When I was in high school, it took me a while to come out as an atheist to even my closest friends. That got easier over time, but I wasn’t about to announce it to the world at that age.
Walker Bristol, a student at Tufts, felt the same way. But his younger brother, a sophomore, is about to start a high school atheist group and Walker is amazed at how effortless it seems:
So when, a few weeks ago, my younger brother Dawson, now a sophomore at my alma mater, told me that he and his circle of friends felt the need for a Secular Student Alliance (SSA) chapter at their school, and had already drafted up a constitution and approached their principal with the idea, my eyebrows shot more than a little ways upwards. Students like Dawson have excised the fear of peer judgment and social exile for a belief in the importance of creating a like-minded community of secularists, like the many that exist and excel around the country already. His work is inspiring; but not yet triumphant. The next step, of encouraging his non-theist classmates, many of them closeted to their families or peers, to openly join the movement, is still to come, and will certainly be no easy task.
It’s really the beginning of a trend where atheists are coming out at a younger age — they don’t care if their beliefs offend anyone else, but they’re not being dicks about it. It’s about having an open discussion about who you are and not hiding from your peers what you might still have to hide from your family:
Walker summarizes it like this:
I don’t see the low (although certainly rising) number of secularist organizations in American high schools as a result of student immaturity or irresponsibility, but rather of the perceived anti-atheist and anti-humanist sentiment that is all too present among younger populations. At a younger age, not only are your peers more likely to treat you unjustly simply due to a part of your identity, but high schools students are far more likely to find themselves under the heel of religious parents and family members, as they predominately still live at home.
We need secular students to be willing to stand unfettered by peer exile or parental disapproval. At the high school age, it may not always be best to suddenly and forcefully reveal your lack of belief to your friends and family. Nevertheless, if secular communities become as strong in high schools as the religious communities they might find themselves at odds with, the humanistic or atheistic student will find herself a part of a meaningful fellowship, welcomed and protected in the face of unfounded bias. High school is, in the end, very short; relationships built in communities like these, however, can last for a lifetime.
If you want to help this trend continue on its upward trajectory, make a donation to the Secular Student Alliance. The SSA supports these groups better than anyone else out there and I know the high school groups are going to just explode this coming school year.
(via The New Humanism)