How Should You Come Out as an Atheist without Generating Controversy? November 15, 2009

How Should You Come Out as an Atheist without Generating Controversy?

There are a lot of ways you can come out as an atheist. Many of them result in someone getting very upset. Sometimes, it results in a fight over faith — maybe a debate you don’t want to get into.

What do you do if you want to come out publicly as an atheist but not draw all the negative attention that sometimes comes with it? Is that possible?

Reader Keith is having that dilemma and he’s thinking about the best way to handle it:

After reaching mid-life, I’ve realized I’m pretty tired of being a secret atheist. Not that I pretend to be religious, but when religious topics come up at work or among friends, I tend to clam up and avoid the subject. Lately, though, I’ve started to wonder if that’s the best stance for me to take. I worry that I’m being a coward, and that if I spoke up for myself I might (like you’ve said before) show people by example that atheists are decent people too, and also let other closet atheists know that they are not alone.

One way I’ve thought about addressing this is by announcing my atheism on Facebook (as a friend did recently). But is this too in-your-face?

I want to say to the world that I’m not afraid to be called atheist, and that atheists are all around. I don’t want it to come across as a challenge, like I’m saying “I’m an atheist… take that world!” Especially because the vast majority of my Facebook friends are Christian, and at least half of those are Very Christian (and family members). Most of them probably don’t know I’m an atheist. (I suppose part of my motivation is that I’m reaching a point where I DO want those family members to know — mostly cousins — but I don’t want to talk to them directly about it. That would feel like a confession of a dirty secret! I just want to announce that I’m proud of who I am.

The Facebook thing seems innocuous enough. Is there a better way to be public about your atheism without trying to generate controversy within your family?

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  • Gordon

    Isn’t that what the Scarlet A pins were for?

  • Changing your status to “IS AN ATHEIST!!!” or leaving critical comments on friends’ and relatives’ religious posts is probably more confrontational than you’re looking for, but I don’t see any problem with making “atheist” your “Religious Views.” Maybe it will happen to show up in your friends’ news feeds, maybe it won’t. My guess is that most people won’t see it right away, and that many will stumble upon it much later if they are randomly looking at your profile. It is not in-your-face.

  • Controversy is fun! Well… with the exception of worrying about alienating your awesome grandmother.

    Seriously, sometimes the controversy helps you determine who really cares about you, and who cares more about their imaginary friend.

  • personally,
    come out slowly and surely.

    Of course my wife is the first person I told, but she kind of figured I was headed that route by some of the comments I made.

    In my case, I run several organizations, So i had to be careful because I didn’t want to influence anyone else’s decision or ideas.

    I then told my oldest son who lives with his mother. He kind of figured it out on his own as well…

  • If nothing else, you should have an outlet for expressing your atheism, and if you can find a handle on a social network that will keep your atheism within the social group that won’t cause issues then that will help.

    As a very public atheist, I have hope that our continued efforts will make it so that someday it doesn’t cause you so much angst.

  • dale

    It’s been difficult for me as well. I’m 43 and I’ve pretty much been atheist since I was 18. That’s a long time to hide in a closet. I started out by changing my FB ‘religious views’ to secular humanist, which though not necessarily means one is an athiest it at least fits well with my viewpoints. My family would freak out if I came right out. It would also be painful at work as I’m surrounded by many with very strong Christian viewpoints. Sadly I have to keep it mostly to myself or suffer the repercussions.

  • The one thing that you should consider before coming out on the internet is that you can never take it back.

    Potential employers may find out about it when they google your name, etc. In addition, you have no control who finds out or when they find out.

    Once you put it out there, you will not know which of your friends and relatives have seen it, who knows and who doesn’t.

    None of this is necessarily bad. Just something to think about.

  • Sarah

    Like Z mentioned, a status update is a bit in your face. But, if you change your religious status to Atheist, and start joining secular/atheist groups, etc. People will get the hint. The number of friends asking for my prayers has plummeted, while the number of friends asking for my thoughts has gone up. Thats something.

    Also, I’ve had many friends come to see me and confide that they too are non-believers, and weren’t sure how to come out.

  • D.S.

    I don’t think facebook is the best place to tell about your atheism (though of course you shouldn’t pretend you’re christian /or whatever/ on facebook).
    It’s a better idea to tell your familly personally, and in a rather casual way, without making much fuss about it, like just remarking something like “you know, i just don’t believe that stuff”.
    If you don’t make much fuss, your chances are better that the person you’re telling won’t make much fuss, either.

  • Stephen P

    I agree with dantresomi. Come out gradually.

    Start by contributing your point of view to the discussion on religiously-related topics. You don’t say which church your family belongs to, so I don’t know what the hot topics are. But defend the geological age of the earth, condemn the RCC’s handling of the child abuse scandal, or otherwise take the point of view that any decent, well-informed, open-minded individual would take. On religious topics, stick to points that are fairly objective. For example, if the ten commandments come up, point out the ten commandments in Exodus 34, that most religious people don’t seem to have heard of. And so on.

    When people have got used to you expressing slightly eccentric views (by their standards) on these, you can start addressing religious issues more directly – errors in the bible, the more ludicrous tenets of faith etc. But for the moment avoid the most controversial topics, such as whether Jesus of Nazareth even existed.

    Let people gradually get used to the idea of you not being religious, over a period of perhaps a couple of years. Then, when you mark yourself as atheist on Facebook, the majority of your friends and family will, with a bit of luck, just mutter “yeah, not a big surprise” and move on.

  • Not sure if this would work for you, but I find that simply using humour when others discuss religion to point out the more idiotic points in whatever faith you are talking about to be good. If you laugh at the laughable parts someone will eventually ask, “Are you an atheist?” to which you reply “Of course I am.”

  • Claudia

    I partially disagree about the status updates. Sure, “I’M AN ATHEIST F-YOU!” is confrontational, but that doesn’t mean that all status updates would be.

    I sometimes put quotes I think are nice on my facebook status. There are quotes that would make clear your position while still being gentle. Here’s one from Carl Sagan:

    Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.

    Or another one, from Einstein:

    A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

    Here’s a more direct one, from Bertrand Russell

    And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence

    There’s a list of them here and here.

    You can also use facebook to link to other things. The Pale Blue Dot video from Carl Sagan is beautiful and will make clear, to someone who isn’t completely dense, that you don’t take a Jesus-centric view of the world BUT ALSO that you appreciate the wonder and beauty in the world. One of the core problems many religious people face with atheism is that they’ve been taught that atheists are “empty” and “believe in nothing”. You can use your coming out to preemptively counter such misconceptions.

    Just start dropping those links and quotes occasionally on facebook. If anyone comments on them or asks state nonchalantly that no, you don’t believe in god. Adopt a “this is not a huge deal” tone, so that people can see you are comfortable with this position and find objecting to it not so much outrageous as kind of odd.

    What to do at work I don’t dare suggest, since it’s your livelihood and I don’t know the specific circumstances.

  • ungullible

    Coincidentally enough, my name is Keith too, I’m also reaching midlife, and I’ve had the exact same conversation with myself over the past year or two. 🙂

    I think Facebook is a good way to come out slowly – it’s how I started. I wouldn’t post your atheism as your status, but perhaps put something in your profile instead. And you could even be more subtle by being slightly vague until you gain more confidence. For example, instead of setting your religious views to “atheist” put something like “not religious”, “no thank you”, or “I believe in one less god than you do”. You could also put some of your favorite free-thinking quotes under your “favorite quotes” section.

    I try to avoid putting my atheism in my status – that is too “in your face” for my taste. It annoys me when the religious folks are always doing it, so why would I want to be like that? Of course, if someone religious posts something that I want to weigh in on, I might engage them in a respectful discussion – but at least they started it. But generally I prefer wearing my atheism on my profile sleeve instead of my status sleeve – it feels less pushy since people have to actively seek out more information on me by going there.

    Realizing that the reaction to my atheism has been extremely mild (positive, even!) has really helped me gain a lot of confidence to come out more!

  • happycynic

    I agree with the others; changing your “about me” page is better than a status update.

    The way I currently handle being an “out” atheist, is that if someone asks me or it comes up as something relevant, I’ll tell them, but I never bring it up myself. When I do end up talking about my atheism, I do so like it’s no big deal, something perfectly normal. This route makes sure I’m not being pushy, but also means I’m never lying or deceiving anyone, taking a great weight off of my shoulders.

