works for me, but there are no liberal congregations here. UU is great. We support the local food bank, the juvenile detention center, co-sponsor a Summer Peace Camp for local youth and a social action group which got the local minimum wage increased over the well organized opposition of the local Chamber.

                For me, religion is about helping… helping ourselves stay on a healthy path, helping others in their difficult situation, helping the community. Interestingly, there is a strong and growing interfaith group here focused on social justice. The times they are a’changing, but not in an evolutionary way, it takes cultural DNA modification.

              • Ken Elliott
                Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                Gordon, it’s pretty cool to read about a WEIT Commentator talk about Oklahoma, Lubbock, and Wichita Falls. I live in Norman now, went to school at Texas Tech back in the Grand Seventies, and spent a wonderful 3 months stationed at Shepard AFB as a young Marine attending an Air Force technical school.

                You mention replacing the community aspect of organized religion, but I wonder if anyone other than myself ever got or gets the heebie jeebies when entering a church? I always have and still do. The heebie jeebiest was a Jehovah’s Witness . . . temple? that a co-worker’s congregation had built down the street from where we work. It was WEIRD! in there.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 26, 2015 at 8:06 am | Permalink

                Kingdom Hall. And, yeah, JW’s are scary.

          • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

            I’m pretty much where you are now.

        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          My desired answer to ‘the question’ is to say “my church is St. Mattress of the Springs”. I only used this once, though, and it did not go over well b/c it seemed too snarky.

          • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            😉 My saint is Sir Cafe’ de Columbia.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Epistemologically, no. It is not about ‘values’, e.g., I like this beer over that beer, or I like this movie more than that. An atheist is significantly less like to believe things that have no evidence.

      Knowing who is an atheists tells you everything important about a person. Just as Hitchens would say, you can know more about a person based on their beliefs (or lack there of) than any other feature.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        “Knowing who is an atheists tells you everything important about a person. ”

        You must be kidding.

        • Doug
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          “Knowing who is an atheist tells you everything important about a person.” Ayn Rand was an atheist; so was Karl Marx. What does knowing that they were atheists tell you about them?

          • Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

            Precisely, Doug, I think Kevin was kidding.

            If he wasn’t, how do we know if anyone is an atheist? Because they say so? Meaning people will lie about many things, but not that.

            I think the Dalai Lama is an atheist, too, although Hitler is reported to have said he was a Christian, but Jesus was not… or so I’m told.

            My best friend’s Mom is an anesthetist.

            I’m flummoxed by his statement. 😉

      • Posted August 27, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        “An atheist is significantly less like[ly] to believe things that have no evidence.”

        And where is your evidence for that?

        There are many atheists who believe in all kinds of woo.

        /@

  3. jay
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve been out for decades, but I don’t make a pushy issue of it. If someone cares to know what my religious preferences are, they will b told.

    But I also keep in mind the somewhat snarky joke:

    “How do you know if someone you meet is an atheist or a vegan?”
    “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you in 30 seconds..”

    • John Crisp
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      I’m surprised about the joke. I have rarely heard anyone, and do not myself, “come out” as an atheist unless religion is specifically the subject of discussion. In my experience, on the other hand, evangelical Christians often declare their beliefs very stridently, with no particular context to the declaration. Personally, even then, I do not state my lack of belief in gods unless my interlocutor offers to “save” me, in which case, no holds are barred.

      Of course, I come from the UK where, although “people of faith” are more numerous than one might imagine, the majority is agnostic or simply uninterested. I do get a bit enraged at the fact that the BBC’s morning “Thought for the day” slot has never had an atheist as a guest contributor – is it assumed that unbelievers do not have thoughts?

      For the last five years, I have been living in Ethiopia, a country absolutely impregnated with unquestioning belief. People often ask me if I am a Christian, and I usually reply noncommittally, because atheism is almost inconceivable here, in the sense that the concept itself is not understood. And it would hurt most of my Ethiopian friends too much: there is none of the I’m saved and you’re not complacency of Western evangelism. They would simply believe that I am going to hell and would be sad that we will not be together in the afterlife.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        One occasionally comes across evangelical atheists of the Madalyn Murray O’Hair variety, but (in my experience, at least) it’s rare. As long as they aren’t so obnoxious as to hurt their own cause, I’m happy to have ’em onboard. Takes all types in the long run, and change requires that someone be in the vanguard.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        But vegans, though. They are so strident…. (I am joking).

        • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          Maybe not strident; but, in my experience, often self-righteous.

  4. Dave
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I thank my lucky stars that I live in a country (the UK) where announcing that you’re an atheist will usually be greeted by a shrug of indifference or a bemused look as to why anyone should think that worth mentioning. Fortunately here it’s the seriously faith-deranged who are the the eccentric minority regarded with amusement or wary suspicion by most of the populace. I know how intolerable I’d find it to live in a place like the US Bible Belt where open, gushing religiosity is almost expected of everyone – to say nothing of the hellish situation in most of the Islamic world, where an admission of atheism is tantamount to painting a target on your back.

