Do You Get Positive Reactions When Wearing Atheist Shirts in Public?

Bruce Gleason of the Backyard Skeptics has found that when he wears atheist-themed shirts in public, far from what we might expect, he gets far more positive reactions than negatives ones:

The next test was in the airport going to Chicago for work at a swing dance convention… No comments at LAX, but in Chicago coming back, one traveler, a professional trombone player, said ‘nice shirt’. We struck up a pleasant conversation that passed the time as we waited for our delayed flight to leave. And while boarding in the jetway, a suited man turned around and said “nice shirt — you must get a lot of flak for that!” I responded that just the opposite happens, that I receive nearly all positive comments…

When I first became an advocate of atheism 7 years ago, I was worried of what people would think of such a bold statement of ‘non-faith’… Now I know that the result of wearing such an outted symbol not only lets others know that is OK to sport such a shirt (no stab wounds yet) but that atheism is becoming more accepted in our culture, and that discussion and discourse is more open than even on the subject.

I’ve heard too many stories of cars with Darwin Fish decals on them getting vandalized to believe this theory, but has anyone else had similar experiences?

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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulparkinson Paul Parkinson

    I get very positive responses to my Cosmic Jewish Zombie t-shirt.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150473337062604&set=t.608967329&type=3&theater

    I suspect the cowards who do the car vandalism just aren’t brave enough or sure enough of their religiosity to do it face to face.

    • Geoff Boulton

      I certainly agree on the cowardice aspect of car vandalism. I very rarely get negative comments to my face about my atheism, although I make no secret of it, and when I do get this type of comment it is usually something muttered under the breath before the ‘offended’ party scuttles quickly away. It is a pity though that some of those who make positive comments do so ‘in private’ and feel unable to show their support more openly.

  • http://twitter.com/Mowgli3 Sarah Moglia

    I wear a hoodie that says “Do every duty and expect no reward, here or thereafter” (http://society6.com/srahhh/My-Whole-Religion-Is-This_Hoody#7=95&19=144&8=36), and I get a lot of positive comments.

    I’m currently in the hospital and my laptop has stickers from the SSA on it (“I’m an atheist, ask away!” and the Secular Student Alliance logo, and almost every nurse/aid/etc. that has come into my room has asked about it (positively!) or made a positive comment (“I see you’re a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well!”). It’s been pretty cool.

    • starskeptic

      Love that hoodie – but the sentiment is not explicitly a non-theistic one. I can see a lot of religious people agreeing with it.

    • PhysicsPhDStu

      It almost sounds like a quote from the gita :P ,http://www.eaglespace.com/spirit/geetamantra.php

  • Johnathan Keller

    Wear it in my area in the Southestern Ohio Appalachian foothills and I think you would get opposite reactions. Last summer at a small family gathering I wore my Reason Rally tee shirt. After detailing the rally to my sister-in-law and her friend, my sister-in-law said in a stern and angry voice “What the heck is the matter with you? You were raised a Catholic.” Her friend who was wearing a cross on a chain around her neck on the outside of her blouse quickly hid it inside her blouse upon hearing me state that I was an atheist.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Should have told your sister’s friend that vampires can’t abide a cross, not atheists, so she should whip out her tiny torture replica if she’s proud of her faith.

  • Dorothy

    i think it’s probably because most strangers who disagree with the shirt keep their mouths shut. I do the same when i see people wearing overtly religious shirts – how many of us really want to start a scene in public?
    i have a God Delusion tshirt, and it gets very little reaction at all. But the people who do react are always positive.

    • Librepensadora

      Where did you get a God Delusion t-shirt? I would so love to have one, too.

      • Bruce

        I got my God Delusion t-shirt from RichardDawkins dot net, which is his RD Foundation for Reason and Science, and also has a store with books and shirts and such. My God Delusion short is a very soft gray, with white text quoting where he notes that the god of the old testament is the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. It’s great.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Hall/683151978 John Hall

    I think it primarily depends on where you are at for the responses you get. From outright physical assault to car vandalism to “nice shirt”, most likely the more south you go, the more danger you put yourself in.