    Another benefit to the “only if they actually ask” route is that people have to be listening to you when you come out. Religion is a pretty personal question. Normally only close friends or relatives ask you about it, and normally only in private. In these cases you’ll have the time to explain yourself, your views, and what atheists actually are. If you were to simply status-update it, they’d immediately go wide-eyed, then attach every atheist stereotype to you. But if they’re right there talking to you, they’ll probably ask the questions like “But how can you be moral?!?!” and that gives you a chance to set the record straight before people jump to conclusions.

  • I found that not making a big deal out of it myself kept it from being very confrontational from either end. There was never really a “coming out” moment from me. I was honest about my views whenever the appropriate moment came up (although I tried to always be diplomatic, and not strident), and eventually family members would ask me more about my beliefs.

    Part of this might be because my family is fairly liberal; their mostly Christmas and Easter Catholics except for a few. And most friends were either the same way or also non-believers, so I probably ad an easier time of it than most. But I do think just being honest without being confrontational was helpful.

    Let the other person ask questions if they want to, just be true to yourself and don’t worry whether someone “knows” you’re an atheist.

  • littlejohn

    My view is that we have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement, with which we have a great deal in common (We are a minority, but a fairly large minority, we are primarily opposed by religious zealots, we really have no choice about what we are, etc.). We should be more in-your-face. Gays embraced the word “queer” and thus stole its power. We should do the same with “atheist.” I think the term “bright” is absolutely cringe-inducing.
    In short, I tell people who disapprove of my atheism to bite my shiny metal ass.
    If they want a civilized debate, I’ll debate. But if they want to call me names, well, see the previous paragraph. Besides, unlike gays, we really CAN recruit.

  • swizzlenuts

    This is pretty much what I did when I moved out of my parents place. It still brings out the controversy. The people that would get upset will still get upset.

    For example, most of my family doesn’t know I’m an atheist, but my mom saw it in my facebook page (I’m friends with my sister), and was upset. I’m lucky and have understanding parents, but imagine if my parents were fundies; they’d react the same way.

    You could always raise your doubts in conversations by being the Devil’s advocate. Just pointing out flaws in their arguments and then being honest if the question comes up.

    These questions are so difficult, and I don’t know if any one way will work. Probably mixture of different tactics.

  • Jim

    I agree with needing to introduce it gently to fundie family members. Just start posting links to Friendly Atheist articles! 🙂 Think of your ‘coming out’ this way – its very likely you will make at least several people really think about what they believe. I would guess there’s at least one person in your network who would say “wow, I’m not alone in this after all”.

  • April

    Rather than posting a status update that says: “FYI, I’m an atheist.” I’ve started posting links to various atheist blogs that I think are interesting or funny (usually this blog!).

    I don’t usually get many responses, but I think my distant cousins, high school friends, and all acquaintances those that don’t know me well enough to know my atheist status yet are probably getting the point.

  • bigjohn756

    I started using the Scarlet Letter as my avatar on Facebook. I haven’t noticed anything different yet, though.

  • Heidi

    I like Sarah’s idea of joining secular/atheist groups. That will show up in your updates, but it won’t be like an announcement. Then if somebody asks you can just say “oh, well yeah. You didn’t know I was an atheist?”

    Posting science-y links is a good idea, too. If you’re on Twitter, re-tweeting Richard Dawkins could do it for you.

    I never made any kind of announcement, per se. I did put atheist in the Facebook religious section. And I stuck a scarlet A on my Twitter avatar the other day after a religious friend posted about adding a cross to hers. Occasionally, I take a relevant FB poll. Voting for evolution in the evolution vs. creationism poll makes it pretty clear.

    Best of luck whatever you decide. If we can put up with theists’ mumbo jumbo, they can put up with our rationality.

  • Well, I started expressing doubts in high school [a brief few years ago] and reading Atheist blogs such as Pharyngula, and I made it the subject of one of my NaNoWriMo novels [and the succeeding ScriptFrenzy]. No big deal. At least I don’t need to receive the eucharist anymore.

    I didn’t care about whether it would cause the forbidden Controversy or not. It’s really much easier just not to care. Sure, my mother [a devout catholic] cried. My father was ambivalent but mostly all right with it, provided I didn’t make mother cry. Oops. My sister supported it, but did not like at all when I told the parents she was agnostic herself. Ooops. Well then.

  • Claudia – thanks for the links to the quotes; the Einstein one became my FB status, immediately followed by this one:

    People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant. Helen Keller

    My coming out has also been rather gradual on FB, but it’s been long enough now that I often re-post some of Greta Christina’s status updates (*heart* her).

    My religious views: “touched by his noodly appendage”


  • David E

    You don’t even need to announce being an atheist to come out on facebook. Just join one of facebook’s atheist groups. It will get around to your facebook friends pretty quickly.

  • Quentin

    At some point there’s probably going to be some face-to-face conversations about it, so be prepared with a concise, honest explanation of why you no longer believe. I’ve always thought that the contradictions between the world’s religions yields a powerful case against any particular religion, so maybe you could briefly explain that.

  • Ellen

    I find this question as heart breaking as queer coming out stories. All I can do is thank my parents yet again for taking the hit for me, for coming out as atheists before I was even born, and raising me in a way that made me believe we were the normal ones.

    I never talked about it much until about 5 years ago, when I started seeing fundamentalism taking over entirely. I then had a realization that I had a duty to express that part of who I am too. Like most everyone else here, I’m not looking for a fight, but I’m not about to hide who I am. More power to you in the coming out process!

  • I never “came out” in a big way. I guess that sounds weird since I wrote for Skepchick for a couple of years. But by then everyone in my personal life knew I was an atheist — if they wanted to know. I mentioned things in passing, when the topic came up, both with relatives and friends, and also with new acquaintances. But I never started the topic of discussion. Now I sometimes write about being an unbeliever on my blog and on twitter, fb, etc. But I don’t make a big deal out of it and for the most part, I haven’t had any big negative reactions. A couple of small ones from people who were shocked (because I used to be a born again xian), but then who calmed down once they figured out I’m still really the same person.

  • Tom Woolf

    I recently jumped on to the Facebook bandwagon, mostly as a way to get back in contact with my high school classmates. Granted, why I would want to do so now after being away for 30 years makes for a good question…

    I was not looking for any controversy when I stated my religious views as “Atheist”, and have not yet received any crapolla from anybody. And this is from a group of folks from a small town whose listed religious views are, for the most part, evangelical and hard-core christians. Very hard core. I have avoided some controversies intentionally, such as when a classmate gave praise to her god that her now dead husband, taken from her by a horrible debilitating disease, is now at jesus’ side. I avoided the controversy by biting my tongue (keyboard?) and not replying to the 40th such post with “HOW IN THE HELL CAN YOU PRAISE THAT VINDICTIVE, TORTURING BASTARD WHO RIPPED YOUR LIFEMATE FROM YOUR SIDE 30 YEARS TOO SOON?!? HOW CAN YOU PRAISE A CREATURE SO VILE THAT HE’D KILL HIS OWN SON AS A PUBLIC RELATIONS MOVE?!???” Rather than do that, I simply chose to ignore the deluded classmate.

    As to letting folks around me know of my atheism, I simply join into any religious conversation they may have. If they ask me my affiliation, I say in a very light-hearted way “I’m none of the above, and think you are all wrong… But I will fight for your right to be wrong in whatever fashion you want.” That only causes trouble when some scheiss-for-brains comes back with “how can you be so blind/ignorant/stupid.” Then, the fight is on… The first salvo returned is usually “how can you be so superstitious?”, and it goes downhill from there. I do make it a point to simply ignore the bozo if the conversation is at work…

    But don’t hide your atheism…. why do that? Because you are not the majority? Bah.

  • CJDeak

    I agree with the Facebook sentiment, maybe fan a couple of atheist-related or skeptic and science related blogs, and change your religious views to atheist to make it clear when they see your new fan-updates on their feed, and go to your page to see.

  • I’m with Ellen on this.

    The fact you’re even having this conversation shows what a screwed up thought police state you live in.

    It’s not your problem that believing in sky fairies turns them into bigots.

    To thine own self be true as they say.

  • muggle

    These kind of conversations always make me feel in the dark, wanting to help but not really knowing how since I’ve never had to come out per se.

    I guess I did in a sense when I went through 10 years of searching to go from Christian to Atheist (and Jewish and Agnostic in between) but I never really had to think about it as heavy as you so I can’t really offer from experience.

