Why you should come out as an atheist

August 18, 2015 • 12:30 pm

One reason I like to lecture in the South is that I think it helps nonbelievers in that part of the country—atheists who feel alone because they’re basically apostates—realize that there are others like them. So many times I’ve heard the story that a Southern nonbeliever thought he or she was isolated, and then found like-minded folks on the internet. It’s always a great emotional release (I also hear many stories about how heathens can’t say a word, for they’d be fired or shunned.) And so like to declare my nonbelief publicly hoping that others will gain some courage from it. (I also explicitly say what I mean by “atheist”: that I simply have no reasons or evidence to believe in gods.)

Here’s one of those once-isolated atheists, giving her testimony for the Dawkins Foundation’s “Openly Secular” campaign. Her emotions are a moving testimony to how glad she was to find other nonbelievers. The notes:

Abby was an atheist for ten years before she ever met another one. Listen to her describe how it feels to no longer be isolated.

So I urge the readers to wear their nonbelief like a badge of pride. You don’t have to inject atheism into everything, which is tiresome, but if someone asks you what you believe, don’t mutter under your breath. Puff up your chest and say it loud and proud, “I’m an atheist!”

You should come out as an atheist so that people like Abby, who hit upon rationality in isolation, won’t feel so alone. The Openly Secular campaign is described here; be sure to see the latest video by running back Arian Foster, and consider making your own video.

102 thoughts on “Why you should come out as an atheist

  1. I’d just offer one clarification — and it’s one I know you agree with me, Jerry. The decision to “come out” belongs with the atheist…”outing” non-believers against their will is bad.

    In many areas, we’re already at the point where religion is one of those things you don’t talk about in polite company except amongst like-minded people. That’s a pretty good place to be, all things considered.


      1. Alas, we’re surrounded by idiots who need be told that which goes without saying, as what you’ve shared of your own inbox too often demonstrates….


    1. Depends on the area. In my experience religion is shoved under the discussion table in order to perpetuate the view that everybody is in agreement about God — or should be.

        1. I remember my mother’s discouraging me from writing atheist on my airline form when travelling through North Africa in 1969. I thought she was being wimpy at the time, but realize now it was probably a smart move.

          1. I travelled to Saudi Arabia on and off for nearly 8 years from 2003, and had to renew my business visa every 6 months. If I had put anything but ‘Christian’ in the ‘religion’ box on the form (apart from ‘Moslem’ I suppose), my application would have been turned down (as was the case for a colleague who thought it was best to be totally honest). It is very sad that one has to tell lies about oneself in order to do a job.

    2. The other thing to think about before coming out is how it will affect your relationship(s)? How reasonably would your spouse/parents/coworkers/boss take this admission? If it’s going to have serious negative effects then you should seriously think about whether or not it’s worth it.

      1. Yes, but you also need to know that you’re in a no-win situation. If you can’t share something that important with the most important people in your life….


        1. Indeed. If I were married to someone who I thought wouldn’t be able to handle me being an atheist, I’d have to reconsider whether she was actually a good fit for me.

          1. At my point in life, I can’t imagine marrying somebody if she hadn’t grown out of the imaginary friend stage…but the situation’s obviously a bit different for kids who marry while both still share imaginary friends, and then only the one of them grows up….


          2. I don’t think I could possibly stand being married to a believer. I’m always surprised by just how many atheists are; and almost invariably it’s the wife who’s religious, which also annoys me.

            I was surprised to find that the only thing I worried about when I was giving my children an atypical (for the US) upbringing–not religiously indoctrinating them!–was if I might actually be doing them a disservice by so drastically reducing the pool of potential suitors/suit-ees they’d eventually have.

          3. A few years back I attended an FFRF convention and got to chatting with a woman sitting next to me. Turns out she was a former Jehovah Witness. Her husband still was. She became an atheist after she had a child and didn’t want to raise it to be a Witness. Somehow this didn’t lead to the breakup of their marriage. Rather an unusual case, I think.