    • wetherjeff
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I concur with everything you have said there Dave. In the UK virtually no one talks openly about their religious belief, at least among the white European communities (it is somewhat different in those from Asia/Indian subcontinent). I think this is for a couple of reasons: few people are genuinely religious anyway and those that are religious keep it very much to themselves. A person that does profess strong religious belief is generally seen as a bit weird. I feel free to slag religion off at every opportunity and frequently do this at work with colleagues. There is very rarely any consequence to doing this sort of thing in the UK, especially regarding Christianity. However if the subject was Islam the atmosphere of political correctness in most UK companies or public bodies would quite likely result is a visit to HR or even the police. But that’s a whole other story……
      Over the years I have spent a lot of time in the US, both working and on holiday and I love the country. I couldn’t live there though, the sickly faith on the sleeve attitude drives me to distraction, as does the nasty faith-based prejudice against the LGBT community. I also couldn’t even dream of talking about Christianity to my US colleagues the way I talk to those in the UK; I would be ostracised immediately and probably fired. Even a causal remark about faith would be totally out of the question.
      So, I too thank my lucky stars that I live in the UK. The scepticism and mistrust with which we (well most of us anyway) treat religion is something to be truly celebrated.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        The situation you describe in the UK is pretty much the same as NZ. Most Christians are much more relaxed about their faith than you see in the US. If you crack a joke about Noah’s Ark, the Christians mostly laugh too. It’s people who are evangelical about anything, not just religion, who are looked at sideways.

        It never occurred to me when I became an atheist that my family and friends would think of me, or treat me, any differently. And they didn’t. There have been issues with strangers if religion has come up, but in every instance the general opinion is that it’s the ultra religious person who was in the wrong, even amongst believers.

        If I was a less reasonable person though, I might have got less sympathy in those situations – any form of extremism doesn’t go down that well. Retaining a calm mien, whatever you’re advocating, counts for a lot here.

        • Gordon
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          I think in New Zealand it has got to the point (given that about half the population are non-believers and a lot more probably minimal believers)that in life generally it is now a matter of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on both sides. I have been an atheist all my life but rarely if ever has it been an issue. Even when a friend became a JW she remained married to the atheist husband and our mid-winter “feast” was re-designated as something else (by the atheists) so she could still come without offending her religious scruples.

  5. Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I’m in Canada and been openly atheist for a long time. Sometimes it does net me some disapproval but I’m willing to pay that. I don’t bother bringing it up, but if asked or brought into a conversation that assumes I’m a Christian, I gently tell them I don’t believe.

    If your in danger by coming out or if you’re dependent on someone for shelter (parent) and think coming out will get you kicked out, don’t do it in my opinion. Wait till you’re safe.

    Once safe, I don’t think you’re obligated to come out but for me it was the best choice. I didn’t want to live nodding my head to every religious sentiment to hide my non-belief.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I agree that you should come out if it’s safe for you to do so.

      Having said that, I’d never force anyone, or badger anyone, or out anyone.

  6. Robert Bray
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Just as there are cultures where ‘coming out’ as an atheist is dangerous to one’s social and perhaps even physical health, there are others where failure to do so, from timidity or just plain ‘good manners’ makes for intellectual hypocrisy.

    I am thinking here of college teaching, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Professors often (mostly?) accept that atheism is the case with the universe yet do not use this fact as the proper foundation for teaching. Were they to do so, they would be open to a student’s complaint that ‘you’re attacking my values. . . .’ Why, yes, because those values are based on untruths. But few are the teachers who will teach the truth as knowledge has come to see it.

    The result is cognitive dissonance, vast and acute, about the state of human morality and about our culture more generally. That is, the very opposite of what education is supposed to accomplish. The irony is that just a little curricular and classroom push by atheist faculty really wouldn’t cost them much (if anything) in terms of careers; but it might well get the wave of ‘coming out’ moving forward, which would in turn indirectly aid atheists in those places where it is genuinely risky to ‘come out.’

  7. Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve found that about half have continued a relationship with me once they find out I’m an atheist humanist. My guess is that if some of them had known about my atheism prior to getting to know me, that they wouldn’t have bothered to get to know me at all.

    • Mark R.
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I have definitely lost friends because of my atheism. This hasn’t happened for a while, and now I guess I consider all my friends to be “real” and most are atheists or agnostics themselves. One friend who decided not to be friends considered me a nihilist which is strange. Many people equate atheism with nihilism and that’s just ignorance on their part. I know some atheists are nihilists, but in my experience, that isn’t the norm. I believe in love! 🙂

  8. Jacob
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    The reason I have not told my very religious family, with several clergy-members, that I am not a believer is not because I’m afraid of their reaction towards me (the most would be slight ostracisms and attempts to reconvert me, I think).

    The reason is they would firmly believe that I am going to hell for all eternity, and since they are kind of fond of me, this would cause a lot of pain to them. And since I’m kind of fond of them, I don’t want them to have to feel that. So the way I see it is that there is a pretty high mental cost, and any benefits are pretty low.

    I am conflicted, however. Judging the costs and benefits accurately is tough.

    • Tom Snow
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Wow, that’s almost exactly my situation. I don’t want to have to watch my mother crying her eyes out because she thinks her only son is going to burn in hell forever and ever. I may not like being around my parents for more than a couple days at a time, but still…

      But outside of my immediate family and their church, no one else in my life is under any illusions that I follow any religion.

      • Jacob
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Same here with people outside immediate family.

