Open Thread: Living Closeted

“When I found out you were an atheist, it didn’t change how I felt about you, it changed how I felt about atheism.” ~ Adam Brown, Atheism Resource/We Are Atheism

Religions do not win by playing fair.  They do not win by having better arguments.  In fact, in arguing with religious people you’ll find that it’s often like pulling teeth to get them away from trying to convince you why they don’t need reasons or from telling you what they believe instead of why they believe it.

Religions, on the macro level, win by being ideological bullies.  Hell is not the only punishment for non-belief dreamed up by the faithful.  There is a reason atheist adults fear losing their jobs should their atheism be discovered and why atheist teens are kicked out of their homes for their inability to accept ludicrous things.  Hell, atheist adults are frequently ostracized from their families for the same.  Even if the hell of the bible is non-existent, religions are spectacular at creating hells in this lifetime for those who publicly deny Jesus.

And you know the first really sad thing about this?  It’s that so many closeted atheists would believe crazy things about miracles if only they could suspend their rationality, in order to stay close to their families.

This is how religion wins – by keeping atheists silent through fear and through emotional blackmail.  The second really sad thing is that it works.

It needs to stop working.

Consider another group who has come from a position of being despised: the LGBT movement.  Look what they have accomplished.

How’d they do it?  How’d they go from a position of being reviled in the form of social penalties like physical violence for being open about their nature to a point of having the majority of public support?  They did it by realizing that they had something working against them that other social movements didn’t.  For instance, in the suffrage and civil rights movements the bigots could not help but face the people for whom they supported discrimination.  Since one cannot obscure their gender or race, the bigot couldn’t step outside without facing a woman or a black person and having to look the targets of their sectarianism in the eye.

For LGBT people, this was not the case.  They were invisible, and the owners of prejudice were doing a damn good job at keeping them that way with shame and the same threats of ostracism and social sanctions that face atheists today.

The LGBT movement fought this by making coming out a focus of their movement.  It was then that the game changed…

 

More and more gay people started coming out of the closet, and so for the first time millions of Americans were realizing that not only did they know gay people, but that they liked gay people!  And so it can be with us.

Showing those close to you what atheists look like and attaching your own face to this movement is a power to change the societal rubric with regards to atheism in a way that even Richard Dawkins cannot.  It is perhaps the single most powerful thing any of us can do in order to ensure that the next generation gets to live in the world we wish for ourselves.  To this end, projects like We Are Atheism are invaluable.

I know it’s not easy.  I know it’s gonna suck.  I know that many of you are afraid.  For your children and all the other children out there who will face growing up in the same circumstances as you, consider doing it anyway.

It’s one of the oldest and truest axioms about personal worth: it is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you aren’t.  There is a whole movement of atheists who know your struggle.  There are atheist communities and organizations propping up all over America.  They are likely in your town right now.  The Christian idea of love is often saturated with judgment and arbitrary conditions, but the atheists in your area are full of people ready to love you in a way that truly does the concept of love justice.  We’re closer than you think.  Find us.

Comments are set up on this blog to allow anonymous commenting.  If you have a story to share or if you are closeted, here’s a chance to connect with others.  Personally, I’d love to hear your story.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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