    • Octoberfurst

      I agree! I live in the Northeast and most people have a live and let live attitude when it comes to either being religious or non-religious. But I have also lived in South Carolina and they take their religion VERY seriously down there. To them wearing a t-shirt that insults God is almost like wearing one that insults their mother. So it very much depends on what part of the country you are in.

  • Keith Royster

    I’ve gotten positive comments on my dino-human coexistence tshirt from Teach the Controversy (https://controversy.wearscience.com/design/coexistence/) on 4 occasions, and none negative. I also have had a Darwin fish on my car bumper for about 20 years here in the Charlotte, NC area, and received one positive comment, seen a few smiles in the rear view mirror, but never been vandalized or received a negative comment.

  • SeekerLancer

    I think the reason for this is that people are more apt to say positive things to your face. People, as big as they may talk, don’t usually seek conflict and aren’t going to come out and challenge you directly, in person, most of the time. Someone who thinks your shirt is cool though has no reason not to compliment you.

    The Darwin fishes or atheist billboards on the other hand won’t argue back. They can vandalize your message with impunity. There’s no conflict to avoid. This doesn’t mean that there’s less Christians or that atheists are more excepted, it means that the Christians are too cowardly to bitch at you. They might however go home and complain on the Internet about you.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    It’s been mixed for me. While most religious believers won’t comment to my face about an atheist themed shirt, I do get dirty looks. There is still the fear that some religious believer might get violent and I am not a big guy. But I have also received a fair amount of “nice shirt” or “I like your bumper sticker.” What I really like to do is to wear shirts that are more subtle. I got this great shirt from Cult of Dusty that just says “Logic” on it. I rarely wear my “Impeach Jesus” shirt unless I will be with a number of other atheists.

  • Chris McLaughlin

    I lead a small but dedicated group of Atheists in the Detroit area. We call ourselves Grassroots Atheism [http://www.meetup.com/GrassrootsAtheism/] and we make it our business to go out in public during the warmer months and interact with the public as atheists. Our mission is to introduce ourselves to people so that they may know who atheists are and what we think. We do this every weekend, and we’ve been doing this for five years now. In the past couple of years we have started tabling and marching in parades at special events.

    The response we receive could be described as overwhelmingly positive. Some people will argue theology with us. Sometimes discussions get heated. Some people will sometimes yell at us over their shoulders as they walk past. But for the most part people are respectful and many are highly supportive. No one has been assaulted. I’ve had people push money into my hand, and every week other atheists that happen to see us want to take their picture with us.

    I could write on and on about how we have been received by various people. The bottom line is that the volunteers who do this work tell the same same story: they come back to do this week after week because they feel that they are making a positive contribution to how non-atheists view atheists, and they are reaching atheists who thought that they were alone.

    I would encourage my fellow atheists to have courage and freely express themselves as atheists. You may find that it is far more fulfilling, and the response far more positive than you fear.

  • Bruce Banner

    I have an cap that reads simply, “ATHEIST”. I get varying responses. I had one man in a supermarket try and get into it with me (very funny outcome) and have had a few religious dipshits try and tell me how I was going to burn, but for the most part I get no reaction.

    I also have a “Christian Zombie Savior Day” t shirt I wear on Easter. Yes, I get some nasty responses to it, to which I always respond with, “what factually is incorrect about the statement on the shirt”. That shuts them up but makes them very very angry…..

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      Has anyone ever pointed out that Jesus was a lich, not a zombie?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        He had a phylactery? He must not have protected it very well, since he only came back the once … the best liches just keep coming back over and over and over again.

        There are intelligent zombie variations, after all :)

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          The most obvious candidate for the phylactery seems the Holy Grail. There might be a more subtle possibility.