        I don’t like lying to my family and it would be nice to be speak openly and honestly about religion, but for the time, I don’t think it’s worth the pain it would cause.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      These choices are yours to make, and I do not know what I would do in your situation. But I still want to say that maybe the reaction would not be entirely what you expected. Or perhaps the reaction would evolve into learning and growth experience on their part. But it is your call, entirely.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      The reason is they would firmly believe that I am going to hell for all eternity, and since they are kind of fond of me, this would cause a lot of pain to them.

      The more likely result is that cognitive dissonance would help expand their worldview about what sort of person is worthy of getting saved, if you can make the point that living an honorable life is effectively the same as believing in Jesus. They might buy it. 🙂

      • Jacob
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the kind words. I have reason to believe that is not the case, but you and Mark are correct that I don’t know for sure what their reaction will be. I may someday change my mind on this. I’d certainly like to.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          I have had people tell me I’m surely going to heaven despite my atheism because they consider me a good person (whatever that means). Maybe you could work on getting your family to see if they could see some others that way, and go from there.

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Mine too. It would cause my Mom pain, because of her beliefs. I’m not going to do that.

      She’s pretty good at denial. It’s been obvious for decades that I don’t “do church” anymore. But she still has plausible deniability and never asks. She “doesn’t want to know.”

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        This is an exceedingly common situation.

        It is very painful to know that your child is suffering. To learn that your child has taken up dangerous drugs, is homeless, sick, dying, or dead is devastating for parents. For the very true believers, especially the fundamentalists, however, all of this is a pittance as to going to Hell, which is unending and a source of unimaginable terror.

  9. rickflick
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “baptised in the Church to try to ensure that their child has access to a local school”

    That something that irks me to no end. The Catholic church is so good at this kind of threatening behavior. It’s a low level extortion really, the way they pressure and sometimes force people to stay within the fold. When I was marrying a catholic woman the counseling priest asked us firmly if we are willing to raise our children as Catholic. The implication was, if not, “then get lost – I won’t marry you. Find another man young lady”.
    At my nephew’s wedding the ceremony included coercing public promises to support the church and raise the children as Catholics. Otherwise what? He would dismiss the assembly of 200 people and call off the wedding?
    The church maneuvers people into a vulnerable position and then gives you an ultimatum. That’s just plain rude.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I ran into a bit of this when we were trying to arrange for our wedding. I talked with a local priest about doing the service since the wife is a non-practicing Catholic but she wanted to please her parents. Once he learned I was not a Catholic nor interested in being one, well, the temperature in the room dropped considerably. I mean he was completely cold and barely able to contain his disgust. The Unitarians were perfectly happy to do the silly ritual, however.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        We employed a (wonderful, funny, happy) judge to perform our ceremony. I think he does it for the fun of it (and the $200 for about 10 minutes’ work talking ain’t bad either!)

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        When my mom (Catholic) and my dad (seriously non-Catholic) got married in the ’50s (what was then considered a “mixed marriage”) they had to take their vows at a side alter in the church. Wasn’t a huge deal, but the old man always carried a bit of a chip on his shoulder about it, not for himself — he could hardly give a shit about things religious — but for the slight to my mother.

        • Slaughter
          Posted August 26, 2015 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          My parents caused some fuss when they married after WWII. He was Methodist, she Roman Catholic. The Methodists were horrified because the Catholics danced and drank at weddings; the Catholics were horrified because the Methodists didn’t!

          • rickflick
            Posted August 26, 2015 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Some fuss? How did they do the wedding? Drinking and dancing, or not?

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

              I double-damn guarantee you Slaughter’s matrilineal relations were drinking and dancing somewhere that night!

              • rickflick
                Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

                I don’t see how anyone could object as long as they used blood red wine and the rhythm method.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted August 27, 2015 at 1:16 am | Permalink

                The two types of birth control permitted by the Church are the rhythm method and coitus interruptus — or as they are known to the observant, “Rhythm & Blues.”

      • Gordon
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        My brother long ago married a sort of Catholic-enough that brother went along to the priest. Apparently they had a brief chat and then watched some old cartoons on film (indicating how long ago it was).
        More interestingly a colleague who married a Catholic (she being Unitarian) was tod at the preparation for marriage thing something along the lines of “As you know we RCs do not use birth control. But that is something to aspire to, a standard you may not always reach.’

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 25, 2015 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, at the parish level, where Catholicism meets the coalface, there’s a lot of advice given by the workaday clergy about birth control and the like that doesn’t square with what comes out of the Vatican.

        • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          My best friend from high school (USian) got married after he and his fiancee got their bachelor’s degrees (before heading to medical school).

          Her family was (is?) extremely religious. It was assumed (and lo, so it befell them) that they would be married by her pastor uncle (Wisconsin Synod — most conservative major denomination of Lutherans in the US).

          They had written their own vows, this being the 1980s in the US, which were quite egalitarian.

          At the rehearsal the night before the wedding, the uncle tells them, “No, you can’t use those vows! I have the vows!” And of course they were about obedient wives and such; but more than anything, about his god, rather than the couple.

          After the wedding, I said to another attendee: “Wow, I didn’t really hear anything in that ceremony about [my friend] or [his wife], only stuff about god.”

          Before the wedding, my friend was so steamed about this switcheroo that he was, maybe even seriously, thinking about calling it off. He didn’t, happily ever after (as far as I can tell) and never went into a church after that (AFAIK).

