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Coming Out to Friends & Neighbors: Should You Reveal Your Atheism to Friends?


Problems with Revealing Atheism to Friends & Neighbors:

Not all atheists have revealed their atheism to their friends and neighbors. Religious theism is so widespread, and distrust of atheists so prevalent, that many people can’t tell the full truth even to those closest to them out of fear of ostracism and discrimination. This is a serious indictment against the alleged morality of religion in America today, but it also points to an opportunity: if more atheists did come out of the closet, it might lead to a change in attitudes.

Preserving a Relationship with People Around You:

One of the biggest things on a person’s mind when it comes to revealing atheism to friends and neighbors is whether they will be able to preserve the relationships they have with those around them. That’s understandable, but what you have to remember is that even if you preserve those relationships, many may at least be altered. Relationships change as people change and that can’t be avoided. In some cases, you may find that you don’t want a relationship with some people anymore.

What if People Start Ignoring You?:

Perhaps the most likely of the negative consequences of revealing atheism to others is that they will not want to have anything to do with you anymore. It’s debatable whether being ignored is worse than being proselytized to, but being given the cold shoulder by friends and neighbors isn’t pleasant. You can’t make people pay attention to you, but you can demonstrate that you are unworthy of such treatment by continuing to be a good person and treating others well.

What if People Start Treating You Worse?:

Beyond ignoring you, some anti-atheist bigots may start treating you worse when they find out you are an atheist. They might, for example, try to spread malicious gossip or harass you in some manner. Again, it may not be possible to prevent this, but you can deflect a lot of negative attention by rising above their petty bigotry and setting a better example of how an adult should behave. There’s perhaps no better revenge against such people than being a better person and living well.

Dealing with Anti-Atheist Comments & Bigotry:

Even if — and perhaps especially if — you don’t tell anyone you are an atheist, you may encounter snide, bigoted comments about atheists. People used to say such things about Jews or blacks, but those forms of bigotry are no longer socially acceptable. Thus, some express the need to feel superior to others by attacking atheists. When you encounter such attitudes, you should calmly explain why it’s wrong and simply walk away if they refuse to stop and show you the respect you deserve.

Dealing with Proselytization:

It’s inevitable that someone you know will try to proselytize to you after learning that you are an atheist. Perhaps they will merely send you some of those cloying emails which purport to explain how wonderful religion is compared to atheism; perhaps they will try to engage you in a personal debate on the existence of God. What you do will depend upon the context and your own personality. If you like debates, you can engage them — but don’t make the mistake of assuming that much will come of it.

Finding Common Ground Outside Religion & Gods:

The key to preserving friendships and good relationships after revealing your atheism will be to find common ground with people outside of religion. For many this shouldn’t be a problem — things like sports, family, and jobs are sure to provide plenty of ways to connect with others without religion entering into the equation. For others, though, this will be difficult because religion is such a central focus of people’s lives. It may be that when it comes to those friends, nothing can be done.

Putting a Positive Face on Godlessness & Freethought:

If you come out as an atheist, you will in many ways stand in for atheists generally. Whereas before friends and neighbors judged atheists generally based upon rumors they heard, now they may judge atheists generally on the basis off how you behave. Perhaps it isn’t really fair, but then neither is reality. You will have to deal with this by putting the best face you can on what it means to be an atheist, a skeptic, and a freethinker.

Finding New Friends if you Lose Old Friends:

There’s a good chance that in some cases, you’ll lose some of your friends — though if someone can’t be friends or even just civil to an atheist, perhaps they were never much of a friend to begin with and you’re only just now finding that out. You cannot find new neighbors unless you’re willing to move, but you may have better luck finding new friends. You should spend some time researching local organizations which are either for atheists or where religion and theism play no role.

Is Revealing Atheism to Friends & Neighbors Worth the Risk?:

Just about every atheist is faced with the question of whether it’s worth the obvious risks to reveal their atheism to people they know. Many either don’t care or think the risk is worth the benefit of simply being honest. Others, though, aren’t so sure. They are justified in being worried because they live in areas where religious theism — and Christianity in particular — are assumed to be necessary for someone to be moral, patriotic, and decent. It’s sometimes tough to be an atheist when everyone around you assumes from the outset that, as an atheist, you are completely untrustworthy and anti-American.

In point of fact, though, it is precisely because of these assumptions that coming out as an atheist is so important. So long as people remain in the closet about their atheism, they are effectively sending the message that there is something about atheism to be justifiably embarrassed or ashamed about. Despite the problems you will likely encounter by coming out, being public about your atheism gives you a chance to prove by example that the myths and misconceptions about atheism have no basis in reality. This is much more effective than simply arguing that they wrong.

Much the same is already being achieved by gays in America. At one time almost all gays were in the closet because they were told that homosexuality was something to be ashamed about. By remaining in the closet, they accepted this judgment and validated it. Coming out in larger numbers, however, sent the message that they weren’t going to be ashamed anymore and demanded equality. Atheists today are more distrusted than gays — people are actually less likely to vote for an atheist political candidate than a gay candidate. Atheists can learn from the progress made by gays and should emulate some of their tactics. The first step should be to come out of the closet and acknowledge being an atheist without apology or hesitation.

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