          4. Indeed! Esp. since child raising is so often cited as the reason families return to religion.

            That would sound like an especially difficult combination to me.

          5. There is noooo way I could marry/live with a believer. My daughter has made it clear to her Catholic-raised bf that he needs to make it clear to his parents that their baby ain’t getting baptized.

        2. I’m married to someone who gives Big J his orders for the day personally, each morning. She knows I’m not a believer (the fact I will never say ‘grace’ at meals is a pretty good clue) but I’m not about to hit her in the face with it.

          And that’s my reason for not using a ‘nom’ on the Internet… my wife isn’t ‘internet-literate’ but most of her many siblings/nephews/nieces are, and my surname is unusual so a quick Google for some quite innocent reason (to find our phone number for example) and they could well trip over some comment here by me, and they’re all genuinely nice people but as with any small minority community, gossip spreads like wildfire…


          1. Don’t worry. It’s been 30 years now and the pluses outweigh the minuses. In practical terms and luckily for me, the missus thinks she can ‘do religion’ quite as well as the preacher so she only ever goes to church on very rare special occasions, like weddings and funerals. I expect I’ll end up getting lots of prayers said over me when I die but I won’t be there so I don’t really care.

            So we have sanity, with very little effort needed on either side to maintain the status quo. There is, in fact, more tolerance required by the fact that I’m a naturally untidy person and she’s a tidy one – _that_ requires a certain degree of effort. On both sides.


          2. I’d also note that – so far as I can deduce from the results – any suggestions that Big J makes to my wife for her consideration just conveniently happen to coincide with what she would want to do anyway. And after 30 years of marriage, my wife and I probably have an instinctive subconscious understanding of what the other will accept.

            This is much preferable to some preacher telling my wife what we’re going to do each week 😉


    3. Is “outing” atheists a thing? I don’t think I’ve heard of an example but it would be interesting to know.

      And I wonder what the circumstances would be? I suppose if someone had a cutesie nom-de-Internet to protect their anonymity on atheist websites and left-wing forums – something like, say, ManOutOfTime, for example – and someone revealed the person’s real name that would be very uncool. I can’t think of an example though of an atheist outing that could be as harmful as outing a prominent conservative or fundamentalist for having a contrary private lifestyle.

      I’m not arguing against the premise, at all – I’m just genuinely curious.

        1. I don’t remember any, either. But it’s been a problem in other movements, especially the gay rights movement…and I seem to remember it becoming a problem about the same time the movements grew to the point that it was advantageous to encourage openness.

          And we have some people in our community with some fame amongst ourselves with closely-guarded pseudonyms. I’d hate for The Artist behind Jesus & Mo or for Pliny the Inbetween or the various YouTubists to be outed — especially since I can imagine one or more of them living in places where Muslims are fond of brutally murdering those who fail to kiss Muhammad’s ass in just the right way.


    4. I’d no more out a closeted atheist than I would out a closeted gay person. (Are there still any of those this year? A tiny relict population, perhaps?)

      I would also include a similar exception to the non-outing rule, for those who are not just maintaining the cover of belief, but publicly railing against nonbelievers. (Though I’m unsure how many of them there are, or how I would know about them if there were. If it had been disclosed to me in confidence, I wouldn’t out them either.)

      1. “Are there still any of those this year? A tiny relict population, perhaps?”

        I think about a third of the Republican Party falls into this category.

  2. Another important reason to come on out with your non-belief is that it will surprise you to find out how much you have in common with other Atheist, regardless of the religious thing.

    Belief in science, opinions on politics and many more.

  3. I think the most interesting – and diappointingly common – reaction I’ve gotten is “You mean you don’t believe in anything?!” As if I have been damaged somehow, and as if I would be more “normal” if I were a Raelian or a Scientologist or whatever. “Well, at least he believes in something!”