    I rather escaped my fundy nut mother and a father who didn’t really care that much what church he went to but they were both so abusive, I stopped talking to either one of them long before I reached the point where I was able to say out loud, there is no God. And my friends and siblings watched me go the long route with varying degrees of humor so no issue there either. Since then, well, I’ve been very open with my disbelief and the friends I made (which seem to be mostly Atheists, liberal Christians, Jews and Wiccan/Pagan) have been okay with it.

    Looks like you were given a lot of good advice above. The best advice I can give you is to read and consider it and personalize it to your own life and the individuals you do not want to create conflict with but be honest with. Will your mother be someone you should tell in private while you best leave it to her to tell your aunt? Is work a place where you have to lay low, maybe even stay in the closet, or do you not have to worry about discrimination on the job (be careful on this one even if you think not unless you know of other unbelievers they treat fairly; I have been harrassed on a State job, and have had another where a coworker claimed to be Atheist only to be suddenly dismissed the morning after I said me too).

    Sort through it all. We don’t know you or your life. So sort through it and glean what will work for you. You can be honest and still be nonconfrontational. You don’t have to be in your face!

    Only thing I’d advise (and this is coming from someone very in your face but that’s me, not you) if you want to be tactful and not fighting the world, is if anyone does try to make an issue of it and get argumentive, refuse to take the bait. Offer a quiet, “I’m sorry. I don’t say this to offend you. I was just offering my view. Take it as you will or leave it. I wish you the best,” and decline to argue even if they do.

    Hard to believe it but even I’ve done that a time or two. 😉

  • Richard Wade

    These are very good suggestions about coming out gradually.


    Hoping to completely avoid controversy will probably be futile.

    In almost every case, the “controversy,” meaning upset, anger, accusations, quarrels, emotional blackmail, shunning and disowning are entirely the product of the theists whom you are telling. No matter how slow or gentle, no matter how non-confrontational you are, some of them are going to throw a pissy fit, and they’re going to try to get others to support them with fits of their own.

    People are ultimately responsible for their own reactions. You can try to mitigate their feelings, but you cannot control them. You can only make sure that your actions are not intentionally provocative or offensive.

    But if people decide to be provoked or offended, they will. For so many theists, the very existence of atheists is enough for upset. Generally, the ones who become angry without any intended provocation are the ones with the most feeble confidence in their own beliefs. They don’t want to hear about one more intelligent, sane and good person who doesn’t buy into their comforting fantasy.

    The foundation of all their anger at you is fear. Not fear for your soul, but for their own flimsy beliefs.

  • Tizzle

    There are different ways to use facebook. I personally don’t like the status-as-message style. Whether political or religous, whether I agree or not. So *I* wouldn’t put it there, and I ‘hid’ all my friends who do, because I get annoyed by it.

    I changed my about me section to state I’m an atheist. For a while it was pastafarian, but frankly that’s more in-your-face, I think. Before doing that, if you haven’t already, go into settings and change it so that all your friends don’t see every single change in that section. If you want to be subtle.

    I changed my settings when I realized I could. It just isn’t very interesting that I changed my interests from “enjoying the summer” to “enjoying the fall”. And I sort of know one person who is apparently going through a divorce, which I saw highlighted with a bright red heart (should’ve been a broken one). I found that just a little bit invasive; I prefer slightly more privacy.

  • Ben

    You have your workmates friended on Facebook? Crazy!

    You could always do the whole bisexual thing: put “Agnostic” or “soul-searching” as your religion for a few months before upgrading to full-blown atheism. It’s much easier to explain agnosticism to people because it has an inherent lack of certainty which people find easier to understand.

    Of course that depends on how like your friend/family are to try and reconvert you, but I think it can be less argumentative or confrontational if you go the gradual route.

  • The Other Tom


    My view is that we have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement, with which we have a great deal in common (We are a minority, but a fairly large minority, we are primarily opposed by religious zealots, we really have no choice about what we are, etc.). We should be more in-your-face.

    As a movement? Yes. As individuals speaking to individuals? Everyone is different. There are people to whom you come out by announcing it in 36 point type on your blog and daring them to disapprove, and there are people who will deal with it a lot better if you take them for a quiet walk in the park while the leaves fall gently in the breeze and tell them very calmly and peacefully and give them time to feel upset and ask you questions so they can calm down.

  • The Other Tom


    You have your workmates friended on Facebook? Crazy!

    Not at all. I allow professional contacts to friend me on Facebook. I simply have a group that I drop them in that isn’t privileged to see anything I post. So they get a “yes” to their friend request, but they don’t get any more information out of me than they got when I sent them my Vcard for professional purposes.

  • littlejohn

    The Other Tom:
    Maybe you’re right. I’ll take them for a walk in the park. Then I’ll tell them to bite my shiny metal ass.
    For some reason, I don’t seem to have many friends.

  • Victor

    I came “out” through poetry at an open mic I dj with the following poem:

    Flight of the Navigator

    She asked of me how I could be G double-O D
    if I didn’t believe in he that is supposed to be
    my lord and savior,
    what motivating force kept me
    from doing my darkest desires
    if I did not believe
    in the retribution
    of an omniscient being,
    but I ask of you how many Atheist’s
    have been rocked by scandal
    where they were the vandal
    upon the body of an under aged boy,
    only to have their organization,
    deny, hide and defend these men
    from the retribution due them
    by the laws of the land?
    How many Secularists practice hypocrisy,
    preaching the nobility of poverty from the pulpit
    while living richly off the donated dollars
    of their impoverished flock?
    How many Skeptics have
    abused others verbally and physically
    simply because they believe?
    How many wars have
    been waged in the name of Humanism?
    How can religion hold morality under lock and key,
    if its leaders can’t agree on what is moral?
    You want to discuss religion and morality,
    lets talk about the crusades, the inquisition,
    the implicit agreement to the slave trade
    let’s discuss how missionaries
    are the footpads of colonialism,
    let’s discuss Pope Pious the XII’s
    silent consent to the Nazi movement
    let’s discuss religious men
    making martyrs of innocents,
    using planes as manned missiles
    against a land of infidels.
    Let’s discuss Pope Benedict the XVIth
    proclaiming that condoms
    promote the spread of AIDS
    in infected Africa,
    let’s discuss the papacy okaying
    the excommunication of Brazilian Mother and Doctor’s
    for performing an abortion
    on raped nine year old
    impregnated with twins by her stepfather
    while religiously, stepdaddy walks away scot-free,
    let’s discuss Michigan mother watching
    sixteen month old son waste away
    because he did not say Amen after meal time prayer,
    believing that he will be resurrected.
    Let’s discuss Irish Catholic priests
    performing deviant practices
    on the children placed in their care.
    Let’s discuss religious anti-abortion advocates
    advocating the assassination of doctors
    who are willing to perform legal abortions.
    Let’s discuss the way religion keeps the masses
    on their asses happy with the here and now,
    believing that their kingdom will come in the hereafter,
    let’s discuss how religion convinces people to support
    political parties who do not work in their own best interest,
    let’s discuss how religion makes second class citizens
    of women, everything that goes wrong in bible
    can be traced back to a woman from the Garden of Eden on down.
    So question my morality because I don’t believe,
    but I think you should defend yours based on the history
    of those who follow he
    that you most wish to be like,
    but you’ll demand of me to take
    the followers of faith on a case by case basis
    while practicing your prejudice towards atheists
    based on some preconceived notions
    of those who don’t believe,
    get to know us personally
    ask of me how I could be G double-O D
    if I don’t believe in he that is supposed to be
    my lord and savior,
    ask what motivating force keeps me
    from doing my darkest desires
    if I do not believe
    in the retribution
    of an omniscient being,
    and I will tell you what I do believe
    I believe that all of humanity is connected,
    that what happens half a world away
    may one day affect me or my seed,
    I believe children should be taught
    to think critically about what they hear,
    what they see, and what they believe,
    I believe that deeds done behind closed doors,
    between two consenting adults,
    is nobody’s business but their own,
    I believe that religion is just a division
    perpetuated by the powers that be
    to keep you and me from focusing
    on what really matters,
    just like race, gender, and sexuality.
    I believe that morality has nothing
    to do with God, or Allah, or Yahweh, or Mohammed, or Jesus,
    or the Bible, or the Qur’an, or the Torah, or religion, or spirituality
    but is instead a basic human element
    that allows us to further
    the existence of our species
    I believe the suffering I’ve seen in my family,
    indeed all the suffering in the world,
    isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent
    force that can’t be bothered to help or is just testing us,
    but rather something we all may be able to help
    others with in the future.
    I believe no God means the possibility
    of less suffering in the future.
    I believe that if all of humanity were like me
    we would see that every species is connected
    and be better stewards of this earth,
    so if you dare question my morality
    because I don’t believe
    be prepared to defend yours because you do.

