Is Atheism a Big Deal? December 3, 2010

Is Atheism a Big Deal?

Godless Girl doesn’t think that it’s that big of a deal to be an atheist:

Being an atheist isn’t a big deal. There are heaps of us … everywhere. I’m sure I see more atheists every day than I could ever guess, and these people aren’t any more cool or outstanding than I am. We’re just experiencing life in somewhat unremarkable ways, just like everyone else. We walk right past religious people all the time and no one explodes or runs away in panic. The world doesn’t end because we don’t believe in the supernatural.

Well, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But it has to be a big deal because the opposition is so fierce. I look forward to the day we don’t have to raise a fuss about the subject of god because it’ll be so obvious to everyone that gods don’t exist.

That day’s not coming anytime soon.

In the meantime, there are atheists who remain hidden in the closet. We’re demonized (and unelectable to public office as a result), we’re distrusted, and we’re constantly having to show that we’re on the side of reality.

I think we have to keep speaking and writing and debating and defending our positions. We’re right, they’re wrong, and the consequences are incredibly important.

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  • Ally

    I’d like to think it isn’t that big of a deal. In fact, on my campus it naturally surprises me when people believe in god.

    However, the fact that I don’t say anything to the religious lady I happen to be talking to in the bus station. Or the fact that it takes courage to me to tell my aunt that I don’t want her book, it has the work God in it which tends to turn me off to things. Or the fact that my mom insists that eventually I’ll come around to believing in metaphysics again… Maybe it is a bigger deal than I’d like it to be.

    Ideally, religion or the lack there of should be a private, non-issue. It pisses me off especially that atheists can’t be elected to public office and the assumed norm is for people to be believers.

    But we’re not Christians taking vows to abstain from things. We’re not Muslims who must be chaste in front of men at all times, and we’re not Jews who can’t eat ham. In this way, it’s not a big deal. It’s not life-changing, it doesn’t affect us privately. Also, we don’t wear it on our sleeves like Christians with crosses, Jews with Stars of David, Muslims with head scarfs, or Pagans with pentacles. We’re above that. And in this way, atheism isn’t a big deal.

  • Carlie

    It will stop being a big deal when people stop vilifying us for being it.

  • Hazor

    That day’s not coming anytime soon.

    While I share the desire for a society in which religion is an oddity, I don’t think it’ll ever happen.

    Didn’t you post recently, Hemant, about the religious spawning a whole lot faster than non-religious or educated people? My parents are missionaries. I have 7 siblings. I am the only non-religious among them, the only with present aspirations for a PhD, and I don’t plan on fathering any children while already one older sister, who is married to a youth pastor, has a toddler.

    Governments the world over becoming theocratic seems much more likely to me than all becoming purely secular. Atheism will always be a big deal because people like my parents and sister will continue to teach their kids that religion is the center of everything and that to not be religious, specifically their type of religious, is an absurdity.

  • The whole premise of my handle/blog is that most atheists are just everyday people who happen not to believe in a god or gods. If the religious looked at us that way, it would be no big deal and we could all get back to balancing our checkbooks and planning this week’s dinner menus. But the religious don’t look at us that way — they see immorality, arrogance, EVIL. Let me say that again, they think we’re EVIL! Just because we don’t believe. And they’re so sure of their righteousness, they’re willing to try and push their religion into secular government and to corrupt education with their myths. As long as that’s the case, it behooves us to look up from folding laundry once in a while and SAY SOMETHING.

  • Thanks for chiming in on this, Hemant (and all y’all!).

    To use the phrasing a commenter left on my blog:

    Atheism isn’t a big deal on a micro level; meaning, to any given atheist it isn’t a big deal because it comes so naturally to not believe in the supernatural. However, on a macro level we are at a point in history where atheism is an enormous deal.

    I hope that both the micro, personal experience of atheism and the macro, societal reality can one day match each other.

  • I like the macro/micro distinction, and share Godless Girl’s hope that eventually, the twain shall meet. Just to chime in on one other thing you said:

    The world doesn’t end because we don’t believe in the supernatural.

    I know that, and you know that, and everyone here knows that, but of course the religious don’t believe that at all. Nonbelief is, to them, the first and last thing they need to know about a person.

  • anna nonymous

    I agree, it shouldn’t be a big deal. But neither should being gay or a woman or some visible minority or “disabled”. And it is a big deal every time it’s not “the norm” and people are disadvantaged over it

  • For me, atheism has become less of a big deal over the years. I’m in academia, nobody cares about that stuff. It’s not a particularly useful identity in my daily life.

    Religion’s influence on politics, on the other hand, continues to be a big deal.

  • It’s only a big deal if you live amongst religious people who consider it a big deal.