  10. Merilee
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Sub2

  11. Macha
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I think I must have been very lucky. My parents, if not exactly Atheist (I don’t think they had Atheists in 1950s North of England), weren’t in the least bit religious. Although “religious instruction” was meted out at school, it was never treated seriously. At school dinners, the invocation “Let us say Grace” was invariably met by some wag piping up with “Grace” – it became quite a tradition.

    I met very few religious people in my workplace and those people were often viewed as rather “odd”.

    So, in a way, I feel a bit guilty about never having had to throw off the chains because they were never there in the first place.

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I am not at all worried about being ostracized, but I am worried about being stereotyped as “militant” or “aggressive”.

    As Greta Christina has observed, if you come out as gay, you are not saying that the other person’s heterosexuality is wrong, but if you come out as atheist, you ARE saying that the other person’s Christianity is wrong. And if you have a lot of religious friends (none of whom will worry I am going to hell- my Christian friends are not evangelical) that becomes a problem.

    Roger Ebert decided he was definitely a secular humanist re how he framed moral and ethical questions, but nonetheless not an atheist. (See his autobiography “Life Itself”). To what degree that was due to the Christianity of his wife, Chaz, I cannot say. It has been for some years a position I am comfortable with.

    More recently, I have felt compelled to coin the phrase “Abrahamic atheist” to describe myself, while allowing I am a “deistic agnostic”.

    This makes me kind of the anti-Pascal.
    Pascal after an intense religious experience wrote on a piece of paper “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the god of the philosophers and scientists.” I on the other hand say “God of Spinoza and Wolfgang Pauli, well maybe perhaps. God of Abraham, no way, keinen Fall.”

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      … but if you come out as atheist, you ARE saying that the other person’s Christianity is wrong.

      Though if you come out as Jewish or Muslim, that’s ok for some reason.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Yeah. Admitting to any one of the tens of thousands of varieties of religion, 30,000+ different sects of Christianity alone, then you also are saying that the other person’s religion is wrong. And that has been a cause of much conflict between believers. So it doesn’t seem that the difference is only about saying they are wrong. There is something more to it. Perhaps the fact that many religions, certainly Christianity, specifically teach that non-believers are bad, scary, cold, evil assholes that are going directly to hell.

        • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

          Nowadays, I think (in the US anyway) it’s the thing to be all ecumenical. As long as you believe in some kind of imaginary friend, then you are part of the club.

          When we say we don’t believe, we are pointing out that the emperor (and all the kings, dukes, earls, and barons) have no clothes.

          They are scandalized by this observation. And they will take it out on you.

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            I know an evangelical Christian who told me about her elderly neighbour – a devout Catholic. “It’s so sad,” she said, “she’s such a lovely lady, and she’s going to die soon and burn in hell forever, and she can’t see she’s wrong.”

            She was clearly hinting the same thing might happen to me too, but I had time! She’s also told me God brought her into my life.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      From what I’ve read of what he had to say, Roger Ebert’s residual (albeit non-doctrinal) affection for Catholicism seems to have had a lot to do with his having been educated by a progressive order of the US Catholic clergy during the halcyon days of Vatican II and Pope John XXIII.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Looks like Ebert was an atheist:

      I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        I suspect (but could be wrong) that

        a) Ebert was going for the stronger definition of atheist as someone strongly convinced of the non-existence of any deity (a la Victor Stenger)
        as opposed to the milder definition of someone who is an atheist for all practical purposes as a default fallback position (a la James Randi).

        b) Ebert meant he could not summon up William James’ “will to believe” in God.

        This would make these somewhat disparate statements “I cannot believe in God.” and “I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.” compatible

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        I suspect Ebert was solely a “cultural Catholic.” I have similar allegiances, though mine are strictly tribal, not based on doctrine or faith whatsoever.

        My main tribe now, of course, is the secular, the worldwide communion of nonbelievers. Such that when, on a field of play, a secular school meets a Catholic college (say, Notre Dame or BC or Georgetown), I root for the secular (and as between two secular universities, for the public over the private and for land-grant schools above all).

        But if Notre Dame plays Southern Methodist or the Baptists down at Baylor, you’ll find me in the Irish end zone singing The Fight Song with Touchdown Jesus. (The latter-type contest, though, is complicated by historical and sectional concerns; in a game between public universities, I root for the one that first desegregated its team or campus — meaning I rarely shake the pom-poms for Ole Miss or the Crimson Tide or the Rambin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.

  13. Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    This is a situation that will improve with time. There’re still some notable exceptions, but, in most cases, the “coming out” conundrum doesn’t seem to exist for gays any more; it’s just not that big a deal.

    Us atheists…we’re only a few decades behind the gays. And I don’t think it’ll take as long for us to catch up.

    b&

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Ben, are you being hopeful, optimistic? 🙂 I hope you are correct.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        I’m being hopeful, but I don’t think I’m being unrealistic. The signs that atheism is on a parallel trajectory as the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement before them seem pretty clear. More to the point…today’s youth are growing up in a society where Raptor Jesus and Zombie Jesus are everywhere, and I just can’t see how Christianity can survive such a simple onslaught. And ISIS has pretty much killed any notion in the States that Islam is a religion of peace, leaving really not much any option for respect for any of the big religions.