    © Victor R Harris Jr. 2008

  • Heidi

    For some reason, I don’t seem to have many friends.

    Huh. I don’t know why. Bender is a great ice-breaker. I guess not everyone appreciates his wit.

  • sluttybaby

    why announce it? why not just live as an atheist and when pertinent topics arise, express your point of view in the same way you would a viewpoint of equal merit in any other discussion or scenario? most of us have science on our side. other than a social stigma, what do we have to fear? if we act as if we must hide, atheists will continue to face the same treatment. just be open about it.

  • For those of us who are closeted among family, friends, and coworkers who are still believers, there is no non-controversial way to come out. I’ve been working on it for several years, building a network of similarly-minded friends and colleagues and gaining some modicum of support from them. Facebook can be risky. Of my 300+ friends on my real facebook page (I have a “facelessbook” page as well), most are still believers, and many of them or those in their networks could still do some damage. For me, coming out in facebook would mean dumping most of my believer friends first, which I am unwilling to do.

    I think the strategy of building a new life, network, and support system in the real world is an important part of the coming out process.

  • I feel for everyone who finds themselves in this situation. I was very lucky to have an older brother who decided for himself at a YOUNG age that he thought religion was bupkiss. However, I always lived in very secular places until moving to the South (argh). I’ve never hid it, but I do have this quote, “The great god Ra, whose shrine once covered acres, is filler now for crossword puzzle makers” as my FB religious views. I also posted about it on my blog for the world to see. Even my Christian friends are fine with it. Maybe because they already know how twisted I am anyway. 😉
    Good luck – I hate the thought of ANYONE living in the closet for any reason. Too much stress that gets in the way of living your life. <3

  • K

    Hmmm, being gay, transsexual and an atheist… I’ve wondered which of these facts of mt life would make my Mormon father disown me first.

    Probably the atheism because that means I won’t be in the Celestial kingdom with him and my mothers and brothers (tho my brothers aren’t active temple-going Mormons either.) I can probably be forgiven for “going male” since women are chattel in the LDS kingdom. And so long as I don’t act on my homosexuality I can probably be forgiven for being gay. Although, in order to get to the Celestial kingdom I’ll have to be married. So, do I have to marry a woman for that? Nope; I’m anatomically female. Marry a man? Nope; that means gay marriage in the temple and we can’t have that.

    See, Dad, it’s better if I stay an atheist. It’s a hell of a lot less confusing and so much less guilt!

  • First, be honest. Always. There is no one in your life who truly cares about you who would not ultimately prefer for you to live your life honestly. Anyone who would rather you lie for the benefit of their own comfort is simply not worth your time and emotional investment.


    There are numerous ways of handling this situation, and some will prove to be more successful than others. Be sure to remain positive and non-confrontational, yet firm in your intent to live an honest life. Always affirm your affection for those who matter most to you, and let them know that your opinions are not intended to be taken as personal criticism. As you openly express you belief system (or lack thereof) remember to allow others to do the same. Respect other peoples inherent right to believe as they will (this does not, however, mean you need to respect everything they say or do based on said beliefs!) while gently insisting that those who care about you must extend to you the same consideration.

    If you do not stand up for what you believe, no one else will.

  • I came out on my website, which I then discovered that my dad reads regularly. I think that may have given some “cool-off” time, so that the next time I saw him, at Thanksgiving, he was friendly and quite diplomatic about it.

  • Hrothgir Ó Dómhnaill

    I look at it this way – if family drop you for your non-belief, then screw them dry. Part of being family is unconditional acceptance. They can’t manage that, then, TBH, they’re people you share genetic markers with, not family, and it’s their choice to be bastards about it.
    If they want to play silly games, drop them like a hot brick. It’s not a loss.

  • I didn’t make a big fuss about it. I changed my ‘about me’ page on Facebook to say I was an atheist, joined/became a fan of a bunch of atheism/skepticism-related stuff on FB, and added a bunch of quotes from nonbelievers. Stuff like:

    Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
    – Carl Sagan

    I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
    – Isaac Asimov

    I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.
    – Susan B. Anthony

    Things like that. I’m not very pushy anywhere but online; I only really ever discuss my disbelief with people if it comes up in conversation.

  • Heidi

    For me, coming out in facebook would mean dumping most of my believer friends first, which I am unwilling to do.

    I’m so sorry you feel that you have to hide who you are in order to keep these friends. I can’t imagine that, but I’m not in your situation, so… Anyway, best of luck with it.

    I wonder if for some people it might help to test the waters by saying “this guy I know online came out as an atheist the other day.” And then see how they react.

  • Delphine

    My family are all atheists/agnostics, except for our extended relatives. My mother’s side has one Protestant Christian family, one Buddhist family, and another agnostic family. My father’s side are Buddhists.

    It was never really a big deal in my family and it wasn’t treated as such. My family’s attitude is we are defined by our actions, not our beliefs.

    My fiance’s family are staunch Catholics. I didn’t really “come out” to them as an atheist. I guess I came from a family that treated atheism as perfectly normal, as normal as breathing air, that I didn’t ever feel I needed to “come out” with anything. Normally people don’t go around asking me if I’m an atheist, but they know. I don’t pray with them; I just sit there in silence and stare at them. I don’t go to church, if they ask me which church I go to I just say I don’t go to any. If they ask me if I’m interested in their church I say no. If they give me a rosary I accept it… but don’t hold onto it. I normally pawn it off on my fiance or toss it. If they say something suggesting we praise god or whatever, I nod or ignore it. None of them ever asked me if I was an atheist. His grandmother asked my fiance but didn’t say anything after learning I’m an atheist. Since she didn’t react, no one else is allowed to react either. (Thank you grandma!)

    I guess I’m just lucky.

    When my Jehovah’s Witness coworker asked me what I believe in I told her, nothing. When she asked me why I don’t believe in god I said because I thought I’m too old for imaginary friends.

    I suppose I always answered with an attitude that my answers are perfectly normal, that no one ever treated it as a big deal either.

  • AxeGrrl

    dale wrote:

    It’s been difficult for me as well. I’m 43 and I’ve pretty much been atheist since I was 18. That’s a long time to hide in a closet. I started out by changing my FB ‘religious views’ to secular humanist, which though not necessarily means one is an athiest it at least fits well with my viewpoints. My family would freak out if I came right out. It would also be painful at work as I’m surrounded by many with very strong Christian viewpoints. Sadly I have to keep it mostly to myself or suffer the repercussions.

    As a Canadian and lifelong atheist who’s never had any ‘incidents’, confrontations or any ‘problems’ relating to my atheism ever, it’s saddening (and a bit mind-boggling) to read stories like yours dale 🙁

    The whole idea of having fear about revealing one’s atheism is utterly foreign to me (and I realize and appreciate how lucky/fortunate I am in that way)

    Congrats for taking the first step(s) to express your viewpoint (by putting ‘secular humanist’ on FB:)

  • What I don’t understand is what someone reaching midlife is doing with facebook?


  • AxeGrrl

    littlejohn wrote:

    unlike gays, we really CAN recruit

    For some reason, as I read that line, I automatically imagined some kind of atheist bootcamp! (which would probably work best in the horror genre, of course:)

    If such a movie ever gets made, your comment should be the tagline 🙂

  • AxeGrrl

    A tad off-topic and merely out of curiousity…..

    Am I the only person here who’s not on Facebook?

    (the closest I’ve come to even visting the site was when a friend sent me a link to some photos she had on FB and did something to make them ‘visible’ to non-FB people)

    EDIT: hoverFrog, I didn’t see your last post above until after I’d posted this 🙂

  • AxeGrrl

    Indy Freethinker wrote:

    For me, coming out in facebook would mean dumping most of my believer friends first, which I am unwilling to do.

    Isn’t it sad that someone simply ‘living truthfully’ and not hiding who/what they are can result in feeling that YOU would be ‘dumping’ your believer friends by doing so?

    Your specific choice of words is so interesting ~ they wouldn’t be abandoning/rejecting you, you’d be the one actively ‘dumping’ them.

    It’s insidious…..that almost unspoken emotional blackmail that believers ‘do’ without having to ‘do’ anything!

