Julian Baggini, writing for the Financial Times, has a fascinating article on how hard atheists have it in certain parts of the country. Besides being unable to go public about their beliefs out of fear of losing their job or their relationships with family members, running for public office and finding a counselor when you’re in the military is also (essentially) out of the question.
I know, I know, you’ve heard all of this before. But a lot of people may not have and this article needs to come to their attention.
A couple of highlights:
The most extraordinary story I heard was from a woman in Tuscaloosa county, Alabama. She grew up in nearby Lamar county, raised in the strict Church of Christ, where there is no music with worship and you can’t dance. She says her family love her and are proud of her, but “I’m not allowed to be an atheist in Lamar County”. What is astonishing is that she can be pretty much anything else. “Being on crack, that was OK. As long as I believed in God, I was OK.” So, for example, “I’m not allowed to babysit. I have all these cousins who need babysitters but they’re afraid I’ll teach them about evolution, and I probably would.” I couldn’t quite believe this. She couldn’t babysit as an atheist, but she could when she was on crack? “Yes.” I laughed, but it is hard to think of anything less funny.
A report from the Pew Research Center last November showed that 53 per cent of Americans say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. That is one reason why many are afraid of coming out, to the extent that both American Atheists and the American Humanist Association (AHA) will, on request, send mailings to members under plain covers. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA, says that even some of the committed rationalists who work in their Washington offices tell family that they work for a “humanitarian group”.
Even Playboy displays more of its cover than some atheist publications.
When I was growing up, I was the only atheist I knew. I had to get on my bike, ride to the public library and take out the one atheist book that they had in the whole library: The Case Against God by George Smith. Now any atheist can go on Facebook or Myspace and find literally millions of friends.”
That’s how much has changed in a decade. Even when I was in high school, the best resources for atheism I could find were shady AOL chatrooms or simplistic websites with more dry facts about atheism than interesting opinions.
Between books, the blogosphere, advertising campaigns, and the proliferation of local/campus atheist groups, it’s much harder to *not* find information about living without religion. Opinions criticizing Christianity are all over the place, even if they’re not always visible to the general public. The way to keep this momentum going is by encouraging others (and ourselves) to come out of the atheist closet. When the time is right, tell the people you trust that you don’t believe in god. At best, they’ll agree with you. Ideally, at worst, it’ll just be a non-issue.
(Thanks to everyone for the link!)