        Won’t happen overnight, and it’ll never go away entirely — after all, we still have horoscopes in the newspaper, despite them being part of the pre-Christian Pagan religion. But it’ll likely happen faster than many think it will.

        b&

        • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          Ben,

          “The signs that atheism is on a parallel trajectory as the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement before them seem pretty clear.”

          I agree. It’s actually going better and happening faster than I would have ever expected.

          I think the books of the “Gnu Atheists” really have struck a chord and (many) people have gone, “well, yeah, that makes sense …”

          I know they did for me. TGD crystallized my thoughts on the god thing. Before I read it, I was a defacto atheist; but didn’t think much about it or say anything about it. After, I was very clear in my mind about it. And I no longer had any “belief in belief” as Dan Dennett says, or any soft spot for it either.

          The steady trickle of prominent people coming “out” as atheists has really helped, (I think) the regular folk to realize that it’s fine to not believe.

          We’re getting there.

    • JP Sch.
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Adults in the US, maybe it’s not a “big deal”, but kids here still get kicked out by their parents for being gay. In Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and many more places, it’s still a huge deal.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        Well, yes. Of course.

        But not just the US; pretty much all of the Western world.

        And, in Saudi Arabia, if you’re a woman, you can get beaten to within an inch of your life if you’re caught driving a car…but that doesn’t compel me to similarly qualify a comment on, for example, the recent successes of many women at all sorts of American auto racing venues.

        b&

        • Posted August 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Most of the Western world is ahead of the US, of course …

          /@

          • Posted August 28, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            PS. Is it surprising that two of the original Four Horsemen were Bristish?

          • Posted August 28, 2015 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

            True for so many things other than just gender equality, alas….

            b&

  14. Randy Schenck
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I guess the only way to say much on this issue is to speak for yourself and do as Grania says, encourage others by your own openness.

    To me, declaring you are an Atheist is no different than stating your political views or nearly any other important elements that make you what you are. If you go through life, constantly worried about what others think of you or that you might possibly offend someone with such a thing as your religious belief, then you may have other issues that are not healthy.

    I grew up thinking that independence and thinking for yourself, not following the crowd was generally a good thing. Frankly, if you are the timid type that rarely speaks up, others will create their own definition of you. People to admire in this specific area of religion are Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and many others. They do not call it free thinking for nothing.

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      For what it’s worth, I’m not too open about my politics, either. Around these parts, being a liberal Yankee is only one notch above being an atheist. In fact, if I was of the Ayn Rand variety, being an atheist might even be better.

      To be clear, it’s not a horrible problem. Most people I know personally know my political and religious leanings. I’m just careful about telling people I don’t know very well for the small (but not negligible) percentage of people who would react strongly.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Well said.

        I pretty much won’t speak about religion or politics at work (or most other places).

        If someone asks, I simply say, “I don’t discuss religion or politics at work, thanks.”

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I don’t care if people are offended by my atheism.

      I do care about:

      1. Keeping my job (in full good standing)
      2. Keeping my son safe from harassment, ostracism, etc.
      3. Not causing pain to my mother (who holds firmly irrational beliefs about an afterlife and hell)

  15. Walt Jones
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I’m becoming more comfortable telling people I’m an atheist – and finding the reaction to be surprisingly accepting. I don’t bring it up at every mention of religion, but when it’s relevant, I do.

    The first time was awkward, especially since it was to the pastor of my former church, where I had been president of the council and of their foundation board. His accepting response pleasantly surprised me, and when he left he said “God be with you” to my wife and to me, smiling, “man be with you.” (Note: he’s ELCA Lutheran – your mileage may vary.)

    I have several fundagelical relatives who might be shocked when they eventually learn of my atheism, mostly because they see me exhibiting the traits they associate with the model Christian – kindness, generosity, patience; you know, the ideals of humanism.

  16. Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I greatly respect those people who have been able to be open about their atheism in predominantly religious households, communities and cultures. As a person raised in a fundamentalist Christian family in the U.S., I became an atheist gradually, but kept quiet about it for most of my life. I believed I was avoiding causing pain to my family, conflict and potential ostracism. It is only after I headed into elder citizen status that I became able to express my lack of belief.

    Compared to some countries, those of us living in the U.S. are less likely to be physically punished, or killed, for what we believe. But, in major portions of the U.S., it is assumed that all people are Christians and, most often, of a fundamentalist persuasion. Difficult to come out in.

  17. Willard Bolinger
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    I am 73 now and born 1942 and grew up on a farm in Iowa. Mu mother taught Methodist Sunday school and my dad was not religious but rarely said anything beyond it not making common sense! I rejected religion at seven and that continued to develop when at 16 yrs I bought a notebook and systematically went through the Bible and took lots of notes and comments on many passages. I read Edith Hamilton book on mythology and started pointing out that this represented previous religions which many people if not most took just as seriously as people were taking Christianity. I told classmates that I was an atheist and argued my position without a lot of problems. I have found out that by being out as an atheist humanist that I encountered many others who do not believe also, but of course mostly believers. I worked for 44 years in an auto assembly plant and was invited in several Christian study groups but was kicked out on Genesis 3 on the first one and Genesis 26 on the second one! I have had a great life and find a wealth of information on the computer atheist and science sites. Recommend Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True” had read probably 400 books on religion and atheism and have been amazed at the fact I am still learning new things practically every day. Julian Bond,who just died, as a nonbeliever! All My Days Are Good! A very happy atheist!

