Coming Out of the Atheist Closet April 27, 2007

Coming Out of the Atheist Closet

Jimmy Li in the Harvard Crimson newspaper has an article in today’s paper about coming out as atheists. He uses the “Pissed Catholic Mother” video as a starting point:

“Pissed Catholic Mother” is shocking and disturbing to say the least, and it’s probably safe to assume that most parents would not respond with such hurtful and abusive language if their child were to tell them he or she is an atheist. Perhaps what is more unsettling, however, is that the mother’s reaction reflects, albeit in a distorted and grossly amplified way, the sentiments of many Americans.

While Li goes on to talk about the stigma associated with atheism, he states the following:

Intolerance of atheists is so ingrained in our society that public figures can even openly attack atheists without injuring their reputation. During a campaign stop in Chicago in the summer of 1987, then Vice President George H. W. Bush was asked by a reporter for the American Atheist news journal if he “recognized the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists.” In response, Bush said, “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” Imagine if Bush had made the same comment about Catholics or Muslims.

That’s a dubious statement. While it may be true, the only person who heard it was the reporter in question, Rob Sherman. There’s no audio or video recording. And no other reporter at that press conference has vouched for it. We need to stop using that example…

Later in the article, Li writes about the only way we’ll shed the stigma, a message I strongly agree with:

t’s time for the atheist in America to come out of hiding. Atheists should be able to openly declare their beliefs without fear of alienation in the workplace, school, and home. The idea that belief in God is a prerequisite to morality must be dispelled so that atheists may receive the tolerance they deserve.

If the stigma of atheism is to disappear, however, atheists must have the courage to defend what they believe. And, as Richard Dawkins puts it, they must work to raise the public consciousness to the enormous prejudice that many atheists face everyday.

After praising Harvard’s New Humanism conference, Li concludes with this reiteration of his main point:

It is up to each individual to explain, and if need be, defend his or her own secular philosophy. Only when more atheists stand and speak up for their beliefs will people begin to shed their erroneous assumptions about atheism and decry bigotry against atheists. One can only hope that the “Pissed Catholic Mother” is of a dying breed.

Right on. We need to stop being scared. It’s not an easy road for many of us, but coming out to someone we trust (not the Catholic Mom) is a tremendous first step.

[tags]atheist, atheism, Jimmy Li, Harvard Crimson, Pissed Catholic Mother, George H. W. Bush, American Atheist, Catholics, Muslims, Rob Sherman, Richard Dawkins, New Humanism[/tags]

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  • miller

    I heard that Bush Sr. never denied that statement when asked.

    I think that if more atheists came out, people wouldn’t have such a distorted view of atheism as being a very aggressive movement. They don’t seem to realize that most atheists are actually so quiet they’re invisible.

  • czrpb

    Here is Sherman’s latest on the atheist/citizen thing:

    Did he [Bush] say it? Seems to be unprovable. Documents provided by Sherman from Bush’s library neither confirm nor deny the statement or conversion. Statements made by other on Bush’s behalf do not show high regard for atheist.

  • I think- or at least hope, that America is going the way of Europe, and embracing atheism, or at least losing some of the dogmatic language that plagues the political stage. Certainly here in the UK, being an atheist is not a big deal- I can’t imagine such extreme reactions here, although I imagine it happens still in some communities.

  • I had no idea it had gotten so bad over there, I feel for you I really do

  • So that video is still getting trucked around as a reason to promote atheism? Sad. Apparently, for some people, atheism is more important rather than the privacy rights of a family. Never thought I’d live to see the day where atheism became a religion.

  • Tina

    I don’t think the video is a reason to promote atheism. I think this mom was so shocked that she didn’t have time to think about what her son was saying. I do think that if she had calmed down that maybe they could of had a decent conversation discussing atheism. And I hope they did. How does one promote atheism anyway? Do we have literature, or pamphlets? Seriously, maybe I’m missing something. What is so bad about not believing in a god? I just don’t get it. Thank you for posting this, I learned something today.