  • Delphine

    Well, I dumped a few friends for being too fundamentalist Christian for my taste. After 3 weeks of “Praise God, I got a cookie today.” I deleted them off my FB.

    My belief is they obviously don’t mix well with me and I don’t want anyone I just barely tolerate on my Facebook.

    If someone else thinks my political view or religious views aren’t tolerable, they can dump me too. They’d be doing me a favor.

  • Numerous

    5 words:
    “I don’t believe in god.” People take the word “atheist” negatively, so to clarify it’s often good to just state your opinion.
    No anxiety, fear, etc needed. If they can’t accept your beliefs, even after reasoning (if they ask why, explain your reasoning) then they aren’t that great of a friend anyway.

  • Jude

    @ Tom Woolf: I’m glad you had the good sense to bite your tongue (or keyboard); that would have been very painful for a recently-bereaved widow to read.

  • Try “not Religious” on religious views (atheist is seen like mark of the devil), that works too. And if anyone starts asking “you don’t believe why?” you can reply, “I cannot believe, I lack the capacity to do so, because I need evidence|. And make it seem like you will not like any discussion on it. Say its personal if they probe further. Don’t engage indiscussion.

  • I just started putting Atheist when asked about religion. If anybody asks me, I tell them “I’m atheist, obviously” as if any other answer makes no sense. Think of it in the same way many christians do, as if being anything other than that is unthinkable, and act accordingly. Simple. Works well.

  • linda

    This is just what I did. I talked about it on Facebook and have all kinds of atheists stuff on my facebook. If a person is my friend on Facebook they know what I am. Everybody just accepts it, I guess its no fun to question me about it. That makes me smile. : )

  • Patricia

    My facebook “religious views” status is borrowed from the Brights definition (without using that word:
    Naturalistic: free from supernatual elements

  • Brian

    Actually, this is basically how I came out as an atheist myself. Well, at large.

    I started off with just some friends online, then my sister, who I was living with at the time, and she was okay with it. I did tell my mother personally (and she was not okay with it, but it died down… after some nasty arguments).

    After a while, I thought that maybe Facebook would be a good way to handle it. It’s just an innocuous little information change, and when family found out about it, it wasn’t at a reunion where it would be awkward. What I found out was that it /did/ cause a little stir in the family. As I expected however, by the time I met with them, there was already a tacit agreement that I just was going through “a difficult time” and needed compassion, not challenges, so there haven’t been any real problems. In fact, I even got some support I didn’t expect that way.

  • Heidi

    I just had one of those experiences where the Christians say supposedly comforting things that seem abhorrent to me. My friend’s mom has been battling Alzheimer’s for years. Today she posted that she’s probably going to have to move her mom from the nursing home into hospice care. And somebody replied with that bit about god never giving you more than you can handle. Because, you know, everybody can always handle everything that ever happens to them, and no ever ever has a breakdown or becomes suicidal. Oh, wait.

    Somebody else was all “oh, god will take care of her, she’s in his hands now” and I’m thinking really? Where the hell was he when she got the Alzheimer’s in the first place?

    Obviously I didn’t say anything to them, but I have to wonder how they don’t see the god garbage as insensitive.

  • I dunno. It seems to me that the people you’re close to — close family, close friends — deserve to be told in person. This can be a hard thing for people to hear: it shouldn’t be, but it often is. (Sort of like coming out as gay.) And in person, you can counter some of the myths and misconceptions about atheism directly, while they’re looking at you and realizing that they’re talking to the person they love.

    Also, Internet discussions of atheism do tend do get heated… mostly, I think, because Internet discussions of anything tend do get heated. I’ve seen flame wars on Cute Overload. Srsly.

    Once you’ve done that, though… then yes, FB seems like a good way to go. And I agree with others here that links and quotes, not only to atheist stuff but to stuff about science and critical thinking, can be a way to soften it.

    But I’ll second what Richard said: The hope that this won’t cause controversy is probably a futile one. As we’ve seen with the atheist billboard campaigns, we can cause controversy simply by announcing that we exist. (And again, on the Internet, everything gets dialed up a notch.)

    Oh, and Allison: Thanks for the shout-out about the Atheist Meme of the Day! I’m so glad you’re enjoying them.

  • Vas

    Warning… Radical Post
    (no really if you are touchy you may want to stop now)

    Wow, what an important topic. I think Littlejonh has made a very important point with the analogy to the gay community. For years, and up until very recently, (1970’s) the gay community was completely marginalized, they experienced discrimination that to my mind far exceeds what we have to deal with as atheists. Police would raid their bars and arrest them wholesale often subjecting them to physical abuse because they hated them and so did everyone else. They were powerless because they were despised, this hatred was driven but Christian values in America. It was not until the community as a group decided to assert themselves and “come out” that they were able to begin to make positive change and organize politically. Many of these people whined about privacy issues wanting nothing more than to be left alone in their secret life, this selfish attitude contributed to their oppression as a group, a hidden minority that was in fact marginalized to a great extent by the cowardice of vast majority of gay people at the time. Only by choosing to no longer hide in the shadows were they able to improve their lot. By “coming out” many people outside the gay community came to realize that they had friends, family , and loved ones who were gay. The tide began to change and today many Americans are allies in the struggle for equal protection under the law for gay people, even though they are straight people, I count myself among these allies.
    As to the question of “coming out” as an atheist it is my opinion that this is an issue that is of extreme importance to all atheists, particularly those of us who live in the United States. Individuals may selfishly worry about their friendships, jobs, family members, and this may seem, to many, completely justifiable, but when they take this stance they are in fact playing into the hands of those who would oppress us, they have in essence and actions contributed to our marginalization and the ease with which we are so openly discriminated against. They show a disregard for those who must follow us, some of these will be our children who may have to face the same discrimination that we were to cowardly to challenge, many would sacrifice a future of just treatment for all for their personal comfort today. Shame on these cowards and all those who enable their selfish pursuits at the expense of our collective future. As long as we count among our ranks simpering little gimps who cower in the dark corners and tell the world lies about themselves to gain the favor of our Christian overlords we shall remain oppressed, despised and powerless. Break free you chains, stand tall and be counted, only then may we expect, nay demand that we must be treated with the respect and dignity afforded every other American.
    If these craven deceivers will not step forward into the light of a bright new future we must drag them kicking and screaming into the harsh light of day. If they will not “come out” of their own accord let us expose them for the godless people that they are. Do not stand by and watches as they enjoy the benefits and goodwill that we are deigned, do not allow them to benefit at our expense, refuse to pay their bill. Demand that they be counted, that they do not work to conceal our true numbers and thereby keep us in our intellectual ghetto marginalized and despised. Stand up. Do not stand by as these traitors work to oppress us from within our own ranks all the while masquerading as the righteous. It is time to start outing atheists.
    Keith… Where do you stand? Are you man enough to have the courage of your convictions or is your own comfort and place in society your only concern. If you can answer this question, either way, you will know what you must do. This is a question of social conscience vs. self service at the expense of your fellow non believers. Be brave, do the right thing. Together we are strong, together we have a voice that is too loud to be ignored. Standing alone we are powerless in the face of the mob.

  • the only thing you’re gonna lose from coming out is assholes.

    I lost alot of assholes. they were people I loved, but they were assholes. all the good moments we had changed when I became an atheist after being a very hardline christian. they evaporated and they stopped talking to me. they did this because, like I said, they were assholes.

    the people that have stayed with me from B.C. to A.D. were the people who love me for who I am and not what I believe. these were my loved ones.

    in time, after all the drama and you’re done feeling sad for all the connections you’ve lost and all the fights and people shouting at you “but dude you KNOW there’s a God, you’ve seen Him!” and after all the dust settles, you’ll find you have separated wheat from chaff, and you’ll be left asshole free and happy, ready to use all those good feelings and connections for people who deserve them.

    yeah you can come out on facebook or casually mention it at the bar. it doesn’t matter. you will have confrontation whether you like it or not. it doesn’t matter how much you try to soften the hit, it is still a hit.

    I learned when I was young if you see an animal wounded, you don’t leave it wounded. you kill it to end its misery, and you kill it before it turns on you. the same can be said for the death of a belief.

  • Heidi

    Wow. I get what you’re saying, Vas, but I would never out anybody against his/her wishes. I don’t have to live in that person’s life afterward, and I don’t have to worry about how they’ll pay their bills if they get fired.

    And personally, I’d take a wounded animal to the vet or call the dog officer. So I’m not feeling the metaphor there.