    There are all kinds of reasons for that attitude and they’ve been worked through on this site many, many times. A large number of people who feel that way simply haven’t thought that much about what they “believe”; they received it, it’s reinforced by people around them, and they pass it on to their kids. I think Eric Boghossian has the right of it: arguing with them about the “facts” of their faith is a mug’s game – “coming out” may be the single most powerful thing people can do as in my experience knowing that men and women I respected were non-believers (chief among them Richard Dawkins) had an enormous impact on my thinking.

    Retired Oakland Raiders punter (that’s an American football position, not a British sleight) Chris Kluwe was the first athlete I recall coming out. The UCLA alumni magazine profiled him a few years back and his worldview was a major topic in his interview.

    1. Chris Kluwe (AFAIK) is not an atheist…he’s agnostic and has specifically said that, “Atheists confuse me, because they seem too certain about their belief”.

      1. Thanks – interesting to know! I should go back and read that profile of him since I likely brought my own interpretation to it before.

        There is a chance this is a rhetorical distinction without a difference, a-la the Dawkins Scale, as many an atheist will say his or her position is one of confidence based on evidence against, versus zero evidence for, the existence of the supernatural. Even RD rates himself a 6 out of 7, and I reckon lots of folks preferring the term “agnostic” would rate themselves sixes as well.

        1. I have recently changed(perhaps ‘varied’ is more appropriate) my position as regards my definition of atheist.

          It seems to me that there are different types of atheism; the simplest is the traditional, as described by Jerry, being simply a non-belief in god or gods. Now, however, I feel as though I’ve moved on from this definition and now consider myself a more positive atheist. I not only see no evidence for any god or creator, it seems to me that the evidence is strongly supportive of there being no such thing.

          I would say that I’ve gone from saying ‘I don’t believe in god’ to saying ‘I believe there is no god’.

          1. I agree. I think many feel the same but are wary of being challenged for being, “too certain”.
            But I like Dawkins’ position – I’m about a 7 on a scale of 10, or some such description. The point being, in a rationally based philosophy one would prefer to state most beliefs in terms of probabilities.

          2. I’m at the same stage. As I say in FvF, if there’s supposed to be evidence for a thing, and you don’t see that evidence (e.g., the Loch Ness Monster), it becomes more reasonable to think “I doubt that the thing exists.”

          3. The sticking point for me is that, in order for there to be evidence for something, you have to be able to describe what that something is supposed to be.

            For the Loch Ness Monster, it’s easy; a whale-sized saurian animal that lives in a Scottish lake.

            But for the gods…well they’re universally described in terms explicitly indescribable. The Ontological Argument makes no bones about it: “God” is that which is more perfect than any imaginable perfection. It’s self-insulating…whatever you might propose, by definition, isn’t “God.” And this pattern repeats itself in some variation for each and every god. I’m sure Siva really doesn’t have thousands of arms, and you could use that knowledge to be sure that, if you met an entity with thousands of arms, that’s not the “true” Siva but, at best, some rough approximation of some even more indescribably awesome purity of essence of Siva.

            This is not by coincidence, but by design. It’s a two-fold strategy.

            Naively, it’s to protect against challenges by disbelievers. Of course <fill in the blank /> isn’t evidence for and / or against the existence of such-and-such a god, because the god is even more awesome than your puny little mind can comprehend.

            But that’s just the opening act. The real reason…is that the entire purpose of the gods is to give unquestionable power to those who speak on their behalf. Your mind is clearly too puny to even be able to contemplate the nature of the gods, but my mind is more than up to the task, as evidenced by the fact that the gods speak to and through me. And how dare you question the gods? Now do the work of the gods as instructed to you by my mouth!

            I don’t think anybody would be agnostic about a land north of the North Pole. So why are we agnostic about the gods who live there?


          4. I feel pretty much the same. Although I’m agnostic in the sense that there’s no proof there’s no god/s, and I would change my mind if verifiable proof was presented, I’m comfortable with atheist. I don’t think there’s any likelihood of God being real, and if he was, I wouldn’t worship the a-hole anyway. It’s that last bit that is significant to me – lots of Christians think proof would make you worship their god, and I like to make the point that either way, I don’t consider him worthy of worship.

