Ask Richard: Facebook, Friends and Filters

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard,

I will be attending a Catholic college in a few months and as an Atheist I have to admit I almost didn’t go simply for this reason, but I desperately wanted to be a part of a major program they offer, and the location is fantastic. I have spoken to current students and they have said that aside from a mass during the freshman orientation, all other Christian activities are completely optional and many to not participate (except for crosses in the classrooms). However, I currently have my religious views as Atheist in my information section on my Facebook profile, and as 80% of the student body identifies as catholic, I’m worried this might scare off potential friends before we even get to know each other.

Many of my current friends are religious (Christian, Hindu, and Muslim) and although it hasn’t always been smooth sailing with a few of them, it has never been a big enough issue where I was worried that it might end our friendship. However, these are all people who I have been friends with for years, and many were friends with me before I began speaking up about my atheism (meaning just admitting that I am an atheist, not meaning I tried to convert or argue with any of them).

I have absolutely no problem making religious friends, but I’m worried they may not feel the same way, and while I would never want to hide who I am, I’m concerned if it’s one of the first things they see about me, they may not take the time to get to know me before deciding not to bother. I’m anticipating some people thinking that I shouldn’t try and be friends with people who would avoid me just because of my religious views, but several of my current friends probably would have had the same apprehensions if we hadn’t met when we were in middle school and grown up together, so I don’t want to essentially root out those people who may not have had the chance to understand other people’s choices just yet. Having said all of that though, it does feel slightly like I’m hiding part of myself to gain acceptance if I take it off of my profile, and since I’m not one to bring religion up in a conversation it could potentially go undisclosed for a long time. Do you think I should leave it up or take it down ( I know all of this worry over something on Facebook probably seems silly).

Thank you!
Kelly

Dear Kelly,

Many people have written to me describing how their atheism has been revealed either before they were ready, or to people they’d rather not have told, because it was in their profile or in their remarks on Facebook. Some have had it all out there on their public pages, yet they were surprised that word got to the wrong people at the wrong time. Some have had that information on their “friends only” sections, but that still relies on their friends being discreet, and not mentioning it to others.

Very few people really know how to keep a confidence, even when it is specified as confidential. They thoughtlessly blab it. If it isn’t specified as not to be disclosed, even fewer people have the judgment to make the decision that some delicate information might best be not mentioned to third parties until they check with you. So if you want your private information known to everyone, put it on Facebook. Giving it private or public status makes little difference. If you have enough friends who see it, word will get out.

You don’t owe anyone your outing. You have no duty to tell anyone anything about yourself that may drastically affect your social status or other aspects of your life. You are not being hypocritical or cowardly or dishonest by being discrete and prudent. If information has the potential to harm your interests, you should have complete control over when, how, and to whom it is revealed. If it takes a long time to get around to mentioning your atheism, so what? You have the right to act in your own self interest.

I think that you are right in anticipating that some people will say you shouldn’t even try to be friends with people who would avoid you just because of your religious views. I see two ways of handling this:

The first way, generally the way you’ve been doing it, is to leave that information unspoken until you have been able to establish a rapport with potential friends based on your personal demeanor and mutual interests. Then, once they see that you’re a decent, intelligent and likable person, acknowledging your atheism when the subject comes up will allow them to challenge their negative stereotypes that they have against atheists, if indeed they have any. You describe how you have been quite successful with this approach, having been able to keep the friendships of several religious people, even though it was rocky for a while.

This method takes maturity and courage, because it requires you to be willing to risk the possibility that after the time and effort of building the foundations of a friendship, they might not be able to handle it, and might disappoint you. Oh well, that’s life. Even if they reject you, at least they will have had an experience that does not fit their stereotype, and it might continue to chip away at their prejudice.

The other way of handling this says, “I don’t even want to bother meeting anyone who would reject me, knee-jerk fashion, just because of my views on religion.” That’s kind of knee-jerk right there. It requires setting up a pre-screening mechanism, a “friend filter” if you will, like an eHarmony profile that eliminates potential friends before you even meet them because they might have an insurmountable problem with your atheism.

Posting it on Facebook might filter out many of the people with a negative bias, but it doesn’t work for those who haven’t seen your Facebook page or heard the gossip. It would be more thorough to always wear a t-shirt that says, “These are some of the views I hold: (then there’s a long list) If there are any you don’t like, don’t talk to me.”