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Great story!

      • Mark R.
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Your story is heart-felt and made me laugh (getting kicked out after Genesis 3 and 26!!!).

        I find that atheists in general are very happy people. Personally, I’m very happy too. Being well-adjusted to reality and limiting cognitive dissonance is a key to happiness imo.

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Cheers! 🙂

    • Vaal
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Love the story. A Life Well Done!

  18. Scott Draper
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s better to come out as an anti-theist. Too often atheists are somewhat apologetic about their lack of belief. It’s better for theists to realize that they’re the defective ones. It almost always shuts down any effort to proselytize towards you.

    That said, I generally don’t bring up religious topics; theists almost never have anything interesting or insightful to say on the topic.

    There are people all around us who have varying degrees of skepticism towards religion and they’ll come out to you if they sense any sort of receptiveness.

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been able to connect (as atheists) with a handful of friends and colleagues.

      However, in the US, it is a fraught thing. Most people around you have imaginary friends.

      I’ve been blown away by friends who turn out to be sincerely theistic. One friend put it this way (it was a feeler towards me, I just nodded and smiled), “I think my daughter is becoming an atheist [under the influence of her French-immersion school]. But we [his wife and he] lean the other way …”

      Later, he posted something on facebook, which he headed with, “Good chewy thoughts” or something like that. It was an online article from some philosopher (!!) who was advancing the idea that it made perfect sense to believe in god [which one he didn’t specify!]. It was full of logical fallacies (and he even brought out the cosmological argument as the best out there for god!)

      After hemming and hawing over it for several days, I replied with “OK, I’ll bite” and then simply pointed out the logical fallacies in the piece by the philosopher. (Only one little bit of snark, when I pointed out that I figured they taught that Argumentum ad Populum was a logical fallacy that they would have taught in freshman philosophy.) I never said anything about any gods. I just showed the logical failings of the posted piece. My friend prides himself on his philosophy. (His Dad was a philosophy major.)

      No response.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        “No response.”

        What it sounds like is that your friend might be harboring some doubts; your critique might have mirrored what was going on his own mind, which is why he wasn’t able to deal with it.

        His initial feeler towards you might have been a cry for help…if he knows you at all well, he probably knows of your irreligion.

        • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          Yes, I know he has doubts. He’s very intelligent and has really looked into philosophy. It’s just that he’s so steeped in religion; and he really wants it to be true.

          And you are probably correct in that he was asking for verbal support of his religious feeling.

          I have known many very intelligent believers. They have a way of partitioning off that part of their thinking from all the rest; and keeping all conflicting thoughts away from it. I think it must be some sort of security blanket. (The “Desk Reference” musty have a term for it!)

          • gluonspring
            Posted August 26, 2015 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Logic-tight compartments (c.f. cognitive dissonance theory).

          • Scott Draper
            Posted August 26, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            “And you are probably correct in that he was asking for verbal support of his religious feeling.”

            I actually meant that he might have been looking for verbal support of his doubts, and a way to deal with them.

            • Posted August 27, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

              I’m pretty sure he was looking for support for his theistic position (unfortunately).

    • Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s better to come out as an anti-theist.

      I still don’t like the term, “anti-theist.” I’m often just fine with theists; it’s theism I have a problem with. So I would use the (admittedly awkward) term, “anti-theism-ist.”

      b&

      • Scott Draper
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Agreed the term could be misconstrued. I reserve the use of the term that I used, and say that if are against theists, you would be an anti-theist-ist. 😉

  19. Stonyground
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    There are some who see agnosticism as being a kind of half way house, fence sitting position. Of course most of us know that it is much more complex than that. There are also those for whom the unanswered questions of life make atheism difficult for them to accept. It has occurred to me that there may be a different kind of half way house that basically says that there must be a god or else who created the universe, or whatever, but I don’t believe that this god is a character out of a risible book of old Hebrew folk tales. This position is similar to what used to be referred to as Deism which has fallen out of fashion somewhat but now could be a helpful stepping stone to the real thing.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Not really different from the Universal Spirit that many believe in. There are a lot of deists who just don’t call themselves that.

      • Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        +1

        • Stonyground
          Posted August 26, 2015 at 1:52 am | Permalink

          ” There are a lot of deists who just don’t call themselves that.”

          That’s sort of what I’m getting at. When you start to look at any of the mainstream religions in detail, most of their core beliefs are preposterous. The idea of some loosely defined intelligent force being responsible for the existence of the universe is slightly more reasonable and I think that is where a lot of people arrive in their thinking.

          jblilie, was that +1 for me or was it for Scott? Just curious.

          • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:26 am | Permalink

            Both; but mainly for Scott.

  20. kieran
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    So many people in Ireland do the following things which continue to give the Catholic church credence in public life

    1 Have church weddings to keep the Mammys/Granny/Daddy/Grandad happy delete as appropriate. I know some people are not getting married because they don’t want to explain that they are having a civil ceremony not a church wedding

    2 Getting children baptised to get them into school, not of choice by the way sometimes just the nearest one

    3 Ticking the Catholic box on the census form

  21. Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    One way to come out would be to simply wear “Crossbuster” t-shirts all of the time.

