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Austin Cline

Weekly Poll: Are You an Atheist Who is 'Out of the Closet'?

By January 10, 2013

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Atheism isn't very widely accepted or thought of very well by large numbers of people, especially in the United States. As discussed yesterday, even some liberal areas can be filled with hatred and hostility towards atheists. Because of this, many atheists feel compelled to keep their atheism a secret, not telling anyone they don't trust. Even family members might be kept in the dark. Do you hide your atheism, or are you 'out of the closet' and open about things?

It would probably be better for more atheists to be more "out" and open about who they are and what they believe. The mere act of keeping it quiet helps reinforce the idea that atheism is something to be ashamed of and therefore is "wrong." In addition, the more contact people have with atheists, the easier it will be in the long run to dispel popular myths and misconceptions about what atheists believe, what atheism is, and so forth.

On the other hand, when people perceive legitimate threats to their livelihood, grades, or even health from god-fearing Christians in their community, it's difficult to tell them to come out of the closet anyway. For some atheists, being out and open just isn't a very realistic option. For that reason, I think that atheists who don't face any strong threats have a greater obligation to come out and those of us who are already out have a strong obligation to be more open about our atheism -- we need to make up for those who can't and make it easier for them to eventually come out.

July 3, 2008 at 8:44 am
(1) Seeker says:

I never hid my skepticism (as a kid), non-religiousness (as a teenager) or outright atheism (as an adult). Of course, I live in that “immoral bastion of secularism” known as Western Europe, so that might have something to do with it ;)

July 3, 2008 at 10:02 am
(2) KateHost says:

I’m so glad I’m British!

July 3, 2008 at 10:35 am
(3) ee says:

I think location has alot to do with it. I live in the Bible Belt. I am very carefull full disclosure.

With that said, I do openly talk about issues related to atheism. Issues like the science education in the state, seperation of church and state, etc. I simply try to discuss the items in a matter where common ground can be found.

I think in this climate I actually make more headway by not stating I am an atheist, but challenging the related issues. People still listen to me this way.

July 3, 2008 at 12:08 pm
(4) David J says:

I do exactly as ee – I am an atheist, but people think of me as just playing devil’s advocate all the time against their faith. I’m a former seminary graduate, so most folks assume I’m still in the faith. It gives me leverage to play either side of the fence if I want to. Regardless, I’ve only come clean with a few select family members and friends. I’m in the US.

July 3, 2008 at 12:27 pm
(5) Dave Q says:

I have always came right out and told every one exactly what I think, and why I think that way. I am a proud Atheist, and if any one does not like it they can kiss my ass. I even went as far as China to find an Atheist wife.

July 3, 2008 at 12:46 pm
(6) deegee says:

I would have liked to see one more choice among the answers: “I don’t hide it but I don’t go out of my way to advertise it, either.” It is a subset of the last choice in the poll and a hybrid of that choice and the 3rd one.

July 4, 2008 at 9:36 am
(7) vjack says:

I wasn’t sure how to vote. I’m out to my family and any friends who ask, but it isn’t like I go around broadcasting it. In addition, I am not out around my co-workers at all – too much to lose there.

July 4, 2008 at 2:58 pm
(8) kurt says:

here in New York City there seems to be little reason to hide one’s atheism, at least, in the circles I travel in. I identify my lack of belief when the topic is relevent and I can’t remember when it’s ever been much of an issue.

But in the end, i think it’s like coming out as gay or anything else, if you present yourself with ease and self-confidence and you are friendly to the person you’re talking to, these possibly controversial revelations usually pass without much incident.

July 4, 2008 at 3:04 pm
(9) Daniel Curzon says:

I came out as gay as a college teacher in 1974
and as an atheist as an editor of GALA in 1978.
Gay is harder.

July 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm
(10) Christian says:

When the subject of religion comes up, I never hesitate to express my views as a Atheist, or to tell someone that I am Atheist.

And I agree with Daniel, Gay is harder.
I live in Utah.

July 4, 2008 at 7:16 pm
(11) Nick says:

I had my first doubts about religion when I was 8 or 9, but I was more or less a fence-straddler until 2004, when I read a newspaper article headlined “How can religious people explain something like this?” in reference to the tsunami that hit SE Asia 12/26/04 killing almost a quarter of a million people.
I then began a serious study of religion, beginning with the Christian Bible, which inevitably took me other faiths, which I gradually began to understand were nothing more than cults.
Pagan beliefs, legends, myths, superstitions, then onto Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam; they all gradually evolved from the same wellspring — FEAR.
It all started with the fear of dying. That phobia was then exploited by a rising class of conmen (shamans, witchdoctors, clergy) to facilitate control.
Ignore the beautiful, carefully selected verses found for you in the Bible! Read the entire bloodthirsty novel for yourself and come to your own conclusions.
Wish I had more space to elaborate on this!

July 4, 2008 at 10:06 pm
(12) Tom Edgar says:

Geez I’m glad I’m not an American living in the land of the “Free”

In Australia religious affiliation is a not important. It is actually illegal to ask the question in a job vacancy application except for a religious organisation’s vacancies. e.g. Church Schools. We have had Prime Ministers and Heads of State who were openly Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Atheist and Agnostic. Some “Fundies” are doing their best to change it.
The present Government was sworn in using the Bible for some and not for others, they made an affirmation.

