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.

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.

  • observer

    “I have been called a Jew lover”


  • GodlessPoutine

    I bow down to your superior blog-post-naming techniques!

  • M. Elaine

    She thinks the word “atheist” is poison to some people and frightens them. “I just don’t want it to be poisonous. I just don’t think it’s right that it’s poisonous.”

    This. I know it would break my devout Catholic mother’s heart if I ever told her I’m the A word.

  • TerranRich

    Add an “AMIRITE???” and it’s perfect. :D

  • rlrose63

    It did break my mother’s heart when I told her… she refused to believe it.  I ended up having to tell her 3 summers in a row until she believed it.  She was in tears and asked, “Can’t you just say you’re agnostic?  Then I’ll see you in heaven!”  It is that word.

  • rlrose63

    So… the events coordinator says they are not a religious organization so they try to keep clear of religious or political groups.  So then why is Bible Study clearly shown on the calendar?  It shouldn’t matter what the name of the group is… if they are featuring a Bible Study on the calendar, then Atheist Anonymous should be on the calendar as well, even if it does upset some people.  They’ll just have to get over it.

  • The Other Weirdo

    A Jew lover… Wow, how original. So much for age bringing wisdom.

  • Anna

    “Jew lover?” Really? I’ve never been to Carlsbad, but it’s disheartening to hear of such blatant anti-Semitism anywhere in California.

  • Stev84

     And there I thought Jesus was a Jew

  • Rubbs

    If I’m half as awesome as Ms. Clarke-Smith when I’m her age, I will have won at life.

  • Tainda

    I expected a retirement community to be worse on anyone outside the “norm”.  My grandmother is so hate filled it makes my fillings hurt.  My ex-husband’s mom is a lesbian and my grandmother told my daughter when she was about 9 that “Your grandmother is going to hell”.   My daughter cried all day and now at 20 years old she is an atheist lol  

  • Loic

    Thank you for sharing this, Hemant. I am a writer for senior living communities and organizations, and will post this link on my publications with a comment about honoring diversity. (Yeah, I will probably get a bit snarky, LOL!)

  • Randomfactor

     But one of the GOOD ones.  You know, the converts.

  • Librepensadora

    I am a senior citizen, an atheist, and a resident in an apt. complex for people 60 and over.  If anyone of my neighbors knew I did not believe in their god, I would be hounded by many self-appointed evangelists to save my soul from hell.  Since I was still a Christian when I moved in here, they would undoubtedly ask why I was mad at god or exhort me to repent of my sinful and self-indulgent lifestyle.  Most of them are fundamentalists who think that the earth is 6,000 years young and that all those fascinating fictional characters like Adam, Eve, and Noah really walked the earth.  Marriage equality?  Reproductive rights?  Not in their universe!

    One perk of late-in-life enlightenment is that my parents had already died when I read “The God Delusion.”  I figured out from the way my sister says the word “atheist” that I should not tell her I am one, and the younger generation in my branch of the family are all “nones.”

    Peace, love, and Happy Solstice to you all.

  • drakvl

    I’ve seen so many instances of intolerant elderly that I’ve started mentally flagging anyone who suggests wisdom comes naturally from age. All that comes with age is experience.