    The “Crossbuster” symbol is properly translated as “This is a no parking zone for Christians”.

    Since Christians love their symbols so much…

  22. Kevin
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I promote simple things, like a T-shirt that says ‘We are all Africans’ with the Atheist ‘A’. I have worn it on many occasions and uniformly get verbal compliments. I do get some admonishing looks from cross bearing Christians, but only out insecurity.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Do you think they recognize the atheist “A”? I would suspect not.

      • GBJames
        Posted August 25, 2015 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        I get asked from a one to time about my “A”. It is a conversation starter.

  23. Posted August 25, 2015 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I don’t come out for the following reasons:

    1. I have my own business. Many of my customers are Xians, serious ones. You can imagine the consequences.

    2. I have a job. In the US. I need the job. People react very unpredictably to hearing that they have no clothes (or that I don’t see them.)

    3. I want my son to be safe and happy. (His best friend answered a science question, in class, out loud, with, “because god made them that way!”)

    4. My mother would think I would be going to hell; and I don’t want to cause her pain.

    I just don’t say anything about religion.

  24. ploubere
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ve lived at different times in all corners of the U.S., but now find myself in the South, which is the first place I have really witnessed persecution of non-christians. I know people who have lost their jobs due to their atheism. You can’t get elected here without openly proving your christian bonafides.
    http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2015/08/24/megan-barry-confronts-atheism-rumors-talks-faith/32263155/
    I agree with Grania that the only way to make progress is to stop hiding and accepting the status quo. But it will come with social and professional costs for many. It’s not an easy decision.

  25. Mike
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Very good post, Grania. I’m only 4-5 months into my full realization and acceptance of atheism and just over a week away from coming out, in person, to my family. I’m not panicked about it, yet, as they’ve been very accepting of everything else in my life. I like your point about not passing the problem to my children and have been pondering a similar train of thought along with how to illustrate it without them feeling as if I blame them for passing it to me. It is certainly not their fault for doing so as their own indoctrination, subsequent belief, and culture left them no choice, but I worry about explaining it in this fashion. I’m sure everything will be fine for me and I’ll deal with it if not. Regardless, I’m very much looking forward to not hiding it anymore.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Good luck.

  26. gluonspring
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree that it is a positive good for everyone to be as open about their unbelief as possible.

    I’m quite open about my unbelief with my co-workers (mostly scientists), current friends, wife, and even the pastor of the the church my wife attends. On Facebook, however, I maintain a stance of careful ambiguity, claiming a made-up religion as my religion and saying as much atheist friendly stuff as I can while maintaining plausible deniability. Mostly this is because I may return to Texas some day and don’t want to find my support network decimated, but also it is to spare my aging mother from the heartache (she might get over it, or expand her view of the world, but she might not… I’ve seen both among my circle of former-fundamentalist friends). Still, I wrestle with that choice all the time, and may change it some day.

    Here, however, I post under a pseudonym and I do not entertain the thought of changing that. The reason is simple: I want to feel totally free to say exactly what I think without worrying about how it will be received. If I thought that my mom or other fundamentalist relatives could link me to my posts here it is impossible that it would not change what I say here. I would feel the need to frame my comments in a less harsh way, to hedge, to give believers more of the benefit of the doubt than I think they deserve, and I’d inevitably self-censor myself. I do that every day, with everyone I talk to in meat-space already. Even among people who know I’m an unbeliever politeness and a desire to get along limits what I am willing to say in their hearing. In real life I always feel the need to be diplomatic and circumspect when talking about belief, but that is oh so tiring. I come here to be exactly who I am and see how that flies. Over time, being exactly who I am here has helped me to let more and more of that out in other venues where I am identified. But having a safe venue is absolutely vital to that process.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      We all need to be Google-proof. No matter what it is about you, there will always be some person who doesn’t like it, and it serves no purpose to acquire prejudice against you.

      This can become a matter of livelihood, because business associates or prospective business associates will often Google you sometime during your acquaintance. I always use pseudonyms.

      • Posted August 28, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Pseudonym its is fine, of course, but I don’t think “we all” need to be “Google proof”.

        Google “Ant Allan” — the first page of hits are me (mostly; ymmv).

        I’ve been more openly secular of Facebook recently (having kept it “neutral” and being outspoken only on Tumblr, Twi**er, and blogs/websites such as this), and have been surprised by the Likes from so many of my (mostly North American) colleagues – although I’ve certainly annoyed one or two. Charlie Hebdo was the watershed for me.

        /@

    • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Your experience is very similar to mine. Except that very, very few people know, for sure, about my lack of belief.

      I also hide my name. For the same reasons.

      If someone were determined; and knew me well, I know they could connect all the dots (with the sort of internet trail I’ve left). However, I doubt anyone could ever casually do it. It would take quite a bit of digging in different venues and some personal knowledge of me.

    • Posted August 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      “claiming a made-up religion as my religion”

      You mean, just like everybody else?

      /@

      • gluonspring
        Posted August 29, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Yes. I misspoke. Mine differs from the bulk of others in being *intentionally* humorous and it is less popular (I’m the only adherent that I know), but otherwise it’s the same.

  27. Vaal
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Well this is timely.

    Over dinner tonight my 17 year old son told me about golfing (he’s into golf big time!) with some other boys who were brothers.