Our local paper has no qualms about publishing non religious opinions in editorial letters., and this country area has a very high proportion of Italian Catholics.

The only way you will be emancipated is to be like Emily Pankhurst. When the Politicians realise that the votes are there then you’ll be home and hosed. Or you could come on down to NO Gods Country.


July 4, 2008 at 10:36 pm
(13) Rachel says:

When I first started doubting and when I first gave up religion (agnosticism first, then atheism a few months later), I tried to keep it obscure (it came out to some family members regardless due to the internet).

After a month or two of becoming an agnostic, though, I weemed into becoming more open; now, I’m proud to discuss my decision to be an atheist and debate any believer who wishes to do so.

July 5, 2008 at 8:22 am
(14) cla says:

What a nice international forum. It’s so uplifting to hear your voices saying what I have believed and at times “preached” since I was 15. Ironically my name is Athey, so I just say, “I have lots of followers”. Would that that were true in most of the places I have lived, but I have often felt like the lone wolf.

I agree that the basis of most superstitious belief is fear, also hate. I have occasionally read Billy Graham’s column in the newspaper and find those sentiments to be the bottom line. Too bad religion doesn’t practice the love and acceptance it purports to teach, but the underlying rationale is just the opposite even among the big three religions that say they believe in the God of Abraham. Just look at the underlying tensions present in most wars: hateful, godless infidels on which ever of the two sides.

In my family I tell it like it is and had one uncle who was a believing and practicing Catholic, also a labor leader. My dad was a business manager and they had lots of good discussions about labor/management politics and political parties–dad, the Republican and Joe, the Democrat. Since I “got religion” and became a strong Democrat, Uncle Joe and I agreed on that, but had an ongoing discussion about religion, or not, but since he also died, no one in the family will discuss the subject with me at all, especially the Republicans.

I remember in grade school when “under God” was added to the pledge which we all had to do every morning at school. I was resistant even then, but to little avail. I would just pause during that phrase. Now we have the option of “In God We Trust” on our state auto license plates and locally most people seem to have exercised that option. It’s an uphill battle, but who said that enlightenment was easy.

I have read a lot of Joseph Campbell, but the recent Hitchins, Dawkins, and the “Letter to a Christian Nation” guy publications have been like a breath of fresh air–very welcome–as is this blog. It’s nice to have agreement in non-belief. Thanks everyone.

July 5, 2008 at 9:37 am
(15) Todd A. says:

I live in NC and was raised Christian. I tried to believe and even thought about taking the Deist route but there is NO PROOF that ANY “god” has ever existed. I just cant place “God” for eveything that I dont know. When I told my mother that I was an atheist she told me to never say that in her home again. I was asked a few days ago to remove my atheist sticker from under my Obama sticker on my car, by an Obama supporter, so that I may not lose him Southern votes. It took awhile to give up faith, due to being brought up religious and the “pain” that it would cause my parents but I’m glad I did. My last college English paper was on how Christians were trying to take over the country using the theory that our Founding Fathers wanted it that way. Maybe they should teach actual history down here in the south instead of being so involved with what their Jesus did thousands of years ago that they no longer care what their relatives did for us a few hundred.

July 5, 2008 at 10:36 am
(16) EJ says:

I am in the US and in the belt. I come out to select friends and coworkers and it’s not too much of a problem. Most liberal believers are perplexed and concerned but open enough. I would not come out completely at work due to the fact that there are so many believers there with bibles in their cubes. If someone asks, I let it out though. My atheism has driven a wedge between me and my fundy brother. My father has passed and my mother has dementia and my other brother is a liberal chistian. So I feel very separated and alone from my family. Still lately I’ve been thinking I need to come out more and to get involved in activism.

July 5, 2008 at 11:55 am
(17) RyanW says:

My immediate family and a few close friends know, and I answer questions about my religion honestly. That really confuses people, because they usually realize I’m a decent person before they find out I’m nonreligious.

July 5, 2008 at 1:10 pm
(18) tony says:

In Europe most people who express strong religious beliefs are considered eccentric and posibly dangerous.
In the UK recently a couple were refused to be allowed to adopt a child as they were strong religious believers.
How would it be in the US, do you have to be a believer to adopt, or would atheism mean refusal?

July 5, 2008 at 2:37 pm
(19) L. says:

I always answer the question truthfully when being asked, but I don’t come out announcing to everyone that I’m an atheist. I travel quite a bit around the world, and I must admit that, no matter where I go, I’m hesitant to discuss religion with people I don’t know well. I do feel the need to “protect” myself by “hiding”–although I do not know why.

When the subject does come up, I find that somehow most people just assume that I have a religion. Then when I tell people that I’m an atheist, half of the time they would say: “You mean agnostic, right?” Then after I say “No,” some still have to confirm by asking: “Are you sure you know the difference?” I find these encounters puzzling. First, I never understand how there could be any confusion between the two words. Second, is it really so hard to accept that there are people who don’t believe in god(s)?

July 5, 2008 at 6:13 pm
(20) Donald Eckhardt says:

In 1942 I went to a YMCA summer camp for two weeks. When asked my religion, I replied ‘Lutheran’ because a playmate’s father was a Lutheran pastor. The truth was that, like my parents, I had no religion. The next Sunday, just as my group of happy campers was about to play with bows to shoot arrows into beach dunes, I was hauled off to a Lutheran church. I was miserable, but I learned a lesson – never again to lie about my (non)religion.

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