  • Vas

    Heidi thanks for “getting it”. I know it’s a harsh and unpopular stance, it’s nice to know at least someone gets it.

    re: outing atheists:
    I don’t have to live in that person’s life afterward, and I don’t have to worry about how they’ll pay their bills if they get fired.

    The problem with “outing” it is not for the faint of heart. The problem with the closet is that the closeted individual refuses to consider how how the honest person has to live their lives, how we will pay our bills or if we will get fired for being truthful, instead they lie and conceal their true identities and enable discrimination against us, as if it’s okay to fire us for our beliefs, (beliefs that do not affect our ability and willingness to preform our jobs). Their silence enriches their lives while impoverishing yours and mine. We pay the bill for their cowardice. I just can’t see how we owe them anything, why should we be expected to keep their “dirty little secret” when they so brazenly throw the rest of us under the bus. I said it was radical, but this type of strategy has worked for others in the past and ironically even the closeted benefit in the end and eventually the only one’s left in the closet are the hypocrites. Also of note is that very often,(as in more often than not) the formerly closeted find after being outed that their lives are much better without the crushing burden of the lie, the lie they thought they would have to perpetuate their entire life.
    Do some closet atheist you know a favor, out an atheist tomorrow.

  • JohnFrost

    I’m with Heidi, but I’ll say it more bluntly: Vas, you’re a jerk. Grow up and stop blaming other people for your problems.

  • Heidi

    Well, everyone knows that I’m an atheist. I don’t have the time or the energy for the BS story to make other people comfortable. But that was my choice.

    I also don’t have to worry about losing a job over it. I get disability, and I broker textures for 3d meshes part time online. I can’t get fired from that. And nobody in my online graphics community really cares what my religious beliefs may be. It’s an international community, and I’m certainly not the only atheist.

    Another advantage I have, is that I live in Massachusetts. The evangelical Protestant population here isn’t particularly large. I have a lot of SDA relatives, but most of the Christians in my area of the country are Catholics. You don’t get a lot of screaming in your face about how you’re going to hell out of them.

    So I’m not going to judge someone else for making different decisions than I’ve made. And I’m certainly not going to take it upon myself to make potentially life-changing decisions for someone else.

  • satanhimself

    There’s nothing “confrontational” about listing yourself as an atheist. Unless you own a small business in a bible belt area, there’s really no excuse for not coming out of the closet in the most direct manner possible. We are in a civil rights struggle, and those who hide do not deserve to have the civil rights we seek. The more people that come out of the closet, the more people that come out of the closet—it’s a snowball effect. And it’s long overdue.

  • Vas

    John Frost,
    Really? “You’re a jerk” , that is your analysis of the situation!?! I’m not blaming anyone for “my problems” in fact I don’t suffer the kind of problems others must suffer, I’m not a hidden atheist, I don’t have to worry about paying my bills or losing my job. My concern is for the greater atheist communities’ problem, my concern is for those who suffer at the hands of our detractors, my suggestion is for the liberation of others who are oppressed, not for my selfish gain. I’m fine, I’m fortunate and live a good life, I want for nothing, in fact I’m hard pressed to claim I have any real problems but others do. Just read the articles on this site, the situation is dire for a great many of my fellow atheists. Satanhimself is correct we are in a civil rights struggle, there is a snowball effect, and it is long overdue. John your post was childish and petty and shows a lack of thought about a serious subject, while you are free to disagree, a thoughtful response without personal attacks is a far better rebuttal than name calling and baseless accusations. This is the type of response I’d expect from mainline Christians, I find it rather sad to find such prattle in this forum.

  • muggle

    Victor, love that poem! Thank you for sharing. This is where I’m timid. Been writing poetry big time lately and I think it’s fairly good but haven’t yet had the courage to do an open mic night or anything yet. I think I’m semi-stalling (not entirely but semi) until my retirement in a few years when I’ll have more free time and more energy since I won’t have a “soul”-draining job. (Yes, I can see this quote thing is going to become a bad habit with me. Shrug.)

    Likewise, with FB or MySpace, hoverFrog. Just started toying with the idea of having one in the last couple of weeks and I turn 52(!) in February. My daughter is very scornful of Facebook and says MySpace. Opinions, anyone? Of course, is there any reason why I can’t do both? Especially after I retire and will finally have lots of free time?

    As for staying in or out of the closet, I agree with everything you said on the face of it, Vas, but (didn’t you just hear that but coming) I also feel much the same as Heidi. Anything that life-altering is a very personal decision and should be made by the person who will be living with the repercusions of it. Much as I supported their movement, I was horrified when gays started outing other gays. Though your point about history is a point.

    In the end, however, no one should be drafted into fighting for a cause; it should be voluntary enlistments only. Yes, I know this seems like Atheists in the closet are benefiting from in your face people like you and me and they are but think of it as any progress we make is worthwhile. Also, we may unknowingly be benefiting from some of them. Who’s there to suggest tolerance from the inside, you and I or them? Hopefully, some liberal theists too but Atheists in the closet play a subtle part in our fight for civil rights.

    I hate to go all glass is half full on you but the more progress we make, the more who are going to want to come out on their own and the thing is going to snowball from there. In fact, it already is. Does it not occur to you that just maybe things like knowing we’re growing and we stand at 15% and seeing acceptance socially and books about Atheism and the billboards and having so much support on-line may just be why this middle-aged man is now tentatively asking how should I come out? He’s afraid but he’s poking his nose out just by asking the question. Don’t scare him back into the corner of the closet. Let him take it as slow as he needs to.

    When I first got involved with Athiest groups in the ’80’s, it seemed like the most vocal were people who were retired and didn’t have to worry about their careers. Now, we’ve got old, young and in-between. We’re getting there. Slowly but surely but we’re getting there.

    My grandson’s father is Atheist but, while not in the closet, doesn’t talk about it as freely as my daughter and I. When the grandbaby was just a twinkle in said daddy’s eye, my daughter and I dragged him along to the first Godless March on Washington. You should have seen the look on his face. It was a powerful experience and I’m glad I went.

    To borrow from the women’s movement and, hopefully encourage you, Vas, and everyone else fighting the good cause or thinking about it, we’ve come a long way, baby!

  • As a compromise, I am OUT (as an atheist) with my family and everybody who knows me personally. Although, I prefer to not advertise my religious status on facebook ,linkedIn, or other places on-line just in case I would be discriminated against for some future job application. Many employers will do an on-line search to check applicants out as part of the decision about whether or not to even interview them.

    Do Gay people put that they are gay on professional networking sites like LinkedIn?

    I don’t think so.

    I have a wife and two kids to support in a shaky economy. Feel free to argue that people should out themselves, but don’t out others. It should be their own decision where they weigh the cost and benefits.

  • Vas

    Yeah Muggle,
    I get it and you make some excellent points. I know I’m radical and it does indeed occur to me that we are a growing public presence and becoming more visible. But I’m impatient and don’t think we need to wait for civil rights, how long should we sit down and shut up? This is a common question in pursuit of civil rights and as it turns out anyone seeking civil rights will have to wait until they are ready to stand up and insist on their rights, it’s not bloody likely anyone is going to bring rights on a silver platter as a gift. Struggles have casualties, I know it is a platitude but as the radical right is so fond of pointing out… “freedom is not free” and I have no intention of picking up the bill while others ride for free.
    As to

    Anything that life-altering is a very personal decision and should be made by the person who will be living with the repercusions of it.

    My point is that we all are living with the repercussions of it, it affects each of us. Now I have not to date “outed “ anyone and it remains to be seen if I will, I don’t have an action plan to do it. Do you publish information, do you just contact people associated with the closet case, employers, family member etc. ? There are logistics to work out. It’s not a job for an individual and if approached as such will have little social effect and as such the effort and effect would not seem to balance the good that could be done by “outing”. That is to say there is little to be gained by a single person “outing” a hand full of atheists and the hardship to those “outed” does not seem to balance with the benefit to the community as a whole. If on the other hand “outing” was a large active movement the balance shifts and the benefit to the whole outweighs the hardship of the individual. We Americans are a selfish lot, and have elevated self interest to almost religious status and as such I’m not at all surprised to see the Individual Uber Alles attitude in the reaction to my suggestion. It may turn out that we lack the conviction needed to secure the liberty promised all people in this country. I’m having a hard time sympathizing with the passive crowd on this, the cowards and their protectors who are willing to sacrifice nothing but expect everything. I don’t want to scare anyone back into a closet, I want them to understand that the decision is bigger than themselves and while it may be difficult and come with a price it is none the less the right thing to do not just for themselves but for society as a whole.
    Before anyone else decides to start calling me ugly names, please try to keep this in perspective, this is a discussion, I’m forwarding an idea, I’m not “outing” anyone I am proposing that “outing” on a mass scale is an option and has a track record of working. 30 years ago gays were a powerless group, this is no so today and the strategy of “outing” played a significant role in obtaining that power. Do we need to wait until our few atheist politicians are gunned down? Will atheists have our own White Night? What will it take for us to find our courage.
    Thanks to all who contributed to this discussion, while we may not agree on a solution we agree that there is a problem, not every idea is a good one, I think this idea is good , others do not, but at least we can have a civil discussion, and I’m glad of that.

