About 7 years ago, in West Texas, the childhood home of G.W. Bush, I realized I didn’t believe in any god. Even though I later married Aron Ra, a loud, proud and publicly known atheist, I have kept my atheism out of the public arena of ideas. Six years ago, I learned that even posting an obvious joke anonymously online about (cue the black helicopters) the Evil Atheist Conspiracy would be taken seriously by credulous people.
Atheists are not very trusted in this country, and really have public relations issues. Add to that stereotyping and atheist bashing by the Christian Right, and you can get about any ordinary person to believe that you aren’t joking about an Evil Atheist Conspiracy, no matter how ridiculously unfounded that is.
Anyways for the past six years I’ve been cautious about it out of family concerns and concerns for my job as a teacher. Public atheist teachers like Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, and Grappling Ignorance of of YouTube, have actually had their job targeted by irate Christian parents for being out. Even a small minority of irate, irrational parents can cause a teacher trouble, because the majority of satisfied parents aren’t as vocal. Add to that an un-supportive or religiously sympathetic administrator and you have a recipe for trouble. I’ve actually had a few students tell me during a mock election that their parents told them that if Obama was elected, he would implant microchips in everybody. So I know that I have a few of these types of parents every year.
Realistically, there is fear mongering used in the political arena and that has included mistrust of atheists also. The last thing you want is your co-workers, whose support you need, mistrusting or ostracizing you. So I’ve sat there silently, stunned in large teacher gatherings paid for by taxpayers as the speaker felt it was his time to talk about the importance of his god beliefs. He got applauded by most everyone there for saying he didn’t care what anyone thought he was going to say, he was going to say it. Sure, it was irrelevant to the topic of increasing test scores, but what about the Constitution? Really, I don’t want these types of displays to result in the loss of someone’s job; I would just like them to stop using their authority as a pulpit to a captive audience. However, if you put the shoe on the other foot, cue the pitchforks and torches even on the suspicion you are an atheist.
To be clear, I am not offended if a Christian worker in a personal, social interaction offers to pray for me out of genuine concern, or says something in the context of their own culture. But frankly, if you are sitting at a table, and your co-workers start bowing their heads to pray and you start eating it becomes an unintentional unmasking. Never mind the prohibitions in the Bible about praying in public. I don’t think most Christians understand that Jesus found public praying to be hypocritical.
Unfortunately, I’ve run across a few Christians, who are not well-intentioned nor innocently misguided in displaying their religious beliefs. Discussing god at work is putting their feelers out to test your beliefs. On telling one such person that my religious beliefs are private, that person kept pressing me that I could tell them. There is really no way around a persistent Christian that would resolve the matter without triggering their belief that they are being persecuted. Additionally if you are outnumbered or unsupported in the situation, you risk ostracism or harassment by complaining.
The more vocal Christians are at work the more it may as well be marking their territory whether they intend to or not. I don’t know how alone I am in this but I am at the point that I may as well be out, because remaining silent makes you a default atheist. Top that off with a few untrustworthy family members who reveal private information, and for all intents and purposes you are out everywhere it really matters to be private. Especially if you have posted something even anonymously online. I came to the realization that it didn’t matter anymore if I kept my identity private outside of atheist communities.
So if I am outed, I may as well be judged for what I have actually said rather than stereotypes, and be a public atheist. The first post I did here this summer at Aron’s blog felt like a relief after keeping silent for six years. Since then, I’ve decided this week to starting with posting my picture with my blogs and appearance on last Sunday’s “Magic Sandwich Show”.
In the past, in a video with Aron about the imagined War on Christmas, I actually tried to stay off camera. Someone I know personally once took offense to Aron comparing Moses to Osama bin Laden, and thought negatively about me for it when they saw it. Moses, the guy who ordered men, women, children, cattle to be slaughtered, and the virgins to be kept as war trophies. That is the way it works though. You are the one being offensive for pointing that out; not that they are the ones who believe in a book full of atrocities.
My posts here have been well received, and Freethoughtblogs has been a supportive environment to express my opinions on things that matter to me and to other freethinkers. I can’t tell other closeted atheists what is right in their situation. This is a good article by Dave Silverman, about deciding to come out of the atheist closet. What I can say for sure is that for every atheist that comes out, an angel is definitely not getting its wings. No seriously, the more atheists will be seen for what we really are -the good people, your neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, and coworkers.
It’s a kind of atheist dream to look forward to a society where atheism is not controversial or stigmatizing. What about an atheist president? What would it take for Obama to come out of the atheist closet? At least I never talked the god talk as an atheist to get along. I’ve taken a break from teaching to address my family’s needs. However, if I were in the situation of someone sharing their beliefs innocently or no in the future, I would have to politely share that I am an atheist, and I don’t have religious beliefs, and ask them to please pass the salt.