I think that this is an immature approach. It is timid and overly defensive, showing a lack of confidence in one’s ability to attract people who aren’t identical in every way, or to persuade them to reconsider their bias. It also does not realistically allow for how most people build friendships gradually, making adjustments in how they feel about the various aspects of a person as they learn about them a little at a time. People can get over their prejudice; it takes coaxing and diplomacy, and it takes the willingness to work with them. Sometimes all it takes is their knowing beforehand that you’re a good person.

Kelly, there is so much more to you than your atheism, and people who have been indoctrinated to have fear and suspicion against it need time to learn about the rest of you first. I think that posting your atheism on Facebook is directly in conflict with the method that you have been successfully using to ease religious friends over their bias, if they have it. I suggest that you take down all references to it on Facebook, both public and “friends-only,” and let your new acquaintances get to know you in a more natural, step-by-step way.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Just list “Dudeist” as your religion.

    Check out http://www.dudeism.com

    We could all use a little more dude in our life.

  • Nikki Bluue

    Doooooooooooooooooooooooood! ATL, gonna share at Facebook! WUV!

    Richard’s advice is sound, as always. Intentionally shunning those that aren’t like I am makes me feel like I am missing out on a lot. While I am always seeking deaf atheists, I do welcome atheists of all stripes and religious folk to my Facebook.
    :-) I want to see them as people first, not as religious labels. I get “more” out of friendship this way. Just my personal experience, Dooooooooood! ;-)

  • http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com ashleyfmiller

    I put pastafarian. I get to identify myself without seeming so prickly about it. Of course everything I post on facebook reveals my radical leftist godless ways, but yeah… I dunno if calling myself pastafarian is cowardly or clever or lame, but it’s how I deal.

  • Lauren

    there is a difference between shunning someone and allowing them to shun you.

    You can say “I’m an atheist! let’s be friends!” and have someone not want to talk to you. if you are not ready to be out, don’t be out, but to say that stating our views on facebook is immature, is ridiculous.

    screening out people who would avoid you is not the same as shunning them. having boundaries and knowing where your lines are is a useful thing. Otherwise you can get sucked into an argument about it, or be a doormat and feel like you have to hide who you are.

    Personally I think it saves time to be up front about my beliefs and views. you can be friendly and happy and out going and OUT.

    It is really about YOU and how comfortable YOU feel. I have no problem scaring off people for a variety of reasons. (OMG a girl has hairy legs and she’s wearing shorts! run for the hills!) But that is me, and my comfort level.

    starting at a new place can be scary, and leaving it unsaid could make things smoother if you are worried.

  • http://journeyofaperpetualstudent.blogspot.com/ perpetualstudent

    I also have Pastafarian listed as my religion. None of my friends have ever commented on it, either offline or online. I would say that over 90% of my friends are religious and a large percentage of that group are very actively religious.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @ATL-Apostate, good find on Dudeism.

    Kelly, in order to maximize your ability to connect with different kinds of people I would recommend down-playing your atheism at first. Perhaps initially identify yourself as an agnostic. Get the friends, then later on slowly come out to them. A year down the road, you will probably have a more diverse set of friends and may give some religious Catholics a better understanding of atheism since they got to know you first independently of viewing you through a negative atheist stereotype…

    Save yourself some grief, though, and level early with anyone you might want to date.

    In summary, Richard’s advice is good as usual. It looks like Richard is back in the saddle :)

  • PJB863

    I attended a Catholic college (decades ago). While not an atheist at the time, I was definitely hostile to the Catholic church and its dogmas, having been raised in it until I was about 13 yo. Generally, Catholic universities and colleges are not like conservative Protestant ones, when it comes to differing religious beliefs.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was more than O.K. with the college to question matters regarding religion. This was considered part of one’s growth and maturing. Of course, it was better if you attended mass regularly, but it was never required, or for that matter, really encouraged much. The policy of the college was to encourage students to take at least one religion course, but it was not required. I never took one because the credit was not transferrable, if I decided to enroll later at a secular institution.

    Unless you are attending an extremely conservative Catholic institution, you will find that a few students, mostly those who lack the maturity to accept other points of view, are going to be overtly hostile to your beliefs, but most will not.

    Just be yourself. Not everyone is going to like you in this life, regardless of your beliefs, so this might be a good opportunity to get accustomed to it.

  • Richard Wade

    Lauren,

    if you are not ready to be out, don’t be out, but to say that stating our views on facebook is immature, is ridiculous.

    I didn’t say that, or anything even close to that.