            I don’t make a secret of my atheism, although I don’t make a big deal of it either. Religion isn’t a big deal for most people in New Zealand, and is mostly considered a private matter. In this 2013 census, almost 42% ticked “no religion.” I’ve met very few atheists, but since I’ve been open about it, I can see it’s made others think about it. Most people don’t care. However, even here I’ve suffered for it in a minor way. It’s quite a long story though, so I’ll probably just put it on my own website sometime.

          5. “So why are we agnostic about the gods who live there?”
            I agree fully with your analysis. My guess is that the tentative tack taken by atheists is due simply to the almost universal belief in deities. Both across cultures and time. Everyone assumes the proper definition of God is the one she holds in her mind at the time.
            I consider myself an atheist plain and simple, probably for all the reasons you do too.

          6. Everyone assumes the proper definition of God is the one she holds in her mind at the time.

            Yes — exactly!

            Which is also why, “Which, god?” is the most appropriate answer to the question, “Do you believe in God?” Honest communication, for one, demands that you come to agreement on your terms before supplying an answer. But it also sets the framework for the conversation…and that framework is likely to conclude that the theist doesn’t even know what it is she thinks she believes in — let alone that there’s any reason to believe that such an entity could theoretically exist in the first place, and never mind the utter lack of evidence for anything remotely resembling any of it.

            …and, yes. Of course. Many on this subject suffer from such fuzzy thinking on the subject that it goes nowhere. But that just means that that particular conversation wasn’t going anywhere to begin with….


          7. Yup. The religious gain unjustified power, but we will question their gods.

            As for the definition of God, one approach to a Christian might be to ask if they accept the biblical (old testament) God. Now, one could read passages that would make most Christians turn shades of white. Slavery, Genocide, women as property, etc. That’s one way to pin them down and probably end the conversation.

          8. “The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder.”
            That’s got to be it. Thanks.

          9. That’s the tame part.

            Numbers 31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

            16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

            17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

            18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

            The entire thing is most horrific…but, yes. Right there, Moses and his merry men make sex slaves of all the Midianite virgin girls…and, because of the practices of the culture, that would have meant all the prepubescent girls.

            …and you though Muhammad and Aisha was bad enough….


        2. Certainly everyone on the planet (and a handful of others), are actually agnostic…since no one can be totally certain. But I think people should (and most do) choose a side until the evidence convinces them otherwise. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no ghosts, but most people aren’t agnostic about ghosts…or leprechauns, or fairies. Dawkins has the scale, but he still calls himself “atheist”.

          1. As we all should. I understand the demanding area of scientific definition but most of us are not scientist and agnostic is a type of cop out. We may never have definite proof of no g*d and I’m not going to be around that long.

          2. Though I’ve seen a wide range of uses of the words by now, my initial understanding of the words years ago when I first gave any serious thought to them were thus.

            Agnostic – speaks to what is possible to know.

            Atheism – speaks to what one believes.

            So that you could accurately describe yourself as agnostic and atheist, or some combination thereof.

            But most people do seem to take someone admitting to atheism as being more certain of their position. And many people do indeed mean to communicate that by labeling themselves atheists.

            But believers typically take the term to mean someone who is absolutely certain and closed minded about the question of the existence of gods (and, again typically, completely miss the irony). I think that different conceptions of the word “belief” are at the heart of that.

            Much like the difference between religious faith and ordinary faith, there is a religious conception of belief that is more absolute than the ordinary meaning of belief. The key difference is that ordinary beliefs are based on, and calibrated by, reasonable assessment of available evidence and change with the evidence. The typical person, believer and non, go about their day with their ordianry beliefs constantly being tweaked in that way.

