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Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Problem Being an Atheist?

By January 2, 2013

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The emotions a person experiences upon realizing that they are an atheist can vary wildly. There may on the one hand be a feeling of freedom and release, but also at the same time a sadness of having lost something that was once important to them.

Even more difficult can be the emotions and problems that accompany one's relationships and interactions with other people. Distrust and dislike of atheists is so pervasive and deep that it can be very difficult to maintain the same relationships with people -- either certain topics are forever removed from the list of possible conversations, or honesty in these conversations lead to hard feelings and broken friendships

A forum member writes about his own experiences and feelings:

One thing I don't like about being an atheist is that it sets me apart from people I associate with in my everyday life. I've never been comfortable with that. In the worst cases, I get outright rejected for my lack of belief in God, and in the best cases, I sense people's discomfort with my lack of belief.

I deal with this by avoiding discussions on the issue, but lurking in the back of my mind is a vague sense that my life a lie. I wouldn't lie to people, but I commit a sin of omission. Well,... at least for as long as I can get away with it.

A few years ago, I had a very close relationship with a husband and wife who were my neighbors. The husband used to do a lot of "Amen Brother" exclamations, which I let pass, until one time when he tried to get me agree that supernatural forces were at work. I told him, I was an atheist and didn't believe in supernatural forces. Both he and his wife took open issue with this, and became angry. They withdrew from me from that point on, and I was saddened.

I want to get along with people, and I want to be liked (sorry, I have to admit that being liked is something that feels good to me).

It seems to me that I can be a liberal and still be respected by my conservative friends, but their tolerance doesn't extend as well to my views on spirituality.

I do have a close friend who is deeply spiritual and who knows about my atheism, but the issue prevents us from getting closer, because we cannot discuss this issue. I suppose I could force it, but it seems clear to me that he is not interested.

One thing that makes me uncomfortable is that spiritual people will go on and on about their belief in god, but I can only remember one person ever bothering to even ask me why I didn't believe, and when I tried to explain it, the discussion was dropped after two sentences.

So I end up listening to people prattle on and on about their God as if it's a one way street. I get to listen to them, but they don't want to listen to me. I don't get to express my views, but they feel it's OK to prattle on about theirs.

Have you had similar experiences? Have you developed any means for avoiding some of these problems? Share your stories here in comments or write about them in the forum where you can also read about others' experiences.

April 4, 2007 at 10:29 am
(1) Godless Geek says:

I don’t see it with my closest friends. My best friend is a deist, so we see eye to eye on almost every single thing (other than first cause). One of my closest friends is a liberal Christian, but he is also a Taoist and very open to other ideas, so we have gotten into some extremely deep and interesting philosophical discussions.

I only have a couple of friends that I don’t feel comfortable getting into religiously oriented discussion with, but that is really because they aren’t willing to really debate…it just turns into a “goddidit” trump card by the end, and when someone has that attitude, there’s not really anything you can do.

April 4, 2007 at 7:39 pm
(2) Jeremy says:

Outside of family, I have no problems letting others know I’m an atheist. If there is a problem, it is their’s alone. Most of my friends had no problem with it and more than a few knew it before I did. The people I can no longer be around due to the issues brought about by my atheism were never people hose company I cared for anyway. It’s not that I didn’t like them but that they were more associates than friends in the first place.

April 10, 2007 at 12:04 pm
(3) Tom says:

Being an Atheist married to a Catholic – I find I tend to avoid theology discussions – but I don’t generally feel that separates me from her – or from theistic friends – occasionally I have theological discussions with friends, they know what I think and respect that, and I can accept what they think.

I think that is the trick – accepting and respecting the opinion/thoughts of others.

April 10, 2007 at 12:59 pm
(4) Todd says:

Respecting opinions ends about here (for me):

April 12, 2007 at 8:46 pm
(5) Peter says:

To paraphrase our old friend anon.: “If you have a friend, tell them of your opinions. If they stay your friend, they are your friend, if they don’t they never were.”
About attending church services with the faithheads, I always think of it as a field trip. It’s good to learn what they are being told (at the moment !).

