Looking over my more recent posts, I realized that I haven’t done a post focused on atheism in some time, so I’m going to talk about coming out as an atheist. I personally have come out to most of my friends, and the ones I haven’t come out to is purely for technical reasons (i.e. they live elsewhere and I haven’t seen them in a really long time). I haven’t come out to my family yet, but I have plans to do so in the future.
This is an extremely important issue because coming out is, in my opinion, the best way to promote a society that is accepting of atheists. It’s always easy to demonize a group of people when they are just a faceless crowd. As soon as you know someone who is a part of that group, demonization becomes much harder. There are many reasons this occurs, but I think that the primary motivator is that people tend to think in terms of labels. They don’t consider all of the nuance and complexity that every person has, instead preferring to project their understanding of said label onto a person, grossly oversimplifying them in the process. Once someone knows a person well though, they tend to know many of these nuances and complexity, thus making it difficult, if not impossible to generalize that person. The more we come out, the greater the chance that the average citizen will know an atheist personally, and stop demonizing us. Side note: as atheists, we must remember that this principle also applies to the religious and that we should try not to generalize them as well.
Of course coming out isn’t easy. If it were, there would be no need to write this post. Atheist face many many obstacles in coming out. Atheists who come out to religious families routinely face ostracization from their families, friends, and communities. One need look no further than stories such as Damon Fowle, Jessica Ahlquist, Harrison Hopkins, and Zack Kopplin (2). After standing up for their (lack of) beliefs, they have each faced some pretty severe consequences. Unfortunately these are not isolated incidences either; they happen all over the US. This doesn’t even take into consideration the many countries in the world where criticizing the government’s official religion results in execution. It is because of these reactions that we need to come out. We need to fight these established views, but in order to do so requires us to come out first.
Despite the problems, coming out can be very beneficial from an individual point of view as well. By coming out, we no longer have to hide who we are. We don’t have to constantly pretend to be something we are not. Keeping up a facade is a tiring process, one in which it can be difficult to not let something slip accidentally. It’s psychologically taxing over time. Coming out is, in many ways, about releasing a mental burden. It is then no longer possible for family and friends to insult your worldview without knowing (although some may knowingly continue to do so, unfortunately). We are no longer required to go to church and “fake it”, if that was previously the case. Coming out can even be fun (3).
As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t come out to my family yet. Incidentally, that’s why I write this blog anonymously. Some of my family will be supportive, but most will react negatively. Unfortunately the vast majority of my family is extremely conservative and extremely religious. Mostly though, my grandparents are getting quite old and are in frail health so coming out now would be poor timing, in my opinion. Once they pass away, that’s when I intend to come out to everyone. I suspect that it will be difficult, but it’s something that I really want to do. There are so many times that I wish I was out already, but sometimes I have to remind myself that timing is everything. None of my family lives in California (the closest family is over 1500 miles away), so I don’t have to deal with day to day stuff, but it does make it difficult to talk about this stuff, since it’s a topic that should be done in person if at all possible. One thing that I would suggest to everyone who isn’t completely out is to make a plan. Sometimes it really is the case that coming out right now is not the best idea, but it becomes easy to continually say “now’s not the time” forever. It’s natural to be afraid of coming out, but we mustn’t let that fear alone keep us from coming out. Making a plan is the easiest way, I think, of preventing this from happening.
Coming out can be very stressful, it can even lead to some heavy negative consequences. And it’s absolutely vital. One day, coming out as atheist won’t be a big deal, and coming out today is the best way to create that day.
(1) “The Out Campaign.” The Out Campaign. Available: http://outcampaign.org/
(2) Center for Inquiry. “High School Activism | CFI Leadership Conference 2011.” YouTube. 12th July, 2011. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5C-sRDGPmU
(3) Christina, Greta. “Coming Out is Fun.” Greta Christina’s Blog. 20th September, 2011. Available: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2011/09/20/coming-out-is-fun/