  • http://twitter.com/CopyEditGirl Sarah Nessel

    I have a bumper sticker that says “Not Fallen From Grace — Risen to Reason,” along with a Darwin fish, on my car. No vandalism in the 2+ years I’ve had them. I also wear overtly atheist T-shirts on a regular basis (usually to fitness classes or when running errands). The only reaction I get is an occasional thumbs-up and a “love your T-shirt!”

    As a side note, I write a weekly newspaper column in which I occasionally take aim at the absurdities of religion’s influence in my part of the country, and I get amazing amounts of positive email. Again and again, people tell me they agree with me but are afraid to “come out.” Judging by all those emails, you’d think virtually everyone in my area is a closeted atheist.

    I live in Kansas.

  • Ben Dreidel

    Yes. I’ve also received more positive comments about my atheism shirts than negative ones. A few dirty looks maybe…

  • Tobias27

    After reading all of the comments here, i think it is important that we all start wearing such shirts. It seems that we can encourage others to think and act more openly without much terribly negative reaction. Of course, the subtlety of the message should match the willingness of the wearer to engage in somewhat confrontational dialogue, but i think we could all find something suitable for each of us. I like the “I’m an atheist, ask away.” idea. My personal favorite is my own, “There is no god. Get over it.”, but that’s just me.

  • starskeptic

    I’d like more t-shirts to be made with the ‘payload’ printed on the back.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Those don’t work very well when the seat-back of your wheelchair covers it up.

      • starskeptic

        ‘More’ doesn’t mean ‘all’

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          You take things too literally.

          • starskeptic

            Somebody did – wasn’t me.

      • Anonymous Atheist

        Or a jacket/coat, or long hair, or a backpack, etc… I’ve always found those shirts with the content on the back to be impractical too.
        In some categories of shirts, it’s often hard to find ones that *don’t* have the art/message on the back.

  • Joules

    I live in Houston and rarely get negative responses to my omnipresent atheist necklace and sporadic atheist clothing. Why? Because no one knows what it means. I’ve gotten a few questions from people about the necklace only to find myself, one more than one occasion, having to tell someone the definition of “atheist”. People that recognize the gear recognize it for the same reason I wear it and they’re just happy that we all exist.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I have a “We’re All African” t-shirt that doesn’t get a lot of reaction but I honestly think most people just have no idea what it means. They hardly ever ask, either. I also had one custom made that just says “Ezekiel 23:20″ on it. I thought that Christians would think it was something really profound and constantly ask me what the verse is and their reactions would be priceless but again, hardly anyone ever asks. They probably think I’m going to start talking to them about Jesus. Nothing makes moderate Christians more uncomfortable than Jesus. It would probably work better in the bible belt than New England.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      The Ezekiel quote is the porn, right?

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty
  • http://twitter.com/JudgeGermaine Germainicorn

    A man once ran me off the road to tell me that we can’t coexist without the enemy trying to kill us, in response to my coexist bumper sticker.

  • MNb

    “has anyone else had similar experiences?”
    Well, I have never worn such a T-shirt. I think it’s pointless because I can’t keep my mouth shut anyway. I never have had a negative experience; only one slightly annoying one. When one colleague found out she began to give me blessings for the weekend every Friday. I thought it quite stupid, but hey, stupidity is not forbidden fortunately.
    But I’m an atheist Dutchman living in Suriname, so things are different and easier for me.

  • http://www.everydayintheparkwithgeorge.com/ Matt Eggler

    Here in Seattle no one has ever commented when I wear atheist t-shirts but I have noticed a lot of startled, shocked and uncomfortable looks on people’s faces when they read them.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m struggling with how ‘out’ to be locally. We’ve had mixed reactions in our community, and although I’m happy to face any negative repercussions, I’m hesitant to inflict my activism on my family. They’re also atheists, but so ‘strident’ about it.

    I do have a shirt that has “One Nation” and then lists religious affiliations per Pew Forum and then “Indivisible”. It’s too much text for people to really get the meaning I think. I’ve had a few reactions that start out as negative, but turn into good discussions, although they’ve been with people willing to take the time to read it in the first place.