  • Heidi


    My daughter is very scornful of Facebook and says MySpace.

    How old is she? My 20-year-old daughter says the same thing. I beg to differ. Of course you can do both, but the odds are that you’ll like FB better. MySpace has a higher percentage of kids, for one thing. Which doesn’t necessarily cause a problem, but when everybody you run in to there is 14… It has more spam, too.

    Also, MySpace has this other problem that is really the reason I don’t have one. User html. When you go to someone else’s page, you usually get bright clashing colors, poorly designed pages, animated gifs, flash animations, and really loud music that you don’t like. Click on someone’s page and you are likely to be blasted with Britney Spears or Eminem. Or worse an off-key midi version of Shall We Gather By the River. *shudder* I’m 40, btw.


    So you really wouldn’t have a problem with outing Jeff (for example) and having him lose his job? And if he and his family end up in a homeless shelter, then what? Shrug and call it collateral damage?

    I have no intention of picking up the bill while others ride for free.

    Well, as I say to the religious radical right (we should start calling them the RRR), why? I contend that Jeff remaining employed doesn’t hurt me at all. And if I can take the heat for him, and speak out when he feels like he can’t, then I’m going to do it. Turning my back and letting him hang makes me no better than the republicans who say that people who can’t afford health care should just die. And that is a place I’m not willing to go.

  • Vas

    uh Jeff is “out”
    Jeff is not enabling others to oppress atheists. Jeff is not indicating he is out to save his own ass at the expense of others. I agree that there is no need to advertise your atheism on facebook or myspace oe linkedin. I don’t expect others to advertise but not to conceal. I just don’t support or have sympathy for lairs and enablers of oppression.
    Collateral damage, as I understand the term, is about bystanders and the uninvolved, I have never heard the term applied to treasonous individuals. If a person enables our oppression by their action and we take measures to counter these actions, I don’t think the result, whatever it may be, could be classified as collateral damage.

  • Vas

    Now let’s save there is a closeted atheist, let’s just call him Dave. Now Dave works at a place where oppression of atheists is the order of the day. Now let’s say an atheist outing group exposes Dave and he loses his job. Should we then say Dave is our enemy and leave him twisting in the wind? My thought is no we should not, in fact we now have an obligation to Dave and should come to his defense and aid. We should help Dave out, help in find a job in a non oppressive environment, help him financially during this difficult transition. We should bring force to bear on his past employer and expose their discrimination and let them know in no uncertain terms that they may not take such action without having to answer for it. Dave was motivated to sit down and shut up by fear, he is not the enemy he is a victim who has been convinced he must submit quietly. Dave was a coward convinced no one would have his back. We should prove him wrong and fight on his behalf because he feels he cannot. Those who have terrorized Dave are the enemy and Dave’s weak will is the result of that terror.

  • Vas

    I know, I know, 3 posts in a row, bad form. But you all got me thinking more about the subject. So here is a final note from me on this subject.
    I’m not suggesting I have the one and only answer to the problem of closet atheists. If you read all my posts on this tread it is easy to see that I waffle a bit, my opinions are tempered by what others have to say on the subject. As I hear other opinions I’m swayed a bit and reassess my position. I’m not a hard line dogmatic sort. My opinions are not unchangeable and I often find my revised position is at odds with earlier stated opinions. They are after all opinions and as such should be expected to evolve. At one moment I think I have zero sympathy for closet cases but on reflection find that I can see them as victims as well. People held captive often develop Stockholm Syndrome, this does not mean they should not be liberated and when they are you just don’t pitch ‘em out in the streets. If you are not prepared to help out you should let someone who is go and save them. I don’t know gang, maybe my position is too radical and harsh, my gut tells me it’s not, I’ve seen the strategy work before and it was unpopular then. I thought it might apply well in our situation, others vehemently disagree and I’m fine with that. I’m angry with closet atheists, I sincerely believe their actions harm us in a very real way. I am fortunate in that I am “out” and a proud atheist, I always have been as long as I can recall and have made life choices along the way that did not put me in conflict or require that I conceal. Not everyone has been a lifelong atheist and some realize they are atheist later in life and find themselves in a difficult situation because of this. I will strive to have more empathy for these folks in the future even if I still believe it is just and proper to “out” them. I’m not a crank or a crack pot trolling forums looking for an argument, I’m interested in a productive dialogue and a path towards solutions, liberty, justice, and civil rights for all Americans. Again thanks to those who productively engaged me, particularly muggle and heidi who have tempered me on the subject, if only just a bit.

  • Sorry Vas, I know my views are radical and make you uncomfortable, but you’re definitely a jerk.

    You’ve said yourself that you’re comfortable and suffer no persecution for your OUT status. How dare you, then, even contemplate OUTing someone else in wildly different circumstances than you?

    While it’s all noble’n all to talk about taking care of people who lose their jobs because you’ve taken it upon yourself to out them, the atheist community doesn’t have that kind of cohesiveness or resources for that right now.

    And what about people who don’t lose their jobs, but simply get overlooked for promotions or relegated to more menial tasks? What about the small-business owner who now can’t get any business? Who is he going to sue for a breach of his civil rights?

    In the end, it comes down to personal freedom. I’m no Libertarian, but the idea of making the decision to out someone else is about one of the grossest violations of freedom of conscience I can imagine.

  • The moral of the story is that people should pose arguments for other people to out THEMSELVES. No one should take it upon themselves to out another. People should have the freedom when and if they make that decision.

    P.S. I just added “agnostic” to my public viewable facebook profile. But I still prefer to keep my “Jeff” alias here unassociated with my full identity. If and when I chose to make that connection, I want it to be my choice.

  • Vas

    As stated I had intended not post further on this thread, however due to the fact that I have been the subject of petty name calling I now choose to respond.

    @John Frost
    How dare I even contemplate?!? I’m definitely a jerk?!? What the hell is wrong with you, you speak of personal freedom and have the unmitigated audacity to suggest that I should not even be allowed to contemplate something. Well guess what, I am allowed to contemplate anything I please and you are completely powerless to prevent my contemplation on any subject whatsoever, further I am at liberty to express those thoughts. Beyond that you are also powerless to prevent any action I choose to take up to and including outing anyone I damn well please. To date I have not but if I choose to you can do nothing to stop me, (just for the record I have no plans to out anyone). Despite your name calling and self righteous indignation you are in a word ineffectual in dictating what thoughts I am allowed to have. How sad that on this forum you feel free to call people name because you disagree with their position on a particular subject. In fact your views do not make me feel uncomfortable, you give yourself far to much credit, however the fact that you have twice now resorted to singling me out by name and calling me childish names shows an appalling lack of character on your part. Others have been able to disagree with me without resorting to name calling and have been able to temper my opinions, this is the nature of productive dialog as opposed to your approach which comes off as shrill, childish, dogmatic and psudo-authoritarian. You sir have earned my scorn and total lack of respect. I will not play by your ridiculous rules that insist that some subjects may not even be contemplated, this is an absurd proposition. You sir have no authority nor enforcement mechanism to dictate the allowable thoughts of your fellow man, even if you are offended by those thoughts.

  • Vas, your hypocrisy would be amusing if your ideas weren’t so despicable.

    Name-calling? What, you mean like calling someone a ” simpering little gimp” or saying someone has a “selfish attitude” for wanting to make personal decisions about their own private life? I didn’t feel the need to engage you in debate about your, *ahem*, “self-righteous” ideas because Heidi and others were doing a good job of it already. But I just wanted you to know that, beyond the fact that your ideas are misguided, they also make you look like a jerk. Forgive me, I guess that’s what I should have said.

    Vas, your ideas make you look like a jerk.

