Coming Out Atheist: Why It’s So Hard

It’s the new slogan running in the underground murmurings of atheists everywhere: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”  Taking a note from the homosexual equality movement, atheists are admitting that there is indeed, strength in numbers.  But that’s where our agreements begin to diverge.  Coming out Atheist is not as “easy” as coming out gay.

1. Herding Cats  Unlike the tight knit, internally supporting environment of the homosexual equality movement, atheists are more varied and more skittish.  Homosexuals have the power of uniting under banners and symbols to show unity against a world that disapproves or sees them as “abhorrent”.  But atheists tend to be adamant free-thinkers.  Loaners who abhor crowd-think ideals and meetings.  Getting a group of atheists to agree on a slogan, a symbol a meeting place and a message is more difficult.

2. The fight is larger.  Where the homosexual movement can tackle specific laws (marriage equality) and take on targeted cases (bullying in schools and teen suicide), the atheist movement has to tackle a large scope of ideals and laws.  It is much, much more than fighting Evolution versus Creationism.  As one can be a Christian homosexual.  But one cannot be a Christian Atheist.  Homosexual relationships are accepted by a larger population of the world than a complete disbelief in supernatural beings.

3. Hypocrisy is Scary.  Many atheists come from religious environments and families where they are constantly bombarded and annoyed with the religious messages surrounding them.  We often find religious followers preachy and self centered.  But to “come out” atheist in the manner that some atheist groups wish we would, it would entail acting in the same manner.  Turning conversations into atheist debates, posting pro-atheist messages on social networking sites, supporting atheist bills and commenting, posting and sharing pro-atheist images, articles and stories.  Remaining honest to your beliefs and NOT coming off preachy is a hard line to toe without stepping over.  So most atheists just prefer to hold their tongue rather than come off militant.

4. Protagonist Inherent. Given the religious background of the majority of the world, you would be hard pressed to find a culture where open atheism isn’t seen as an affront to the majority opinion.  A Christian/Muslim/Jewish person etc. can stream God-praising image posts and request prayer through social networking sites without being seen as an insult to atheists.  But most atheist themed images and posts are instantly taken as an attack on all religion, because, let’s be honest, they are.  And it is hard to get support as the villain.  Not impossible, but hard.

5. Fear of Disconnection.  Because of the environment that we currently live in, many atheists are still friends with theists and come from families full of believers.  We still go to weddings in churches, bow our head for prayers we don’t believe in and stand still for moments of silence we have no use for.  Playing the game of belonging is a delicate balance in life.  It would be lovely if I can send out “Happy Holidays” cards to my family without getting snide remarks from those who know I am not a believer.  But to imagine how much more disconnect between my family would exist should I become more vocal about my beliefs is a very real fear in my heart.  I love them and want a happy future for my friends and family.  But why should it always be the atheist who caters to the theists?  Simple tyranny of the majority.

6. It’s Personal.  Debating abortion is easy compared to debating religion.  Debating the equal rights of marriage in a courthouse is child’s play.  But trying to explain the intricate, long standing interwoven tragedy of religion which has plagued humanity for millenia is much, much more complicated.  Not only is it harder to explain, but it’s so interwoven in brainwashing from a young age that many people hold their beliefs as sacred and untouchable.  To even  debate atheist ideas is to completely insult a person’s belief system to its core.  And that’s hard to do apologetically.  Making someone cry or hurting them or calling them blind, stupid or ridiculous is never nice.  Even if it is the truth.

7. Media Control. Since the majority of humans are still theists, it is harder to get a fair portrayal of atheism in the media.  Myths and lies still perpetuate among the deeply religious and the media continues to select only the most vocal and militant to speak on our behalf.  Until more mainstream media sources embrace atheism in the same way they embrace other belief systems (Romneys Mormon, Cruise’s Scientology, Palin’s Fundamentalist) then we will never have a fair portrayal or voice.

8. Education.  It is hard to debate with a five year old for the same reason it is hard to debate with a fundamental theist: they don’t know enough to contribute a fair understanding of the topic.  Most theist debates are either based on simply saying “it’s in the book, end of story” or “well I heard from a friend/guy on TV/article I read”.  Teaching someone critical thinking skills just so you CAN debate with them on equal footing is a large task to take on.  So most atheists simply avoid the debate all together.

So maybe it’s our policy of love, tolerance and understanding which will do us in as a minority.  It’s hard to come out atheist without losing friends, family and self-control.  But you can try.  In small ways, every day.  If a debate about a religiously fueled bill is the topic of conversation, steer the conversation towards the separation of church and state.  Try to uphold the Constitution and make it about freedom and laws rather than religion.  And when someone is being blinded by their faith, point it out.  Ask them if they are willing to be morally wrong to be religiously right.  Never sink to someone else’s level.  If they are being violent and aggressive, walk away.  But make sure to remind them how unlike their prophet of choice they are behaving.  I have always loved that most atheists I know are more theistically read than most believers.  Encourage reading, on all fronts.  After all, many of us lost our faith from simply READING the books we were told to believe blindly.

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2 thoughts on “Coming Out Atheist: Why It’s So Hard

  1. I agree on most of these things, however I have to stress in the area of separation from friends and family for being atheist. Anyone who chooses to not be a part of your life because of your atheism, especially family, then loves you conditionally and not unconditionally. I fortunately have come from a family that is very disconnected so I do not know what that actual connection is like so it is easy for me to come out to everyone because frankly if they don’t want to be a part of my life then so be it. However I can understand why people would be hesitant. I think the part about the love being conditional could sway people’s feelings on the matter of whether or not to come out. Altogether, it will make the person coming out stronger.

    • I agree. It is also harder for individuals who cannot support themselves without their family. Say, younger atheists who live at home or people who live very near their family and friends. I have very few friends myself because I choose to cut myself off from people who only love me “conditionally”. But I can imagine that for more social people it is a much harder decision.

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