    I said that dismissing out of hand anyone who might have some difficulty accepting one’s atheism, so as to avoid any possibility of conflict about it during a budding friendship is immature.

  • JulietEcho

    Excellent advice, Richard. Whether you leave the information out there or not, I hope you’ll find some good friends – atheist or otherwise – who’ll help you enjoy school and broaden your horizons and whatnot :-) Good luck!

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I think I’m going to disagree with Richard. Kelly, I see absolutely no need to take your atheism off your Facebook profile. I know it’s a cliche, but if potential friends would reject you because of it, they are not the type of people you would want as friends in the first place. In my experience, Catholics are not even that extreme about these things. I went to a Catholic college, too, and the demographics were largely the same as yours. I was open about my atheism (pre-Facebook) and never once had a problem.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    The other way of handling this says, “I don’t even want to bother meeting anyone who would reject me, knee-jerk fashion, just because of my views on religion.” That’s kind of knee-jerk right there.

    If so, maybe it’s a justified knee-jerk reaction. I don’t want to bother meeting anyone who would reject me just because of my race either. When non-whites put their pictures on FB, they screen out Klansmen and neo-Nazis, and it would patently absurd to suggest they don’t post their pictures for this reason. No, I don’t think this is of the same magnitude, but it’s defintely the same principle.

    It requires setting up a pre-screening mechanism, a “friend filter” if you will, like an eHarmony profile that eliminates potential friends before you even meet them because they might have an insurmountable problem with your atheism.

    It’s not screening in the same sense. I don’t make the decision not to be friends with someone; I give them information for them to make a decision. Life is too damned short for me to worry about making friends with people who have to be fooled into being my friends. I don’t push my atheism on my FB account—the same way I expect others not to push their religion there—but it’s way too important for me identity for me to hide it out of fear of who might reject me.

  • Dan

    Personally I list “Jedi” as my religion. Mainly because its awesome, and Jedi have cool swords.

    Mainly because people think Atheists are baby eating monsters, and I’d rather not have to deal with BS all the time.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    It’s not screening in the same sense. I don’t make the decision not to be friends with someone; I give them information for them to make a decision. Life is too damned short for me to worry about making friends with people who have to be fooled into being my friends.

    Exactly. Actually, the more I read Richard’s response, the more it bothers me (sorry Richard – I still love ya!). We’re not screening them out. We’re not dismissing them out of hand. We’re being open and honest about who we are, and if someone can’t handle it, maybe that person isn’t a good candidate for friendship. If someone has a problem with my atheism, or my political beliefs, or the fact that I have two moms and decides to reject me as a friend because of that, I’m sorry, but I’m not going to hide any part of my life simply because it might make bigots uncomfortable.

  • gwen

    You need to listen to CFIs Dr Ron Lindsey’s recent interview on Point of Inquiry. When he attended GWU, he was taught a new testament class by an ATHEIST nun!!

  • Richard Wade

    I understand what those who are disagreeing with me are saying. I’m talking about how it can quietly grow to an extreme. I’ve seen it. Eventually people are shooing away ahead of time all potential friends who don’t see everything exactly as they do, and they have a collection of clones of themselves. They can sit around nodding at each other in endless and tedious perfect agreement. To me, that sounds as insular and boring as families who refuse to socialize in any way with anyone who isn’t a member of their local church.

    Please consider that people have the ability to change their minds as they get to know you. Once prejudiced is not necessarily always prejudiced. It’s not about being phony or ashamed of things, it’s about acknowledging that your friends are human beings with flaws and weak spots, but also acknowledging that with patient nurturing, they can grow and so can you.

    I have several friends who disagree with me on issues, opinions and beliefs. We get along just fine and enjoy each other’s company because we’re grownups. Those are the friendships that challenge me to grow, to broaden my horizons, to be more empathetic, and to learn new things.

    The idea of wooing a friendship seems to be a lost art. Nobody seems to know what I’m talking about. Friendships shouldn’t be about seeking maximum similarity. They should be about rapport, understanding, respect and acceptance. In the wooing process, you share the easily likable things first, and after you like each other, you begin to share the more challenging things. You gradually build an affection that transcends your differences. Those differences can enrich you, if you have the maturity to see that the pluses you already know about your friends are more important than the things that might have turned you away if you had learned them earlier. Your friends can grow as they get to know you, and you can do the same.