    And I have a red A pin, but people are just relieved to find out that it doesn’t mean I’m an adulterer.

  • Bdole

    Best bumper sticker seen recently:

    “Zeus is god

    Read the Iliad”

    as opposed to the ones I usually see in LA:

    Jesus es Dios, Lea la Biblia

    Jesus is God, Read the Bible

    • Bob Becker

      I’m partial to one I saw in Los Alamos, NM, some years ago: “What would Ra do ?”

  • Reasonist Products

    I agree with Backyard Skeptics. Our fans who wear our tees have reported a few odd looks but mostly positive reactions when sporting them in public. I guess it depends on how pugnacious ones t-shirt makes them appear. Some of our tees are more hard-hitting than others. We give the outspoken atheists a chance to be loud and proud and offer others shirts for those who want to express their message in a subtle, humorous way. I suppose location also has a great deal to do with it. I probably see less backlash wearing our atheist tees in California than someone wearing it in the heart of the Bible Belt.

  • Randomfactor

    I’m kinda careful where I wear my a-shirts, although the verbal comments are mostly positive. Those that aren’t tend to be somewhat confused, although that may be my penchant for somewhat obscure and ambiguous ones. I have a shirt depicting the squid from “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” pulling down Noah’s ark, which prompted a nice Christian lady to say how the kids in her Bible Study class would like it. One shrugged off my shirt reading “I haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, but I did accept his friend request” by saying “that’s a Facebook shirt, right?”

    Here in Bible Belt West, I don’t tend to wear a-shirts if I’m just going out for breakfast.

  • Reasonist Products

    One more thing….I have found that those who disagree with the message plastered across my chest generally don’t open their mouths. A harsh look is as far as it has gotten. Occasionally, someone will want to engage in a conversation about the t-shirt. I consider that a success. The shirt has acted as a catalyst for opening public discourse in a civil manner.

  • A3Kr0n

    People liked my Project Steve shirt, and also my Evil Little Thing sweatshirt. Hemant even said “nice shirt” when he saw it during lunch at the FreeThought Fest in Madison WI last year.

  • Esquared

    I have 3 bumper stickers on my car. One says, “I believe in life before death”, one says, “Don’t believe everything you think” and my favorite says, “Born okay the first time”. My husband warned me that I would probably get my car “keyed” but just the opposite happened. Two times I’ve had stickie notes left saying, “Love your bumper stickers” and once I had the person behind me get out their car at a stop light to come to my window and tell me how much they loved my stickers. Just a couple of weeks ago, the car behind me beeped their horn and gave me “two thumbs up”. Not once have I had a negative reaction. I’ve had these on my car for 5 years.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      But what state do you live in?

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      I used to have that “I believe in life before death” sticker, too! Never got any comments, though.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I don’t own any atheist t-shirts but I plan on buying a couple for the summer months but being I live in Maine I doubt I will get any negative reactions. I don’t have anything on my vehicle as I use it for company business but I see coexist bumper stickers and Darwin fish all the time on vehicles.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I think I’d get overall positive results (I don’t own any a-shirts, though I want some), but my husband’s extended family would feel very uncomfortable. They were OK with me as Jewish, but most of them aren’t aware that I’m an atheist now. It would be … awkward. It might be cowardly, but I just don’t feel like dealing with it. They wouldn’t be outwardly mean or exclusionary or anything, but you can feel that kind of atmosphere. And I’d get a “talking to” about the children, which I don’t want to have because my responses might lead to serious ruptures. I mean, it’s disrespectful to tell kids their parents are wrong about God, right? *rollseyes*

  • Kevin

    On my last car I had an FSM fish and this bumper sticker: http://pinterest.com/pin/321303754635037529/

    I live in North Dakota and had a positive once while driving, but most of the time I could see people in my rear view mirror straining to read it and then making disgruntled faces. After having them for about 2 years my FSM fish was stolen, though I don’t know if it was out of jealousy or disdain.

