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Coming Out as an Atheist: Should You Come Out as an Atheist, or Keep Quiet?


Atheism in Society:

Atheists are the most distrusted and despised minority in America; it’s no surprise, then, that so many atheists don’t reveal their atheism to friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers. Atheists are afraid of how people will react and how they will be treated. Bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination are not uncommon. Despite the dangers, though, atheists should seriously consider coming out of the closet anyway — it’s better for them and for atheists generally over the long term.

Hiding Atheism is Dishonest with Yourself and Others:

Atheists who deliberately conceal their atheism are being dishonest with others — at the very least through omission. Whenever people talk about religion and religious beliefs, hiding your position gives the impression that you agree with others, even if it’s untrue. This is also dishonest with yourself because you aren’t admitting what you really believe. You are pretending to believe or be one thing when the truth is very different.

Hiding Atheism is Emotionally and Psychologically Draining:

Lies of any sort take work because you have to continually remember to keep up the facade and hide what you believe and who you are. You always have to stop and think about your answers, about whether you have inadvertently given something away, and you always have to bite your tongue before saying something unpopular. Over time, this sort of behavior is emotionally and psychologically draining - it isn’t healthy.

Hiding Atheism Isolates You from Other Atheists:

Atheists are in enough of a minority, but concealing your atheism isolates you even further. If you can’t share your real feelings with anyone, not even those who politely disagree with you, then you fail to make any sort of emotional, intellectual, or psychological contact with others on matters that are important to you. You certainly won’t meet any other atheists — including atheists who, like you, have been afraid to speak out. Concealing your atheism thus serves to make some things worse.

Hiding Atheism Wastes Time and your Ability to Live Fully:

If you conceal your atheism, you may have to pretend to participate in religious events and/or do things which don’t interest you. If you conceal your atheism too much, you won’t be able to participate in events with other atheists, like conferences, seminars, and trips. Life is short and we only get one chance, so don't waste your time pretending to be involved with things you don’t believe in. If you are going to live life fully, you need to do it as you really are.

Hiding Atheism Prevents You from Fully Exploring Freethought:

If you conceal your atheism from everyone around you, how will you engage in conversations about religion, philosophy, and skepticism? How will you be able to exercise your freethinking skills and improve your ability to reason if you can’t let on that you don’t believe the same things as everyone else? Concealing your opinions prevents you from exploring your beliefs and developing in a positive way. You can’t grow if you keep yourself hidden in the dark.

Hiding Atheism May Make Things Worse: What If Others Find Out On Their Own?:

It’s a fact of life that secrets get out, and often at the worst possible times. If you keep your atheism secret, you must accept the possibility that it will get out anyway, and perhaps in a manner that makes things seem worse than they really are. If nothing else, people will be unhappy that you’ve kept this from them for so long and haven’t been honest. If people are going to find out, they really should find out from you personally, not from a rumor or from a slip of the tongue on your part.

Hiding Atheism Reinforces the Perception that Atheism is Shameful:

Many things are kept secret from others on account of the perception that they are shameful. Homosexuality and abortions have been prime examples of this, but atheism may be included as well. When atheism is concealed from even those who are closest to us, it suggests that you are ashamed of it. If others eventually find out, the impression that atheism is shameful may be reinforced. Being open and unapologetic about atheism, however, sends the message that there's nothing to be ashamed about.

Hiding Atheism Inhibits Your Ability to Educate and Help Others:

If you are going to conceal your atheism, you have to keep quiet every time people repeat misconceptions or myths about atheists. This ensures that people continue to misunderstand what atheism is and who atheists are. If you are open about your atheism, however, you have more chances to educate others about atheism and let them know what freethought or what being an atheist is all about. This, in turn, may help decrease the prejudice and discrimination against atheists.

Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Coming Out of the Closet:

There are definite risks to coming out of the closet and publicly admitting that you are atheist; moreover, every situation is different and everyone will have different risks or problems to face. You shouldn’t assume, however, that the potential risks of coming out are necessarily worse than those you face by trying to keep your atheism concealed from everyone around you. You need to carefully weigh what you might lose against what you might gain.

Atheists who keep their atheism concealed because they fear the discrimination they may face should pay close attention to the experiences of gays in America. The discrimination they have had to endure has been much worse than what atheists have had to go through, but many nevertheless were courageous enough to be open about themselves. This openness, often decried by religious conservatives as “pushing” their sexuality and being “in people’s face,” has been an important ingredient in the normalization of homosexuality in America.

People have become more accepting of gays in part because gays have been open, unapologetic, and unashamed all around them. Quiet bigotry based upon myths, misconceptions, and misunderstandings has a harder time surviving in an atmosphere of openness and honesty. Atheists should learn from this and realize that so long as they remain in the closet, too embarrassed and afraid to speak out, the prejudice and bigotry will persist.

The bigotry and discrimination may be the reasons you are afraid to come out, but the only way to fight that bigotry and discrimination is to have the courage to come out anyway and be open about who you are. This probably won’t be an easy choice to make or an easy journey to embark upon, but it may be worth it.

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