  • Tina:
    I have no issue with promoting atheism, I’m an atheist as well but I take issue with that particular video being used to support the atheist view and I don’t like the idea of private family issues being aired out in public for the rest of the world to watch. That video is just like a Jerry Springer episode that is now being used by atheists to support atheism just because it shows a theist mom acting like a fool. It’s just ‘sensational entertainment’ used to get people all worked up and if I really wanted that as my main source of information on atheism, I’d watch FOX news.

    I would hope nobody here would ever want their mistakes and dysfunctions uploaded to YouTube for everyone to laugh at or turned into a rally cry for a certain way of thinking. Then again, I am very much in the minority opinion in this matter, so maybe personal privacy is just not important anymore and everyone should have a right to tell everyone else how to act in their own homes. Maybe I’m just not ‘liberal’ enough. I’ve been wrong before.

  • Tina

    Hi Dan. No, I was really wondering how does one promote atheism. And I also would not want anyone to see me act that way. If my son would of been around when I found his Wiccan book I might have reacted this way, and I was never religious, only through what family has told me. I didn’t know the first thing about religion let alone Wicca. I thought they were devil worshipers. I think it all comes down to knowledge. People need to learn what religion means and what atheism means. This mom was terrified I think. It comes from her religious upbringing. I am grateful to be able to experience this thing called the Internet, I am learning so much about tolerance and atheism.

  • Tina:
    One way of promoting atheism is this very blog. Hemant first started out by literally selling his soul on ebay. The idea gave him some decent media exposure and as a result he is invited to speak on behalf of atheists all over the country. He then wrote a book about the ebay deal which is another form of atheistic promotion and he maintains this blog. All of these things he does promotes atheism – from a friendly point of view. Even the name of this blog “The Friendly Atheist” is a form of promotion because it’s an inviting title which in turn promotes open and friendly discussion.

    Other ways atheism has been promoted is by Richard Dawkins and his speeches and books. Other people, like myself, blog about atheism and have discussions with theists where we compare and contrast our world views.

    In short, there are lots of ways to promote atheism and allot of people actively doing it everyday. Many of these ideas are good and constructive (like this blog), while others (like that video) I feel are not.

  • Darryl

    I think from now on I will not label myself as an atheist. I do not believe in god(s), but ‘atheist’ has taken on negative connotations. Tell someone that you’re an atheist and they have a negative reaction. I will try to find a positive and accurate handle, preferably one that is unfamiliar so that people will have to ask me what it means. Anybody got any suggestions?

  • Unsupernaturalist

    I haven’t come up with a good “handle” yet, but I like to say “I don’t believe in anything supernatural.” And if they ask, “But what about God?” I simply repeat myself. That usually gets the point across that you consider religious belief to be in the same category as other supernatural belief without sounding too combative.

  • What about using a label that describes your affirmative beliefs, rather than your non-beliefs? E.g. humanist, naturalist, etc. “Atheist”, unfortunately, only defines you only in opposition to someone else’s beliefs.

  • I always think giving a title to yourself like christian or muslim is actually very uninformitive. I have met christians who never go to church, and christians who have told me that homosexuals are evil. Thats why I kind of like the title of atheist. It doesn’t imply anything about my ethical beliefs, and it shouldn’t. If people want to talk ethics with me, then I will talk ethics- not religon.

  • Samantha

    I do not consider myself an atheist,as I do not know what awaits us after death. I am certainly not religious. I find organized religion to be dangerous. People use religion as a weapon to injure others who do not believe the same. These “faithful”, twist the bible to conform to their own needs.

    If you believe in God, leave me out of it. “PTL” means “Praise The Lord, Pass The Loot!” Religion is a business out to make money. The easiest way to recruit new members, and therefore new money, is through fear and intimidation. Jerry Falwell was an evil human being who personified the problems with religion.

    I believe people should strive to live their lives well; be good people who treat others with the respect they believe is inherently due themselves; and try to contribute only positive to this world. Not promote hate, intolerance, violence and fear.

  • Michael Dixon

    I think atheists need to not only unite and become more vocal but become political ‘wedges’ just like the very political plotting evil fundamentalists!

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