    It’s a big deal if religious people
    1. will not vote for atheists.
    2. will not associate with atheists
    3. will not form relationships (date, marry, etc) atheists
    4. will demonize and ostracize atheists
    5. won’t hire, promote, or recommend atheists

    I’ve had all these things happen to me (except perhaps #5). I keep my facebook religion listed as agnostic just in case…

    Of course as being “out” becomes more prevalent and we are more visible and people realize that we are “everyday people” things will get (and have gotten) better.

    I have gotten married and as I’ve gotten older, I can shrug off the demonization.

    I happen to live in fundi-Jesus-land. Others may have it better due to their geography.

  • I’ve never thought it was a big deal, but I was lucky to grow up in a secular family and to live in a relatively secular part of the country. I haven’t had any trouble being an atheist, but I know that’s not the case for millions of other people around the world.

  • mostly agreeing with everyone else. i’ve become more vocal about my atheism mainly due to the fact that the religious right has gotten more vocal about wanting people like me to be denied equal rights and even put to death simply for our love. i was just watching a particularly sickening “news” report in which a local AZ TV station gave completely unchallenged and uncritical air time to a nutjob xtian preacher who flat out admitted he thinks gays should be put to death. of course the TV reporter didn’t speak to any gays or atheists in the piece in the spirit of “balance.” so yeah, to me personally atheism is “big deal.”

  • Ben

    I don’t think being an athesit is a big deal either. If people don’t want to vote for an atheist, so be it. I won’t vote for an evangelical christian. I also won’t vote for a person who wears their faith (or lack thereof) as a badge of honor. It only matters when it comes to public policy in my view. Not everyone is going to like me because I’m an atheist. I’m grown up enough to deal with that (I actually find it a little ammusing!). I don’t like obnoxious religious people. So there. I also don’t like obnoxious atheists either. And I don’t have to associate with them.

  • Robert Thille

    Where does she live? In SF, I’d say, “of course.” In the deep south, not so much.

  • It’s a big deal to me! I love being an atheist! Although they would never admit it, I believe my theist friends who are aware of my atheism are supremely jealous!!!! Mwu ha ha ha ha ha ha …

    sorry, carry on…

  • jose

    As long as it influences politics, it’s a big deal.

  • Frances

    I think it depends on the situations whether or not it is a big deal. Admit that you’re atheist to a group of liberal, life-long Manhattanites, that’s probably not that big of a deal. Becoming atheist after being in a very conservative religion or sect, like Mormonism or Southern Baptist, that is a bigger deal.

    As for the fact that atheist people are no cooler or more outstanding, I think that is partially false. This website has more eloquent commenters than most websites on the internet, for one. And also, anyone who can look past the religious drivel of falsehoods to see the scientific evidence is cooler than a large percentage of the population.

    Like believing in evolution or gravity, it shouldn’t really be a big deal, though. But socially, it is.

  • Jim H

    It is most definitely a big deal. I have managed to free myself from the stories my parents and some teachers (Catholic school) drilled into me. That’s a big accomplishment, and I feel proud of that.

    But that’s just for myself, and my self-esteem. In society, not that big a deal. (@Robert Thille: I live in New York City. When I lived for a time in Texas, it was a bit different.)

  • ManaCostly

    My muslim neighbor exploded when I walked by him. Lost my leg.

  • It’s probably harder to want to risk coming out of the closet when people keep saying that Atheism is no big deal. No matter how much harm religion causes, avoiding religion isn’t a big deal?

    I disagree. I wear Atheism as a badge of honor. Not to a seven letter word that isn’t important. Living without religion IS special, in our world. I say A t h e i s m, with pride.

  • “In the meantime, there are atheists who remain hidden in the closet. We’re demonized (and unelectable to public office as a result)”

    That is exactly why the voters lack decent leadership, by limiting the gene pool in which to pick and chose from both agnostic and believer.

  • When I say that atheism isn’t a big deal, I don’t mean that nobody should think it’s a big deal. Obviously, it depends on your personal experiences.

    Atheism used to be a much bigger deal for me because my personal experience was leaving Catholicism and then staying in the closet for over a year. I felt alone and uncomfortable about it for a long time. Some people in my family took some time to accept it. I had it easier than most people because I grew up only nominally liberal Catholic, but it was still no small thing.

    That was then. But now it’s become relatively less important to me, because that’s all old news. I can see this clearly in my blog; I used to write about atheism and religion more often than I do now. I still write about it occasionally, I still have strong opinions, and I still participate in a secular student group. Come to think of it, that’s more than most atheists do. But now these are just things I do, and not a big deal to me.

    Currently, what’s a big deal to me is being queer. I only realized I was queer a year and a half ago, and it has a pretty profound effect on my social life. That’s more than I can say for atheism (though it makes me really happy that I don’t have to “reconcile” queerness with any religions).

