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Coming out atheist

May 13, 2011

For much of my life, I’ve felt silenced. Growing up in a homophobic society but attracted to men, I felt I had no other option. I learned not to share much.

Later, I joined the LDS church and served a mission, but as my faith in the supernatural began to founder, I again felt like I dare not share my thoughts.

But now, in my mid 30s, I’ve undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. I’ve come to value honesty over conformity, and authenticity over pleasing others. This means that some people like me more while others like me less or not at all – but in the end, I can’t be overly concerned with who likes me. I can’t be everybody’s flavor.

Earlier in our marriage, when Roseli would ask me for an opinion, I would reply with, “Whatever you want” or “Whatever makes you happy.” This drove her crazy. Last night, she told me that over the past couple years I’ve finally developed a personality.

I’m still probably exceedingly accommodating, but I’m less afraid of voicing my opinion now, and not just on theological issues – we actually seldom discuss religion – but on everyday issues too, which for us largely revolves around caring for the boys.

So what caused this change? Much of the credit has got to rest with being in a university environment, which generally values diversity and privileges truth over appearances. I’ve had a couple professors who are socially and politically committed to social justice issues who serve as role models of living with courageous honesty. And some of the credit simply goes to increased self-confidence that comes with age.

A woman in the ward has commented that my posts seem “a bit disrespectful.” I’m really not out to offend. I’m out to be an open rationalist. I feel committed to being “out” as an atheist because atheists are still the least trusted group in the United States today. In a recent study, 39.6% of Americans believed atheists do not at all agree with their vision of American society, ranking below Muslims and homosexuals, and 47.6% said they would disapprove if their child wanted to marry an atheist, ranking below Muslims and African Americans. This is stunning to me, as these views seem to be borne entirely out of fear, and it needs to change.

I post what I post in part because I know that being out as an atheist helps lighten the burden for the next generation. It’s similar to the gay friend effect. The more atheists come out, the fewer people there will be who can claim they’ve never met an atheist, and the closer we will move toward a society in which people are treated with some greater measure of equality.

I see myself as needing to be active in the continuing civil rights movement in America, and yes, atheists are one element of those needing to fight for civil rights. Atheists belong to a marginalized group who are too often kept “in the closet” out of fear of people’s responses to their unbelief. They’re regarded as immoral, degenerate misanthropes who are corrupting American society. It’s complete nonsense.

When people tell us atheists that we seem to be disrespectful, or when they ask us to tone it down, they are, in essence, telling us to silence ourselves, to disempower ourselves. They’re telling us to shut up so as not to threaten their Christian privilege. They’re telling us to be polite and diplomatic, when history shows that polite diplomacy in a social change movement works far, far better when the marginalized refuse to hide, when they are willing to speak up and to speak out.

The labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the modern feminist movement, the gay rights movement, the anti-war movement in the Sixties, the anti-war movement today, you name it… all of them have been met with accusations of impropriety. But I’m willing to be called improper, offensive, insulting, and so on, because I care about the truth, and I know that I am not being critical of religious people. I am being critical of their unsupported hypotheses, and there is a difference.

Churchill said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

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2 Comments
  1. Kale permalink

    I have had similar experiences of being overly accommodating (and coming out atheist), so it’s an inspiration to hear your story.

    PS-I thought the phrase was to flounder rather than to founder, but I guess either makes sense.

  2. Jonathan permalink

    Far better to be honest with yourself than to lie about your feelings to the world. While I of course wish you shared with me what you once did, I cannot look upon you as less of a friend because those shared beliefs are no more. I hope we can maintain a fruitful relationship in spite of any differences.

    Reflecting on the nation’s views of atheists, I find perspective to be such an interesting thing. While statistics show that a large portion of our population do not trust atheists, they also fail to show how vocally and powerfully those critical of religion, particularly Christianity, tend to be. I always find it humorous that so many find even the most fair-minded criticisms of a minority to be bigoted, but the most vitriolic and/or slanderous comments of a majority to be perfectly justifiable simply due to the fact that members of that demographic have more company. Bigotry is perpetuated by both the majority and its proponents, as well as the minorities and their proponents. A new path to true equality and fair judgment will eventually need to be forged.

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