    • starskeptic

      …or pirate-y reverence…

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      I had my Darwin fish stolen once, but that seems to have been an isolated incident. I’ve since swapped out the Darwin fish for an FSM, and no one has commented except for one woman at a stoplight who asked me what it meant. Unfortunately, the situation didn’t lend itself to much of a conversation!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Klaers/1074087436 Rob Klaers

    I had a Darwin fish on my car for years. Not once was it taken off or my car vandalized.

    I do recall once having parked it outside of a friend’s apartment that another of his friends stopped by and asked who had the Darwin fish on their car. I said I did and he gave me a high five. :)

  • Guy King

    I’ve been wearing very in-your-face atheist shirts and jackets for about 7 years. I’m in the very religious Okanagan and I get far more positive comments than negative, about 40 to 1. I rarely get challenged by believers.
    I have a collection of different shirts. The only one that Christians sometimes remark on is the one that says in bold letters “There’s No Evidence for God” as they quickly walk, and sometimes, run away saying ” just look around you. Who do you think created all this?” I wish more would actually engage in conversation, but they probably think I’m demon possessed.

  • Guy King

    I have a very large Darwin fish on the back of my truck. Never had a problem and several compliments.

  • JP

    Closest thing I have to an atheism related t-shirt is one that says “I’m doing Gods work, because that lazy bastard never does it”. People either laugh at it, or say nothing at all.

  • Sun

    I’d like to try this experiment myself. I have had my Darwin fish ripped off my car (and damanged, so the person who did this didn’t just want the fish) twice. Both times, the car was parked on my driveway. No neighbour has ever said anything about it to me, though. I wonder if people are less likely to show their opposition to atheism in person — vandalising a car is far less confrontational.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    *chuckle* I’ve gone out openly sporting a pentacle and heard: “Oh, are you Jewish?” Then again, living in a place like Bellingham… it’s about what I’d expect. We’re pretty laid back, here. (With the exception of a handful of obnoxious preachers, but every community has at least one.)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i don’t have any atheist clothes or jewelry. not that i have a problem with them, i’ve just never had the urge to buy any. i don’t think it would be a problem to wear such in chicago, but i’m living in tx now and i wonder what the reaction from my neighbors would be; people are very religious here.

  • Tainda

    People generally won’t say anything to my face when I wear a shirt or hoodie.

    I do have a few people that have commented on my facebook cover pictures though. I live in Missouri so most people on my friends list are pretty hardcore thumpers.

    I have one “friend” who will say “Sister Lisa you need to read this” and it will be something from the bible or something to do with it. Funny thing is, I don’t even remember her from high school rofl I have since blocked most of her posts

  • PorthosJon

    I was wearing my “not ashamed to be related to a monkey” shirt and had a concierge at a high end department store stop me and tell me what a great shirt that was. He then gave me a voucher for a free lunch on their dining floor. Said it’s good to help out like minded people. Never had a negative reaction to that shirt yet (or any of my few others either)

  • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

    I just got a shirt from my local atheist group and wore it for the first time. I was a little nervous, but it went well. Nobody gave me any crap, and at least two store clerks were very friendly–no telling if that was normal for them or not. *shrug*

  • http://twitter.com/rlrose328 Kerri Russ

    deleted

  • Reasonist Products

    That is exactly what we are about over at http://www.reasonistproducts.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/waguzman Will Guzmán

    I wore this shirt on my motorcycle and it almost got me ran off the road at Liberty University.
    http://i20.photobucket.com/albums/b218/grindtech/Shirts/img119.jpg

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    I’m not really much for making statements with clothing, but I have worn a Darwin fish shirt and an “In God We Trust” shirt with “God” replaced by the word “U.S.” and I never got any reactions, either positive or negative. I was scowled at once by an old man, but I really don’t know if it was because of my shirt or if he was just having a bad day.


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