  • Anna

    I have N/A as religion, well it used to be religion and now it is religious views, so I’m not sure that fits anymore because I have plenty of views on religion. I am thinking of updating it to atheist or secular humanist and since I “came out” a few weeks ago on Come Out Day for Atheists, all my facebook friends now know if they didn’t know before. I haven’t lost one yet and I know many of them are very religious.
    As for the Catholic college, I agree with what others have said. I worked at a Jesuit college for 9 years and no one seemed to mind my religious views. I had co-workers who were agnostic, humanist, and “still-seraching”. At that college students had to take 3 religion courses but it was a very liberal and open environment in which students could question anything. But it really depends on how liberal or conservative the Catholic college is, Jesuit colleges tend to be the most liberal.

  • Lauren

    you set up a dichotomy. the “first way” and the “other way.” “The other way” is the one that includes immediate full disclosure and is labeled as Immature.

    not “another way” but “THE other way.” That language implies that there are no other ways. so no, you did not explicitly say it.

    if someone is concerned about negative social consequences, staying in the closet is a reasonable thing. If someone is at the end of their tether, putting up defenses is reasonable as well.

    But again, there are other options. Such as being completely in the closet and lying about it. (not recommended) Or being out and just letting people react as they may (which could have real social consequences which should be considered.) One could even out themselves on their shirt in a friendly manner, (“ask me why I’m an atheist” printed on it), but it sounds like this individual has already decided against that.

    I think it IS reasonable to just keep quiet about it, but then not lie when it comes up. There are social pressures to no be out and out loud about it. But the format of your response implies that that is the only ‘mature’ solution. Lumping “having a filter on your facebook” and “wearing an unreasonable t-shirt” (who would spend the time to make one?) together, then labeling those actions as immature, ignores real reasons why people have set up those boundaries in parts of their life.

  • Lauren

    And yes, people can change their minds, but if I can find people who will be friends with me, who want to be friends with me and don’t have to change to do it, I’m choosing those friends. My whole life does not have to be outreach. when given the choice, I like being around people who don’t think I deserve to suffer in eternal hell fire.

    It is stressful to be in a friendship and constantly worry that they will reject you once they find you out. maybe that is your best option in a situation, but it is not an ideal option for your mental health, even if it is the best chance for outreach.

  • http://www.treadingground.com Nick Wright

    I just list it as “Nonreligious”. It gets the point across without being overly descriptive.

  • Paladin

    Just a quick diversion from the underlying philosophical argument to give a simple technological solution: friends lists.

    Facebook allows you to setup lists or groups of friends and assign different viewing permissions to each. I roughly have high, medium, and low groups. Only the high can see my religious preference, which is atheistic.

    When I first meet someone, they usually go into medium or low. Only after I really get to know them do I change their level.

  • Demonhype

    I agree with Secular Planet. But you know what the operative term in that second quote? “Insurmountable”. That means that my atheism is something that person will not be able to deal with at all. I have no problem screening out potential friends who will have an insurmountable problem with the fact that I’m an atheist. If my atheism is something they will not be able to ignore or look past, then I’d rather not waste time on them. A simple, easy-to-find admission of atheism, such as a simple footnote on Facebook, is a good way to separate the hopelessly bigoted people from those who, despite their religion, might make a good potential friend. To screen out people for whom your atheism is an insurmountable obstacle is not an unjustified knee-jerk reaction.

    I went to a Brethren-Church founded college–not a bible college by any means–and for three years I was pretty out. When my Christian History teacher asked for our religions on a card, I wrote “atheist” without hesitation, and I got an A in the course despite calling out the teacher for his misrepresentation of the Nazis as atheists. Same in my Analytical Philosophy class, where my Catholic instructor was brilliant in all subjects until we came to religion, wherein he became nothing but a religious apologist–disagreed in a paper, but still aced the course. My Senior Show artist statement discussed my atheism openly and how my atheistic views translate into my work. Despite this, I was neither lynched nor shunned as a pariah (though there were a couple of subtle disapprovals from my counselor and one teacher who suddenly had the idea that those in his painting class who had a senior show should read their statements out loud to the class–I think he may have wanted to see if I would actually say those things out loud in front of the Christian students. I did so without hesitation or embarrassment. After all, if they could constantly wax poetic and preachy on the subject of faith and Jesus, I had every right to speak my own mind without having to feel scared or apologetic.)

