Two years ago, Brigit Clarke-Smith began a group called Atheists Anonymous at the La Costa Glen retirement community in Carlsbad, California. It’s not exactly “anonymous” — many of the members are very open about their atheism — but the name suggests that atheists may be better off keeping their beliefs to themselves.
We don’t ever talk much about elderly atheists in our movement (outside of the topic of death itself), but it turns out life in this retirement community is no more pleasant for atheists than it is pretty much everywhere else:
“I’ve been called anti-Christ, I have been called a Jew lover, and one day I was standing in our mail room, and two ladies were looking at a poster that said ‘Brigit Clarke-Smith, Questions? Call Me,’” Clarke-Smith said. “And one of them said, ‘you see this woman’s name? She’s a sinner, she’s going to Hell, and she’s going to burn forever.’”
Eliane Pepper, another La Costa Glenner, was raised as an atheist. She said she sees far less acceptance of atheists among her generation.
“I think that with the younger group, 20s, 30s, it is highly acceptable, nobody really cares if you’re Catholic or atheist, a Jew, whatever,” she said. “It’s never talked about. I think it’s us, the older generation, that continue to label it.”
Hats off to Claire Trageser at KPBS for the fantastic report.