            But with certain categories of belief things change. Beliefs that are very important to peoples’ self image. Then things are reversed. The belief comes first and evidence is rationalized to fit afterwards. Everyone does that to one extent or another, but religion has evolved to monopolize on that human weakness and is very good at promoting and maintaining it. In my opinion that alone is enough reason to oppose religion.

          3. Guys, seriously, you should think about becoming a bayesian. Then all of the talk about “belief” vs “knowledge” and other Gettier-style semantic games sort of go out the window, and no one would accuse you of being 100% certain that god doesn’t exist. Indeed, being 100% certain of anything (as a bayesian) would mean that it is impossible to update your beliefs about it if you encounter new relevant information. Which is kind of silly, not to mention dogmatic.

            Furthermore, pretty much all heuristics of skepticism and the scientific method (e.g., Occam’s Razor, falsifiability, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, etc.) can be expressed using a bayesian framework.

            (Caveat: Being a bayesian doesn’t mean always using bayes theorem. It’s just the opposing side of the eternal philosophical debate with frequentists; it’s the idea that that probability follows directly from symbolic logic [law of identity, law of non-contradiction] and only exists in your head just like symbolic logic, cf. Probability: The Logic of the Law for a short-ish explanation)

          4. Indeed, being 100% certain of anything (as a bayesian) would mean that it is impossible to update your beliefs about it if you encounter new relevant information. Which is kind of silly, not to mention dogmatic.

            What kind of new relevant information might one encounter that would cause one to update beliefs about, say, a married bachelor living a death of spartan luxury in an open-air cave north of the North Pole?

            Similarly, what would cause you to reevaluate a conclusion that there is not, as of half past two Arizona time on August the 18th, 2015, an hungry velociraptor eating your left leg? Maybe something similar like that will happen in the future, but would even that cause you to reconsider whether or not it’s happening right now, at this point in space and time?

            Even at a more practical level…any new information that would cause you to question whether or not the Sun really does rise in the East would, of necessity, cause you to question everything you think you know; you’d have to throw out everything, including your assumption that evidence and reason are reliable means to understanding the Universe — and where does that leave you but the funny farm?

            I agree that we should be wary of dogma — but the first such dogma I’d take aim at is the suggestion that one can’t have absolute unreasonable-to-question conclusions about lots of things. Huge swaths of very important knowledge falls squarely into the 100% certainty category, and you’ve literally got to be insane to even suggest that absolute certainty isn’t called for in such situations.


          5. JQ: pretty well what I was going to say, but you got there first. I would add, however, that a Basyesian outlook does not preclude accepting that the evidence for many things is so overwhelming that regarding them as anything other than fact is impractical and perverse.

          6. “The key difference is that ordinary beliefs are based on, and calibrated by, reasonable assessment of available evidence and change with the evidence.”

            Sounds like a Bayesian outlook to me. But no, I don’t want to join any ideological club. I don’t see any benefit to it or have any desire to do so. I am not sure there is any advantage to taking a successful methodology and building an ideology around it.

            Also, it is not the case that the difference between belief and knowledge goes out the window. If you put garbage into your Bayesian analysis, which is fairly common and is becoming more common with the recent popularity of Bayes Theorem among non-specialists, you get garbage out.

          7. Certainly everyone on the planet (and a handful of others), are actually agnostic…since no one can be totally certain.

            Have you any agnosticism, pace my previous post, about the existence of a land north of the North Pole?


        3. We looked everywhere found nothing, all evidence points in the other direction, we have no clue that there could be a God and we have reasonable explanations why people believe in a God.

          Even if we could agree what counts as a God:

          all-evil monster?
          programmer of the universe?

          I’m 10 out of 10 on the Dawkins-scale: 100% sure there is nothing that deserves to be worshiped.

          1. 100% sure there is nothing that deserves to be worshiped.

            Indeed, that’s another essential point.

            Let’s say we do discover some big bad oogityboogity. Let’s even go so far as to say that it’s a dead ringer for YHWH, and it’s got a perfect excuse for why it’s been absent for the past few millennia and why it looks for all the world like everything in the Bible is purest bullshit.