    At one point for some reason they asked my son if he was religious. My son said no.
    They asked “Does that mean you are an atheist?” He answered, yes.

    They said they were Catholic.

    The inevitable question followed: So, what do you believe? Do you think everything around us just sort of popped into existence by itself?

    My son just alluded to the Big Bang as the explanation he takes for how the universe began, and that he prefers scientific theories. (I’ve done little to coach him on this, in terms of answering theistic questions, since it’s never been an issue before. In fact, I can’t remember being challenged on my secularism by anyone in person throughout my whole life…almost to my disappointment).

    My son was concerned by their reaction, which he thought registered some shock and bafflement. So he asked me tonight if it was ok or a good move to declare himself an atheist.

    I said sure. It’s not necessarily a subject to just bring up out of the blue since people can be sensitive about the topic. But in this case the other boys were the ones who asked about it.
    So, tell ’em the truth, it’s what they want to know.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      I would not be surprised, if your son’s fellow golfers are bright fellow, to find out a few years from now that seeds of doubt were planted in these guys that will grow into actually thought and freedom from faith. It sounds like they didn’t know that they even knew an atheist. He has normalized atheism to them and that can only be a good thing.

  28. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I think that if you are lucky enough not to face discrimination for being an atheist and you want to make real friends (not keep bigoted ones that would be offended by your atheism & drop you) then you should come out. It makes it easier and easier for others to come out when more and more do.

    I don’t run around yelling, “I’m an atheist” but I don’t hide it either and if someone wants to talk about religion and my views on it, I’m happy to share with them.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      I don’t run around yelling, but I do wear one of these. But without the beard.

      • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        What?! No beard?! Sacrilege! 🙂

    • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      I may very well out myself when my Mom passes. We’ll see. I still potential customers and actual coworkers to worry about.

  29. Les
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    If we are not visible, then atheists can be caricatured by the vile beliefs of some theists. I’ve had them say we are not charitable and whatever other negative label they want to imagine.
    Be out there so they can see who were are.
    Learn from the example of gays.

    • Les
      Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      Who *WE* are

  30. wejuli
    Posted August 26, 2015 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    I came out to my (strongly religious) family and friends about three years ago, but I made the mistake of doing so three months after my father’s passing, although it was a journey that began 18 months before. Nobody was willing to accept that my decision was anything other than grief and anger at God, and that I would no doubt return to the fold. Perhaps this made it easier for them to accept. Three years later and many of them still believe it’s a temporary phase. I tired long ago of trying to convince them otherwise.

    • Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      That was (I’m guessing) just a convenient crutch for them. They would have done the same thing anyway, except it would have been “anger at god” without the grief part.

  31. demfromsc
    Posted August 26, 2015 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I recently joined the Board of Directors of a wonderful local charity, funded primarily by nearby churches, that distributes food and utility assistance to needy families. And, of course, we say a prayer before starting every meeting. I consider that work to be of great importance and want to continue to support it, but I also feel somewhat dishonest by not revealing the fact that I am an atheist. I may have a private conversation with the executive director and ask him if he thinks I should resign. I’m sure there are many others in a similar position. It’s an interesting dilemma.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I’d say, if they don’t ask, don’t tell. The only crime committed is you will be keeping your eyes open during the prayer. If someone else does too, well, maybe you can make a friend.

  32. Adrian
    Posted August 26, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I’m from Ireland myself, albeit north of the border in Northern Ireland and can idenitfy with what Grania’s saying. We both live in pretty conservative cultures when compared to the rest of Europe. In many ways I would compare Northern Ireland to the southern US, and certainly trailing behind the moral zeitgeist that is socially revolutionising our southern friends and neighbours. I was raised an evangelical protestant, was born again at 13 and a more zealous and annoying little twonk you’ll never meet! Gradually, I lost my faith over a period of years. Doing a science degree helped, and having a friend who made a habit of pointing out the craziness of established religion. The final straw was some personal bad circumstance which finally got me to shuffle off the faith comfort blanket permanently. That whole process was around 12 years in the making and yet I am still relatively closeted. My friends are all aware that my views have changed quite a bit, but my family are a different matter.

    I’m somewhat vocal about secular matters round my parents and siblings, so I think they know all is not quite as it seems. I have even suggested to my dad that gods may well just be a human creation. However, somewhat surprisingly, my parents still deliver me bible reading notes as they did when I was a child, presumably assuming I am still pious. In many ways I suppose I can understand them – they don’t want to believe their child is hell bound for eternity and have deluded themselves into thinking I’m just acting out. The latter is preferable to their minds than actual damnation. And I can idenitfy with that. The thought of hurting my parents is not a pleasant one. they truly believe this stuff and would take my rejection of it badly. In many ways, rejection of faith here is taken to be like causing a personal injury to the religious.

    Herein lies the horror of religion for all to see – poor people causing themselves terrible mental anguish at a false conception of reality and thereby enforcing a taboo that means atheists can’t ‘come out’. Hence why my little country remains in a rut. Not many will stick their heads above the parapet to publicly grab the free thought mantle.

    Indeed, an insidious perception of atheists in Northern Ireland among those I have come out to is that we must be morally degenerate. It is hard to get past the ingrained thinking that tells everyone only faith is virtuous.


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