August 12, 2009 at 11:47 pm
(6) sunshine says:

i love that i am an atheist! its who i am! I chose to be this after studying all religions and after nineteen years finally deciding that being a fundie wasnt all that great.
Sure it may feel hard because most people in America believe in some sort of god but that does not bother me. I can have all sorts of friends without wondering if my god hates them, and i can develop opinions outside some so called sacred text!
so hey persecute me! i could care less!

January 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm
(7) sornord says:

My becoming OPENLY atheist several years ago instead of just keeping my mouth shut and going with the flow contributed to the breakup of my marriage. Other factors were involved but my atheism was run up a flagpole by my can’t-soon-enough-be-ex spouse to “ridicule” me and to falsely paint me as an abusive, immoral, lying, sociopath to friends and family. (Fortunately none of her now FORMER friends believe her.)

Living in the US Bible Belt also means I must, to a large degree, keep my mouth shut or end up like a friend did. The friend lost her job because “atheist” was shown in her Facebook profile. Though she said nothing about her atheism at work, she became aware that her boss at the insurance agency where she worked had looked at her profile. After that the boss started frequently spouting things like, “We’re a God-fearing agency!” while glaring at her, talking about how “Acts of God” are in insurance policies, then asking her in front of the whole office if that was a conflict for her. She was covering her own work plus the work of two other people (who joined in the boss’s “Hallelujahs!”) yet, in the end, was told she was unproductive.

We have both removed “atheist” from our online profiles because we both live in Bible Belt states and we need to stay employed. Neither of us can afford the legal costs to fight things like this.

January 11, 2013 at 5:37 pm
(8) bill walker says:

Didn’t ‘go public’ with my atheism until I retired about 25 years ago. (business reasons.) Then I went public via letters to the editor of several newspapers. Most were in response to letters by preachers & evangelicals. Was able to cultivate friends through this. All of my close friends are atheists or secular humanists. It has been a lot of fun poking holes in the balloons of religionists. I still take occasional shots.

January 11, 2013 at 6:43 pm
(9) Sven says:

My condolences to ‘sornord’,but this is what you must deal with in Southern states. They take their guns and their God very seriously. While we can only marvel at their breath-taking dogmatism and ignorance,it’s their brand of “reality’. Sad.

January 14, 2013 at 10:49 am
(10) David says:

I live in the northern bible belt ( Alberta,Canada)
married a “soft” catholic woman who had three kids with
her christian, alcoholic husband.

One of her friends, a seventh day minister, married us.

The “organized ignorance” can be a bit overwhelming at times
but I do enjoy confronting it head on, learning more each time.

There are times when it feels like I’m just banging my head on a
brick wall but it’s worth it for the times I see a glimmer of light

I think I influenced the kids, teaching them critical thinking, to

Perhaps that is the best route, educate the next generation.

At least you Americans have the constitution seperating church and state, here in Canada we don’t.

July 31, 2013 at 8:32 pm
(11) Bill says:

I came out as an atheist. It was not my smartest day. It came up offhandedly in a free period in class where they were talking about how much they love church and they asked why they didn’t see me at church, me not thinking at the time said “cause I’m an atheist.” The stare that they sent at me lasted for a while with no one saying anything and then the bell rang. The next monday I was treated as if I was the plague. No one would speak to me, no one even acknowledged me. For a week I dealt with this only my ‘best’ friend would come to school everyday with a bible and talk to me everyday. A teacher actually offered me a bible in class and I said I don’t believe in that and he said he was sorry to hear that like it was a bad thing. after 6 months i couldn’t take it anymore and started going to church every week and ‘forsaking’ my atheism, people starting talking to me again , and I was actually told that someone actually thought I was the Devil. I can never bring up my atheism otherwise people just sort of look at me.

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