    One of the biggest problems we atheists have with religion is that it thinks it has the right to interfere with other people’s lives. How many times have we heard it said that we wouldn’t make such a big fuss over people’s ridiculous beliefs, as long as they don’t try to legislate those beliefs or push them in the schools? You accuse me of acting like a christian, but your idea of making personal decisions for other people sounds a lot more like their m.o.

    And as to the “audacity to suggest that [you] should not even be allowed to contemplate something”?
    Puhh-leeease. I asked “how dare you”. That’s a question, not a invective like, oh, say, “Shame on these cowards and all those who enable their selfish pursuits at the expense of our collective future”
    So I asked, “how dare you?” What gives you the right to make such judgments? Don’t play the martyr here just because I called you a name directly–you called thousands of people names and played the “I’m so radical” card as though that put you above criticism.
    Whatever. I don’t buy it. You think you have the right to make personal decisions for other people “for their own good”, then that puts you squarely in the same category as the religious right, in my opinion.

  • Heidi

    One thing that separates “us” from “them” is that “they” are willing to do whatever it takes to advance their cause. Lie, cheat, or just plain make stuff up? Fine, as long as you’re doing it for the cause. If people get hurt? Who cares? It’s for their own good.

    I am SO not ok with that mentality. And I don’t want to become what “they” are.

  • Vas

    So you think I’m a hypocrite, fine, and yet I think you are as well, Do you imagine that my hypocrisy is a justification for your hypocrisy? How odd that. You seem to have a problem with my invective and yet you feel free to call me a jerk over and over again. You didn’t feel like engaging me in debate but felt like calling me names and then go on to chastise me, (only after it is pointed out that you are engaged in name calling) for calling groups of thousands of people cowards based on their acts of cowardice. I said I felt your (first) response was what I’d expect from mainline Christians and I stand by that, it was thin and consisted of mostly name calling. I’m not saying you act like a Christian rather that your post was what I would expect from a mainline Christian, thin petty and short on substance. I’m no martyr, I have not curled up and died because you called me a jerk, but you did choose to call me, personally, by name a jerk. As to the notion that I somehow think my idea is beyond reproach because it is radical that is nonsense. I never said “I’m so radical” I said it was a radical post, and it was… a radical post, having a radical idea does not make me a radical person anymore than having a good idea makes me a good person. You did not just say “how dare you” or “how dare you out someone” what you said was “How dare you even contemplate” well the simple answer is that I do dare to contemplate, it’s really a rather simple matter. I just started thinking about how actions motivated by self interest alone without taking into account the affect on larger society play out. I happen to think that actions that do not consider the greater good can, at times, have the effect of making our society a worse place to live for the public at large while at the same time benefiting the individual. I look at the banking and financial institutions and the workers there looking out solely for their own best interest and how enriched they became at our collective expense. I’m not saying this is the same thing as being a closet atheist but I do dare to contemplate the similarities. I dare to contemplate the gay rights movement and how far they have managed to come in so short a time. I dare to contemplate their use of outing and how effective and important it was to their liberation. I mean really John if you think I’m a jerk for even daring to contemplate outing do you also feel Harvey Milk was a jerk? I mean he did a bit more than merely contemplate outing, he elevated it into a movement. History has judged Harvey Milk to be a heroic figure to a great many people, even to some people who thought he was a jerk years ago. I’m not claiming to be heroic but I am suggesting at the least that forwarding an unpopular idea hardly qualifies me for jerkdom. I get the impression that you feel the right of the individual to make decisions that affect their personal lives as well as society at large, in secret if they wish, trumps everything else, I just happen to disagree. You see when I read the fountainhead, I think Howard Roark is an absurd egomaniac and I think he is a danger to society, it is all about him and his personal satisfaction, nothing matter to him but his precious ideas and the needs of the society that he lives in are a distant second, if he even considers them at all. I guess what I’m trying to say is I think we have a responsibility to others even in our personal decisions, self interest as the only criteria is in my opinion is an impoverished world view. Is this what makes me a jerk? Or is it my sometimes vitriolic prose? Sure I call names but I try to refrain from singling out people by name for attack, I may say Scientologists are raving maniac scumbags hell bent on world domination, but if someone, let’s call him Joe, defends them I don’t respond by saying, let me put it bluntly Joe you are a jerk. Perhaps you just do not accept that there is a difference, fair enough. If it is wrong for me, by your standards, I just plain don’t understand why it is alright for you? Where do you suggest we draw the line for outing, is passive harm alright while active harm should be outed, or should no one ever be outed for anything? Is it alright under your rules for the Southern Poverty Law Center to outs active members of racist hate groups? Is it alright for people to use video cameras to out Jonhs cruising for prostitutes? Is it alright to out radical Muslims living near your loved ones. I just don’t know where you think the line is. The subject of outing is one still up for debate, not just here but in general and it is not settled. Granted more people side with you on this but then again more people side with mainstream Christianity on other issues that affect us, if we disagree with the majority does this make us jerks?
    I have, and will continue to do research as to the effectiveness, legality, and ethics of outing, to date I have put in just a few hours, around 10 more or less. I find the subject interesting and worthwhile, and believe that it can be acceptable, if you think this makes me a jerk that’s fine with me, go shout it from the mountaintop for all I care. Call me all the names you like, paint me as some kind of really bad person, launch any personal attacks you like. I no longer have an interest in your personal attacks and will not continue to take your bait. You are welcome to have the last word if you like. This thread is stale and I’m on to other places and things. I’ll continue to advocate outing as an effective political tool and if you like you will continue to speak out against its use. We disagree, simple as that. You feel it proper to call me names and cast personal aspersions and while I have come to dislike you I just don’t feel like doing the same. I don’t even think this makes me better than you, it just means I’m not interested in that type of exchange.

  • I really don’t feel like engaging in this any longer, either.

    Let me just point out, real quick–since you say you’re still researching and thinking about outing people–that even Harvey Milk–who I do think was a hero–only pushed for people to out themselves. Maybe the movie with Sean Penn only skirted the issue and I don’t know all the details, but I never saw him taking it upon himself to out other people against their wishes.

    You wanna do what he did, fine. I’m all for that. All I object to is the idea of outing someone against their wishes. And, please, don’t compare atheism to racist hate groups or radical Muslims–people who actively endanger their community. I, personally, don’t see how that’s different from comparing gay marriage to pedophilia, as the Right loves to do.

  • Philoctetes

    I was uncomfortable with the gay outings for two reasons:

    1. Interference with a reasonable expectation of privacy.
    2. The assumption of the ‘right to judge’ by the activists.

    This queasiness remains with Vas’ proposals. Yet … One idea I took from the gay outings still applies here. If someone sets themselves up as the defender of the faith, all the while leading another life that directly contradicts the public rhetoric – I am more in sympathy with an outing.

    As someone who was sent home from school in 1967 for refusing to say the ‘under God’ part of the Pledge of Allegiance when I was 7 years old, I probably have as much right to judge as anyone. Is it worth it?

  • Laura

    I can understand the desire to share something important with family and close friends, but to “come out” publicly… I have to wonder what is the point? I always thought it was horribly rude on the part of the religious to proselytize, as money, politics, religion and sex have always been topics to be avoided in mixed company… I guess I can’t see how telling the world you’re an atheist is any different than telling the world you’re a christian or a muslim–nobody cares. As far as I can tell, it’s nobody’s business.

    However, if people are rude enough to insist on bringing up religion when they talk to me, I generally either change the subject or say “I don’t know, I’m not a churchgoer.” This has never caused me any difficulty, nor has it resulted in hurt feelings because it was never accompanied by a judgmental statement or assumption from me.

    My dearest friends and family are all religious, and they know I’m not, but it’s no big deal because I simply refuse to discuss religion with any of them, period. But because I’m polite and compassionate with them when the important stuff comes up, such as caring for each other, they treat me just the same, for all our differences.

  • LiveAndLetLive

    littlejohn Says:
    November 15th, 2009 at 10:06 am

    My view is that we have a lot to learn from the gay rights movement, with which we have a great deal in common (We are a minority, but a fairly large minority, we are primarily opposed by religious zealots, we really have no choice about what we are, etc.)

    Thank you Littlejohn for giving me a revelation tonight: we DON’T have a choice about what we are. I never thought about it that way. My beliefs are intrinsically part of me, internalized. Religious people would sometimes have me believe that I just haven’t heard enough of The Good News yet or I would be bound to change my mind. I could no more become a religious believer than I could suddenly become a cat or a toaster.

    This may be useful the next time I “come out” to someone. I love many religious people without reservation. If I set the example, hopefully they will learn to love me without expectations as well.

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