    Compared to that, a simple Facebook admission of atheism is pretty light. In fact, I’d say that’s the lightest you could go while still being fairly open and honest about your views. You’re not preaching. Hell, what I was doing was closer to preaching than what you’ve got with Facebook, and what I did was motivated by the same desire to be honest and open about my views. What I did couldn’t really be called preaching (especially not when compared with the religious side), but when the issue was relevant I didn’t hesitate to state my views on the subject.

    And I don’t think most atheists think they “owe” anyone honesty about their views, or at least not entirely. Sometimes people just want to be who they are without having to hide it as if it’s a venereal disease that must not be mentioned. I didn’t come out as openly as I did at school because I felt the teachers or students were owed my honesty. I came out like that because that is really who I am and how I think, and I refuse to censor myself because someone who is a bigot might not like it. And I refuse to constantly try and find ways to hide my atheism just because some over-Christianized jerk might pitch a fit at my existence. We’re here, we’re godless, get used to it, to paraphrase the gay chant.

    On top of that, I would think that studiously avoiding any admission of atheism whenever possible says that you consider the religious to be immature–and many can be, I understand. But for an atheist to admit openly to a religious person that s/he is an atheist, that atheist is saying “I trust you to be a mature adult who will not have a shit fit tantrum over the existence of my views. Here is your chance to prove that religious people aren’t necessarily bigoted people”. When an atheist tries to hide his or her atheism, what that atheist is saying is “I believe that you, as a religious person, are an entitled, immature crybaby. I can’t be open about who I am because you are too stupid, ignorant, and bigoted to be expected to handle it, so I have to protect you from the truth.”

    For me, to admit my atheism is to say to you that I consider you a mature adult who does not need to be patronized or coddled with an illusion that everyone agrees with you, I’m trusting you will not throw a tantrum, and I’m giving you an opportunity to perhaps alter some of my own preconceived notions about the maturity of Christians (or other religious people). It’s a sign of respect.

  • Richard Wade

    Lauren,

    you set up a dichotomy. the “first way” and the “other way.” “The other way” is the one that includes immediate full disclosure and is labeled as Immature.

    not “another way” but “THE other way.” That language implies that there are no other ways. so no, you did not explicitly say it.

    I said to Kelly, the letter writer,

    I think that you are right in anticipating that some people will say you shouldn’t even try to be friends with people who would avoid you just because of your religious views. I see two ways of handling this:

    Then I said, “The first way…,” which I think clearly means “The first of the two ways that I see.”

    Then I said, “The other way…,” which I think clearly means “The other of the two ways that I see.” The fact that “the other way” mentions full disclosure on Facebook does not imply in any way that full disclosure on Facebook is what is immature.

    There’s nothing there to state or imply that there are only two ways it can be. Of course there are many possible ways to handle it. I was describing the two that came up in my mind.

    The dichotomy is only in your assumptions, and anyway it does not have any bearing on my reply to what you said in your first comment. Quoting you again,

    if you are not ready to be out, don’t be out, but to say that stating our views on facebook is immature, is ridiculous.

    The use of Facebook per se is not what is immature. You said that I said and meant that, and I replied that you have completely misinterpreted what I said.

    It’s the reason for using Facebook that might be immature if the purpose is to deliberately turn people away to avoid even meeting people who might have even the slightest difficulty with atheism.

    Outing yourself on Facebook is a legitimate way of announcing to the world where you stand. I’m talking about why someone might do that. It was Kelly who brought up the possibility that s/he would hear from some people who would say that s/he shouldn’t even bother with people who have any problem with atheism. I was talking about what I see as the problems with that way of handling it, especially if it goes to an extreme. The absurd t-shirt was a way to illustrate that.

    Lauren, I’m not calling you immature, if that is what you assumed. The rest of your latest comment shows that you and I agree about the legitimacy of the several ways that Kelly or anyone in that position could handle things according to their needs.

    I try very hard to make my writing clear and unambiguous, but I cannot anticipate every possible way someone might creatively misinterpret it. Some people spend more time writing their own meanings between my lines than I spend writing the actual lines.

  • allison

    I still don’t quite understand the need to proclaim one’s religious belief on Facebook unless you’re heavily involved in activism or something. But then, I have my city, my husband’s name, and, well, that’s it. My profile doesn’t even have my picture on it.

    If someone feels like proclaiming their religious views in their Facebook profile, that’s fine, but I figure that the rest of my words wll speak for themselves.

  • Drew

    I’d like to leave some words of encouragement as well.

    I’m a second year law student and my Fbook page not only displays my status as an atheist, but sports a few quotes as well.

