Atheists in Mississippi Talk About What Makes Them Tick

What’s it like to be an atheist in Mississippi? Jesse Robinson rode along with members of the Freethinkers, Agnostics and Atheists club of Mississippi State University as they drove down to my talk in Alabama over the weekend and discovered what made them so active:

For Chris Ramos, MSU physics graduate student, atheism came as a consequence of science and moving to Mississippi.

“It wasn’t until I came to Mississippi that I started thinking about questioning religion and thinking about the arguments against it,” he said. “I was forced because I had placed myself in a culture where everyone took the religious standpoint for granted because that’s what they were born into, and I was forced to defend my non-religious standpoint.”

Even the Reason Rally saw a wide variety of atheists, some angry at the growing perception of religion in government affairs, others happy with simply being able to freely admit to their non-belief. In fact, on the Reason Rally’s website, one of the stated goals of the rally was “to encourage attendees (and those who can’t make it) to come out of the closet as secular Americans, or supporters of secular equality.”

“There are some people who have to keep their atheism from their families,” Dees said. “They’re afraid of losing their friends or destroying relationships with their families, and that is a possibility for some.”

If you’re looking for an atheist group in the South, there’s a nice list of groups at sauceforall.com.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Probably shouldn’t use the words Mississippi and Tick in the same sentence.

  • ConureDelSol

    The list doesn’t have any groups for Virginia.  :(

    • Gordon

      Sauce hasn’t quite stretched that far yet. I assure you though, there are groups. I know at the least a number of the universities in the state have secular groups.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Nor South Carolina.
      At least Virginia has the heritage of Jefferson and Madison to call upon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tiffany-Jade-Brown/640358790 Tiffany Jade Brown

    Being an atheist in Mississippi is definitely not an easy task. I’ve lived here my entire life and was raised in the household of an incredibly conservative Christian mother. Until I was about fifteen or sixteen, I followed her footsteps. What allowed me to question what I’d been taught was the fact that I attended the Mississippi School for Math and Science, which I would argue is the most liberal education spot in the state. I was thrown into a world where not everyone believed in the same god, or even god at all. And I would say that at least a quarter of our student population identified as LGBT.

    Now, I happily define myself as an atheist (and bisexual). My husband and I currently attend a Christian university (funny, I know) but in a year, we’ll be able to move onto USM, where they actually have a secular group on campus.

    There have been times I’ve regretted coming out as an atheist. Like, when I was told by a previously close cousin that I was selfish and tearing our family apart. Or when a couple of members of my husband’s family took it upon themselves to publicly bash me on Facebook. But ultimately, I’m glad to know that there are others like me in this state.

    • Abbeyrolled

      As an atheist living in Hattiesburg, let me be the first to welcome you to our fine town!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tiffany-Jade-Brown/640358790 Tiffany Jade Brown

     I should also add that a year or so after I came out as an atheist, my once conservative mother came out as agnostic :) She’s also a flaming liberal (like me) and  is a hardcore LGBT advocate.

  • Buffalodavid

    I’ve lived in the American South, so I can vouch that it is hard to brand yourself as an atheist there. Since then I’ve lived in NYC and LA. Now I live in Southern Utah. It is hard to be an atheist here, but not impossible. I work under the theory of , “Never broadcast, but never deny.”

    It also help that I’m a Unitarian.  Most of us are already atheist, or at least freethinkers in the old tradition. There’s a few Pagans if you look around, but most are like me,  people who think that religion has outlived its usefulness, but the idea of a church still holds some validity.

    In the spirit of full dis-closer, I should point out that the nearest Unitarian  church is about 90 miles away, and I haven’t attended a service in over a decade. So maybe the idea doesn’t hold THAT much personal validity.

  • Nude0007

    I, too am from Hattiesburg. I am still hiding my atheism from my family, quite sure it will mean disowning at least. They can’t possibly understand. They are fairly fundamentalist. My mom is 80, and it would hit her hardest. When she passes, I will probably be fine with declaring. Trouble is women in our family live a LONG time lol. I am out minimally at work, those close to me know, and I almost never fail to stand up for my position, but even at work it  could be risky, as my ultimate boss and come to think of it every boss right down to me is VERY religious, but the one right over me is very tolerant as well. Still, it would not be unthinkable to be fired for my lack of belief. They can always claim it is for another reason, too. Still, we are making a lot of progress. There is a Secular Student Association at USM (50 members),  a gulf coast atheist group(not sure about numbers), and a Mississippi atheist group in Jackson (200 or so members). This being a college town makes a lot of people more tolerant, but when they are not, they are very fundie anti-atheist. Two guys I work closely with are christian and know I am atheist and they are pretty cool about it. Not even a negative word unless you count a serious misunderstanding of a lot of atheist positions.
    Sorry, not wordsmithing well today. Hope I am not too unclear.


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