            In what possible circumstances would this entity deserve to be worshipped, even if all those impossible conditions could be met?

            And if you’re not worshipping it, is it still a god to you? After all, are we with our smartphones and jet planes and microwave ovens not as like gods to those of not all that many generations before us? And do we not expect those of not all that many generations to come after us to similarly be as like gods to us, assuming we don’t off ourselves first?


          2. Yes, indeed.

            …well, except, of course, for the cats. They must be worshipped.

            So, 100% sure that there’s nothing but cats that deserve to be worshipped, except for the Sun.

            …maybe I should come in again…?


      2. This seems vaguely related to the “you can’t prove a negative” whine we hear often from the religionists. He might be interested in Isaac Asimov’s take: “I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.” (sourced at Asimov’s Wikiquote page).

        1. This seems vaguely related to the “you can’t prove a negative” whine we hear often from the religionists.

          Proving a negative is trivial, and has been standard practice since antiquity. For example, the entity, “the largest prime number,” does not exist.

          But, my favorite response to those who claim that you can’t prove a negative is…”Can you prove that?”


          1. Actually, I almost added to my original post, “…“you can’t prove a negative” whine we hear often from the religionists, and which Ben has demolished several times on this here website.”

            If I’m not mistaken, an existential negative can be proved (as in your example of the largest prime number), but a universal negative can’t (i. e., no gods exist). That’s where the force of Asimov’s quote becomes clear.

            In any case, I’m quite certain that the western sky god (Zeus, God, Allah) does not exist, and I don’t give a shit about any of the others. The fact that I can’t necessarily prove that Maki-maki doesn’t exist does not keep me up at night.

          2. If I’m not mistaken, an existential negative can be proved (as in your example of the largest prime number), but a universal negative can’t (i. e., no gods exist).

            You’re mistraken.

            Universal negatives are just as easy to disprove as any other kind; it’s just perceived that way because…well, because people just assume that must be the case.

            There are no married bachelors. All gods I’ve ever heard of have some sort of similar logical absurdity incorporated into their definition and can be dismissed similarly.

            There are no powerful moral agents in the vicinity with the best interests of humanity at heart, as evidenced by the so-called “Problem of Evil.” Hell, no gods even rise to the level demonstrated by a young child calling 9-1-1 in a crisis.

            And all sorts of other more mundane universal negatives are just as easy to dismiss. There are no individual water molecules visible to the unaided human eye. There are no manmade structures taller than the Burj Khalifa, even though there may well someday in the future be something taller. There are no stars with a radius significantly bigger than a billion miles — if there are even any that big. And so on.



    2. Charlie Chagnon:

      Kluwe was a Raider for all of about three months, and never kicked a ball for them in a regular-season game.

      His résumé comes from his eight years with the Minnesota Vikings.

      1. You are correct of course! I did some research and found Kluwe had all of eight punts in the 2013 preseason before he was cut after week 4. He was signed so he only technically retired as a Raider.

  4. It’s more difficult to demonize atheists when an atheist is someone you know.

    This is how it worked with gays now (in most places in the western world) being treated equally under the law and so it will work with atheists when there is a good chance that you work with, share common interests with and in general have the same hopes and dreams as atheists.

  5. I went to Catholic schools in Chicago for 12 years and got the feeling that a lot of students and even brothers (teachers) didn’t really buy into all the hocus pocus. While there was a lot of pressure to ‘go along’, there wasn’t a whole lot of oppression for lukewarmers.

    I imagine the situation is worse in rural backwaters of the South and true oppression exists and may even be increasing as the last gasp of believers take out their angst.

  6. I can certainly testify (sorry) to the value of online communities to those who don’t feel able to come out.

    It’s also still a mystery to me that the RDFRS completely miss this point, to the degree that they completely dismantled their own ‘community of unbelief’ some years ago.