    This fall, while interviewing for a summer associate position (few and far between in this market), my mother ever so delicately reminded me of this:

    Mom: “So you know that everyone can see that your religious status says atheist right?”

    Me: “Yes. And?”

    Mom: “Well I just thought with you interviewing you might want to do something about that.”

    I didn’t ‘do something about it.’ I know who I am, I’m proud of it, and I wouldn’t ever want to work someplace where I wasn’t accepted for my abilities and skills simply because I’m an atheist.

    I’m happy to report I got the job at a top 250 law firm (known as “Big Law”).

    Be who you are. Be proud and confidant and the rest will fall into place.

  • Lauren

    I don’t know how “creative” I am in this context. I don’t think I am alone in seeing a dichotomy set up, and then feeling unnerved by it (noting the other comments.)

    You didn’t technically set up a dichotomy.

    But, rhetorically, if a person in authority (which you are to some extent, given that people come to you for advice) says “I see to ways of doing things,” that often gives an implied dichotomy. Especially since opposing value loaded words are associated with each way (e.g. mature and immature).

    My intent is to bring up the possibility of alternatives and to remove some of the judgment that could arise if someone decides, that for their sake, they follow an immature route. I’m guessing I have been a college freshman more recently than you have. It was less than a decade ago and still pretty fresh. I am also a current grad student so I’m around that scene. Being 18 and someplace new is hard without the expectation that I need to be the happy smiling face of atheism/feminism/girl mathemeticians/(insert marginalized characteristic here).

    I defend putting up defenses not because that is my current action, but because sometimes it is the best action, and each situation must be analyzed individually.

    It is great to be able to feel safe enough to be an activist to the point where friendships are outreach. That is a luxury. In terms of atheism it has not been a problem for me, but it has with other issues. Mental health and happiness should be the important attributes in finding friends. NOT outreach.

    That is a tremendous burden that various groups have suggested their members take on. As I said before: self preservation comes first.

    I think that it is important to state that explicitly to young people. College is an age where one is trying to figure out how to be an adult, and who they are as an adult. Mature/immature value judgments can feel extra harsh or prescriptive at that age.

  • Tizzle

    I’ve had Pastafarian, Atheist, and right now it says “none”. Which is atheist, yet not. I don’t care, but like to switch it up. I’m gonna put dudeist on there, cause why not.

    I keep part of my profile public (I’d like future employers to see the good things). When I am about to search for a job, I’ll take some things off. I also never put anything up there I wouldn’t want my mother to see, since she is my friend on there (such as I’m so hungover).

    Thanks, Richard, for your lovely words about friendship building. I enjoyed them.

  • Richard Wade

    Lauren,
    I am taking your words to heart. You have made an important point. Young people are, well, young. Their inexperience can make every new venture very intimidating. I can’t really blame them for wanting some safety and ease in their search for friends. Life’s tough enough when you have do everything the first time and pretend that you know what you’re doing.

    Expecting them to have the social confidence that 60 years has granted me is unfair. Hopefully, when they’re more seasoned they can enjoy the ability to build friendships from unlikely sources that I described.

    In the future, in a similar situation I will use less tough and judgmental terms when I’m talking about something that is… unwise, or has its drawbacks. I will be more descriptive and less chiding. I’ll recommend what I think is a better way, rather than condemn what is (ahem) “the other way.” ;)

    Thank you Lauren, for being the friend who disagrees with me and so helps me to grow.

    I still think that Kelly’s way of making friends works for Kelly, and mentioning atheism on his/her Facebook interferes with that. For other people with different needs and strengths, the blanket public “outing” may be the way to go, or many other options. Just please be careful. Think it out.

  • http://shadowgm.diaryland.com Bob

    I have my religion listed as ‘Jedi’ and my politics as ‘Sith.’

    The only time where someone has disparaged the faith I was raised as (Catholic/Christian), it was in a discussion where the subject of evolution came up, and the old ‘you-can’t-be-Christian-and-believe-in-evolution’ line got thrown in my face.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    It is so easy for me to be out that I often forget how tricky it can be for others. (I am retired, my only family are my daughter and grandson the toughest part of which is remembering to treat my daughter as an adult now that she’s grown and I live in upstate New York.)