  • beautdogs

    There is the political limitation–a big deal. When your boss attends weekly bible studies AT YOUR WORKPLACE, and he controls your salary and promotions, it is a big deal. I don’t have kids, but if I did, atheism would be an even bigger deal to me personally than it is. My brother thought it wasn’t a big deal in his progressive college town until he found that xtian groups were proselytizing the kids in the area, and he wondered how to protest his daughter having to say “one nation, under god”…. when he is a teacher at that school.

  • Peter Tibbles

    It’s no big deal here in Australia, after all our Prime Minister has stated she’s an atheist (as have been some previous ones).

  • Marge

    In the UK, atheism wasn’t an issue for me from childhood until my mid-20s – then I ended up in an environment where Christian fundamentalism was much more vocal and demanding than I’d ever experienced before. Up to that point I was ‘live and let live’ because all the religious and non-religious people around me were the same. It became a big deal because a it was made a big deal by other people.

  • This is the frustrating approach my daughter takes. She just can’t deal with the big issue it is so she just deflects is what I see. Her attitude is she’s just going to be what she is and if anyone hates her for it so be it. Same with being bi and having a mental illness. Frankly, I think she’s only so blase due to her depression. She just can’t cope with the big deal it is so she pretends she doesn’t need to. Likewise, I don’t push it because I’ve come to learn when to push and when not to — the hard way. I’m not going to push her over the edge making her deal with shit that she can’t. So I’ll forbear when she rolls her eyes at my going on about what I care passionately about and says (incorrectly imo) that it’s just not that big a thing.

    It is a big deal when they restrict my rights politically as an Atheist and a mother. It hurts me as a mother of a bisexual and a friend to more than one gay or lesbian when they hate on gays because they think god does or, hell, towards me because I’m often perceived as gay due to stereotypes of lesbian women. It’s a big deal when they see me as something I’m not because they can’t accept that an Atheist isn’t evil and morally corrupt.

    When I can be harrassed on a State job in the supposedly progressive New York for being an out Atheist and threatened with being fired by a boss, again on a State job, in more conservative Colorado, it’s a big deal. When I have to wonder what the reaction will be when religion comes up in conversation as it inevitably does and I don’t dodge but say as politely as possible well, I don’t believe in God or what it says in the Bible, what Jesus says is irrelevant to me (usually if this is someone I’m getting to know and we’re hitting it off, I’ll just say I’m Atheist so I don’t really think that; hence, retaining the more broad-minded theists as friends), when I can’t call what the reaction will be, whether it will be a quiet oh I see and acceptance and moving on in the conversation or a big mother-fucking explosion, it’s a big deal.

    In short, it’s a big deal. Whether we admit that or not. Because we live in a society that makes a big deal of it — even though it shouldn’t.

  • Dan W

    Atheism shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s usually not a big deal in my day-to-day life, and among my close friends (of which some are religious and some are not) it’s not a big deal either. It’s the very religious opposition, the fundies and anti-atheist bigots, who make it a big deal. If it weren’t for their words and deeds that vilify us, atheism would not be such a big deal.

  • jonezart


    That is exactly why the voters lack decent leadership, by limiting the gene pool in which to pick and chose from both agnostic and believer.

    more like limiting the pool to believers and pretending-to-believers

  • Icaarus


    Careful with that line of thought. Just because people are more eloquent here does not mean that it is because they are atheist. If you listen to one of Greta’s CFI talks she makes the point more clearly, but it sums up. Current outspoken atheists are very strong and certain people, it is a requirement of being open at this stage. As the popularity of the movement increases this will be drowned out. For point of proof look at the LGBT communities progression for the last 40 years.

    Not that I would not like to believe that there is something special about this community, it is just that past history of similar movements show that this perceived effect may just be a temporary thing. Furthermore it may be more honest to say that this community is more open and honest because Helmet and Richard do everything they can to keep it that way. So Francis, props to them and in 40 years we can discuss this over a beer, see who was right. (I hope for you but I have a feeling its me)

  • Icaarus


    I can’t believe I spelled your name wrong, furthermore your website won’t let me change it even though there is 2 minutes left.

  • Dan Covill

    Hemant said

    I think we have to keep speaking and writing and debating and defending our positions. We’re right, they’re wrong, and the consequences are incredibly important.

    IMO, it doesn’t matter whether we’re right or not. We exist, and we have just as much right to be either right or wrong as the Christians do. That’s what we need to fight for – the acknowledgment that we do exist and we are not sociopaths subject to regulation by a Christian majority.

    I think we’re maybe 20 years behind the gays in gaining recognition. I see a big change in just the last two years in amount of attention given to atheism. There is progress, and we need to keep at it.

  • It is no big deal in those countries that are secular.
    The problem seems rather that in countries like the USA or Arab countries it is a big deal because quite obviously society and state is still chained to religion.

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