    1. I think that I can understand the RDFRS attitude: it seems to accord with my own feelings. I am an atheist because of what I accept; I do not accept things because I am an atheist. I would recoil from any social structure in which my atheism might be seen to imply automatic acceptance of some set of ideals, however much I might agree with some subset of them.

  7. My preference would not be to puff up my chest and say it loud and proud, I’d just say “I’m an atheist” with the same tone that I might say “I’m a baby boomer.”

    But that’s just me.

    1. Did I say I was declaring a state of certainty. Saying you’re an atheist doesn’t have to mean (and certainly doesn’t in my case) that I am certain about the nonexistence of gods. Only that I don’t see any convincing evidence for them.

      But thank you for telling us what our priorities should be.

    2. I disagree in every way. I see no tactical or strategic advantage to your position and I don’t see any reasons to think it is better ethically speaking.

      There are no tenable religious ideas. Anytime you add something like “because my god or my mortal mouth piece said so,” or “I know this is so because I have Faith,” your idea is untenable. Of this I declare I am fairly certain. Though I concede from the beginning that this depends on what one is willing to accept as being a religious idea.

  8. Having bl*gs out there for atheists to comment on is a good outlet for otherwise closeted atheists, but there is nothing like finding people in ‘meat-world’ who are like you. I am fortunate to have plenty around me at work (which is in academia).

  9. Sometimes to be euphemistic in mixed crowds, I’ll say “I believe in Darwin”. I think that covers it and somehow seems to me more polite. I only do that around people I don’t know…I have no problem saying I’m an atheist around friends and family if the topic comes up. Many of my family members aren’t happy about it, but I see that as their problem, not mine.

    1. In such situations, I might respond along the lines of, “Oh, I’m afraid I’m one of those evil atheists.” Hopefully diffuses the situation at the same time it gets it all out there.


    2. I slip it into the conversation as often as I can, without becoming “the annoying guy with the one-track mind.” I get some great double takes, too, like the time I mentioned it over the phone to a colleague in Texas, who was already thrilled with the quality of my work. She hasn’t mentioned it since. I don’t think that prior to that she would have considered atheists to be human beings, or perhaps had just never met one, and assumed we were all muggers just waiting in the park to jump someone as they went by.

      As for family, I only say something if asked, but then I answer honestly. For me it’s an issue of moral courage. If I said what I thought was right when I was a believer, even facing potentially hazardous fallout, I damn well better do the same as a non-believer.

  10. I’ve seen several comments asking if anyone had ever been “outed” as an atheist because they had never heard of it happening. It actually happened to me several years ago and by a fellow athiest.

    I was at my first job after moving to North Carolina and it was such a different culture than I was used to because everyone talked about their religion all the time like they were trying to out-god each other. The IT guy was an athiest and was constantly verbally attacked by most everyone in the office. He and I became friends and I told him I was also an atheist. One day, after an especially virulent attack on him by the others, he responded with his non-belief and then turned to me and asked “isn’t that right, Angela?” That, of course, set off a firestorm and I had not one moment of peace from my coworkers from that day on.

    In a way, I don’t blaim the IT guy for outing me because he was drowning in constant attacks and I think it was a knee-jerk reaction on his part but it still wasn’t cool. He, at least, could go to his office and shut the door to get away from the attacks but I was out there in the middle of the cubicle farm with all of the judgmental and, quite frankly, un-christian christians. Sometimes it could be fun debating religion vs atheism, but mostly it was exhausting.

    To this day, that IT guy is the only athiest I’ve ever met in person so far as I know and I just turned 44 Sunday.

    That experience didn’t make me hide my atheism; I tell anyone who asks, but I do kind of cringe internally, bracing myself for the reaction, since I still live and work in NC.

    1. Poignant story. I feel for you.
      But, you do have the online community like WEIT, etc.
      I suspect atheist in many communities depend on the internet for a feeling of shared values. I certainly gain satisfaction from knowing there is a vast sea of us out there in the interwebs.