    I see both sides of this argument. I have Atheist not anti-theist both because I’ve been out Atheist before there was social pressure for Atheists to be out, defiantly so and because I don’t take that to mean I can’t like and respect theists of whatever ilk and I want to convey that message also. I utterly believe that belief isn’t a choice. Yeah, it may change as one actually thinks about it but one cannot help if something sounds credible or doesn’t and if they’re open to thinking about it or not, for that matter. They are who they are. So my believing friends believe I’m mistaken and I believe they are and we agree to disagree on who is. In other words, we respect each other’s right to be who we are and recognize that we are friends because we also respect who that person is as a person even if we don’t so much respect what they’re wrong about.

    And I’ll second Richard in saying that variety is the spice of life. I have a mix of friends in the real world and it started that way on FB. I’m up to 360-some friends and because I identify as Atheist, they have become overwhelmingly Atheist but I still retain the believing ones. Occassionally even make another one. I wouldn’t have it any other way because, like Richard, it gets boring if all the people around me are just like me. I value the ones who are and who understand and get me that completely but I also value the ones that challenge my mind and my views and make me think. Hell, I don’t drink or smoke so I have a lot of people who differ from me in other ways than just religion. (And I just made some theist friends inwardly shudder by using the phrase just religion.)

    However, admit that it is not easy for everyone to be out and open as I am. I never used to hesitate. When I moved from NY to CO some 24 years ago, it never even occurred to me to be secretive about not believing in god. When I ran into hositility from a lot of people for not doing so in conservative Colorado, it shocked me but I felt no need to go into the closet because I felt as others here have voiced — I wanted nothing to do with those who would hate me for it. True enough.

    However, I didn’t have any need to for survival. I had no religious family I had to fear being shunned by. I worked for the State and had job security. Even though I ran into a boss eventually who had obvious problems with it; she tried to make me remove a button reading “thank God, I’m Atheist” from my coat lapel using the excuse that the State couldn’t make religious statements either way; I laughed in her face and told her I don’t think you’ll be able to make a case out of that given that it’s hanging in the coat closet out of view of the public, unlike some people’s cross necklaces. Sure she hated me but she couldn’t do a damned thing about it.

    Not so in private employment. I recognize that others do not have that luxury and I have had problems with bigots even in civil service in both CO and NY. So I can understand why some who have to earn a living may not want their employer and coworkers knowing they are unbelievers. Hell, I was very active in the Denver chapter of FFRF my last year in Denver (when I found out of their existence through a news story, wish there had been signs advertising it before then) and many members, particularly the most active, were retirees who no longer had to worry about their careers.

    The letter writer is in a situation that makes Richard’s advise very sound. And his friend building is sound advice over all. Sometimes, saying I’m Atheist first thing can come off like I think you’re stupid if you’re not. Yeah, I put it on my status and I wear Atheist t-shirts and, in the rain, a ball cap that says out Atheist but when meeting people I don’t say I’m Atheist, what are you? We introduce ourselves or are introduced by a third party and chat about whatever and get to know each other. I’m fine with having theist friends of any stripe but I’d be put off if someone said to me, I’m Christian/Muslim/Wiccan/Jewish/whatever and you? I’d reply honestly but I’d be a bit wary of them thinking what was their motive in announcing this, does it matter so much to them? So why should we expect non-Atheists to not react likewise if the first thing we say to them is I’m Atheist?

    The letter writer is entering a Catholic college for its educational opportunities. She doesn’t know if they will be bigoted or not. She’s wise to just remove it from her status or customize who can view it until she knows whether or not they’re broad-minded enough to accept her as she is. She’s entering a religious environment and it seems only prudent.

    There’s also a difference between be prudent and being ashamed.

  • http://www.thereligionvirus.com Craig A. James

    Dear Kelly,

    My daughter is an atheist and attended the University of San Diego. USD is a Catholic university (perhaps it’s the one you’ll be attending).

    It was no problem at all. Many or most of the students weren’t there because it was Catholic, they were there because it’s one of the best universities on the west coast. Those students who were Catholic were mostly that in name — they didn’t attend mass regularly. There were other atheists and a number of Muslims (who attended for the same reasons as everyone else, because it’s a good school).

    When it came time for her required religion class, the teacher was very understanding and accomodated her beliefs on the topic for her term paper.

    I don’t think you should worry about your atheism, nor should you hide it. Unless you’re attending a Southern Baptist college, it probably won’t make much difference at all to your fellow students.

    Craig James
    author, The Religion Virus

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Richard,

    I understand what those who are disagreeing with me are saying. I’m talking about how it can quietly grow to an extreme. I’ve seen it. Eventually people are shooing away ahead of time all potential friends who don’t see everything exactly as they do, and they have a collection of clones of themselves. They can sit around nodding at each other in endless and tedious perfect agreement. To me, that sounds as insular and boring as families who refuse to socialize in any way with anyone who isn’t a member of their local church.

    How do you get to that extreme situation from Kelly being honest on Facebook? Being open about your beliefs does not mean that you are somehow more inclined to reject people who aren’t just like you. No one here has mentioned isolating yourself and only associating with fellow atheists. Refusing to hide who you are is not the same thing as “shooing away” potential friends.

    Please consider that people have the ability to change their minds as they get to know you. Once prejudiced is not necessarily always prejudiced. It’s not about being phony or ashamed of things, it’s about acknowledging that your friends are human beings with flaws and weak spots, but also acknowledging that with patient nurturing, they can grow and so can you.

    So we’re supposed to stifle ourselves so we can do outreach with those who are prejudiced? I’m fine if someone wants to do that, but it sounds like it would be exhausting. Like Lauren said, my entire life is not about outreach. I do my best to be a polite, cheerful, kind person, and if people can’t see my good qualities and can only focus on our differences, that’s their loss.

    Sexual orientation and political beliefs can also get people shunned. Richard, would you tell a gay student that he had to remove all traces of his sexuality from Facebook? Or a liberal student that she should delete any mention of her political party? Would you tell college freshmen to remove bumper stickers or emblems from their cars so that people won’t prejudge them? If not, why is mentioning atheism on Facebook different?

    The idea of wooing a friendship seems to be a lost art. Nobody seems to know what I’m talking about. Friendships shouldn’t be about seeking maximum similarity. They should be about rapport, understanding, respect and acceptance.

    No one said otherwise. I have friends who have different beliefs, too, and we all get along great. But I made those friends without hiding who I am. In college, I didn’t try to prevent potential friends from seeing the bumper stickers on my car. I gave them the URL to my web page if they asked. Both those things revealed my religious and political beliefs in much greater detail than a simple Facebook profile. My beliefs were important to me, and they still are. If someone was so bigoted that they couldn’t deal with the fact that we had differing views, that person isn’t someone I wanted to placate by hiding who I am just to woo (or trick) them into being my friend.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Anna (a different Anna),

    As for the Catholic college, I agree with what others have said. I worked at a Jesuit college for 9 years and no one seemed to mind my religious views. I had co-workers who were agnostic, humanist, and “still-seraching”. At that college students had to take 3 religion courses but it was a very liberal and open environment in which students could question anything. But it really depends on how liberal or conservative the Catholic college is, Jesuit colleges tend to be the most liberal.

    Mine wasn’t Jesuit, but it was extremely liberal. I had at least one atheist professor, but I bet there were more, since religion didn’t come up in most courses. I had several nuns for professors and one Episcopalian (former Jesuit) priest. I’m sure Catholic universities vary as much as any other type, but just because a college is religious doesn’t mean that it’s a hotbed of intolerance. I would imagine that sort of thing has more to do with location than religious affiliation. If Kelly is going to school in the Bible Belt, perhaps I would advise her to be cautious. I went to school near San Francisco, so there really wasn’t much in the way of religious intolerance (or any other type of prejudice) to deal with.

    Gwen,

    You need to listen to CFIs Dr Ron Lindsey’s recent interview on Point of Inquiry. When he attended GWU, he was taught a new testament class by an ATHEIST nun!!

    I’m not sure if we had any atheist nuns at my school, but they all seemed quite liberal. It’s interesting that attending a Catholic college really helped break down a lot of the stereotypes I had of religious believers. I went into it not knowing what to expect, and I actually came away with positive impressions of most of the people I encountered. My very first class on the very first day was taught by a nun. I had never spoken to a nun (or any other clergy) before, and I was scared of her at first, but she was so sweet and made all of us incoming freshmen feel very comfortable.

    Thinking back, I didn’t really have any negative experiences at college. There was only one instance in four years where I felt that the professor (not even a full-time professor) had a slight prejudice against atheism. But I didn’t have any trouble with any of the students or any of the other professors, and I was never the type of person to hide my beliefs. I’m very quiet, but I will speak up if you ask me my opinions, and I never had qualms about mentioning my atheism in a paper or in class, or if it happened to come up in conversation.

  • Moky

    I go to a Catholic university and I don’t hide my atheism at all. I found that I somehow attract Atheists, you’ll probably find like minded people yourself. If you don’t, the chance of them really caring is small.


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