    2. An unhappy situation. It sounds like it was not a planned “outing”, being “knee-jerk”… more of an accident, perhaps, due to stress.

      I think of “outing” as something that is planned, done as part of a strategic plan to change the social landscape.

      I do think there is one legitimate reason to “out” someone. If they are advocating political positions that are contrary to the interests of a closeted situation, then the hypocracy deserves to be called out.

    3. “I’ve seen several comments asking if anyone had ever been “outed” as an atheist because they had never heard of it happening.”

      Your story is an example of what my reply to that was going to be: how would we necessarily have heard of such happenings? Unless the outing involved a celebrity or wound up as a high-profile lawsuit there’s very little chance we’d have knowledge of the average atheist outing.

      And it’s also an example of one of the main reasons outing another is a really bad idea–not only can it cause harassment in the workplace, it can result in a person losing their livelihood. I agree with GB–the only atheists who need outing are the political (or whatever) hypocrites.

  11. The difference a community makes. I’m floored by some of the stories I hear from people in religious communities. It’s difficult to comprehend.

    I lived my half century of life as an atheist, the first part only nominally so, not having been brought up with religion, I didn’t know what to make of those crazy faith healer money grubber people on TV on Sundays. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I really started to understand the what being an atheist meant, and really considered the ramifications.
    Until then I really didn’t think about it one way or another.

    Where I live almost nobody asks, or asks me, about religion.
    I’ve heard some people say one of the first questions people ask is “what church do you go to?” but I’ve only been asked this once in my life, by a work associate of some seven years.

    I’ve been called a liar for telling people that, they just couldn’t comprehend such a thing. I was 45 before someone asked me what denomination church I attended. The answer, that I was an atheist, made her say “That makes me so sad.” I didn’t know what to say, up until then I had respected this woman. I replied with “It doesn’t make me sad in the least bit.”

    She, nor anyone else treated me any differently, and not a single person ever tried to convert me or talk to me about religion.

    My teenage friend told me he was beaten and threatened with a pitchfork by his immigrant Italian father for saying he didn’t want to go to church because he didn’t believe. He always talked about how happy he was going to be when he turned 18 and moved out. Louis died on his 16th birthday, killed in a car accident.

    That’s the one place I kept running into religion that I couldn’t escape, the funerals of teenage boys killed by drinking and driving.

  12. I am glad that the tide is turning for a lot of young people. Coming out as an atheist or gay is significantly less of a risk than it used to be and it is no longer a general surprise anymore or worse met with ignorant hostility.

  13. New Orleans is a world unto itself, and not really the South, though it doesn’t take long to get there. No one has ever asked me directly whether I’m an atheist, though I believe I’d give an honest answer. In the past, I have said I’m an athorist… I lack belief in Thor. I’m not angry with Thor, or rebelling against Thor, I simply lack belief Thor exists. And nothing’s arisen from my athorism to necessarily compromise my moral sense, or change my behavior.

  14. This misconception is that non-atheists believe that atheists live an amoral life. Morality does not depend on the existence of God. Children need to learn this distinction.

  15. Thank Jupiter, I live in a Country where if you “come out” as an Athiest the usual rection is ,so what ?so am I. and if our Politicos “talk to God, or God has told them to run for Office, or they have a open line to him, etc etc” they would find themselves not only openly ridiculed but more than likely find them selves on a Psychiatrists Couch.lol

  16. Arian Foster is me when I was fourteen years old, sports and career aside of course. My favourite uncle (and Godfather, yes!) knew the Bible and the complete liturgy (Russian Orthodox) by heart, and he was an outspoken atheist who obviously knew what he was talking about. My mother (widowed when I was four years old) never forced religion on us even though we were taken to church every Sunday during our childhood. She totally accepted my refusal to continue to go to Church when I was fourteen, she understood that I felt like a hypocrite when going to church, when taking communion. She also later on completely dropped out of church.

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