Why Some of Us Stay Closeted

Why Some of Us Stay Closeted June 1, 2013

closet3Recently someone suggested to a group of mostly closeted atheists in the Deep South that maybe they shouldn’t be closeted at all.  Maybe they should “come out” because so many Americans are already too judgmental towards non-believers and the only way to counter that is for more of us to openly identify ourselves. That may very well be the case, and I do hope more of us can make that transition with a minimal amount of loss in our personal lives.  But there are at least a couple of issues which are lost on people not from our region of the country.

The first should be fairly obvious to anyone who lives where I live:  Coming out as an atheist in the Deep South can cost you your friends, your job, and even your family.  I know this because I am in touch with hundreds of southern atheists like myself who have experienced significant losses in each one of these areas.  Many have suffered losses in more than one of these categories and I even know some who have experienced all three.  Never mind the legality of losing your job for being an atheist—it still happens.  Court cases can sometimes turn on a character judgment and if a judge or jury believes that being an atheist makes you a bad person, that will affect their perception of you. The same thing is true of employers. Judges and employers are still people and people have biases which affect their perceptions of others.

But there’s another kind of difficulty which people like me face after we identify ourselves as atheists:  Even those who still accept us become less comfortable being around us, and that creates an unwanted emotional distance. This consequence is perhaps more subtle than the first but it is much more prevalent. From the moment a friend, family member, or coworker learns this about me, they start editing themselves. They suddenly feel the need to avoid certain subjects or else to preface statements with “Now I know YOU don’t believe this, but I believe that…”  Because I live in Mississippi, the chances are good that I’ve already heard whatever you’re about to say at least five times today.

I do not personally require any disclaimers or qualifications, and frankly I’d be happier if you could just not edit yourself at all—just talk to me like you would anybody else with whom you are comfortable. The truth is, however, that they do not only do this for my benefit (if they do then let this be my announcement to STOP IT because I can handle a difference of opinions…I’m quite used to it, I assure you).  They also do this because it makes them uncomfortable to know that I don’t share the same assumptions about the world that they do, and this makes them feel they should preface each important statement with an acknowledgement of our differences.  But this is terribly awkward, and it creates a distance between us which would never have been there had I not told them at some point in the past that I am not a Christian.

That’s the second reason why many of us don’t openly identify ourselves as atheists.  The awkwardness and the unnecessary distance are unpleasant and they never would have been there had we not “come out” in the first place.  At times, this awkwardness can even lead some to count us out of things (e.g. conversations, get-togethers, etc) because they would feel the need to be more guarded around us regardless of whether or not we would ever verbalize any disagreement with anything they’d say in such a social setting. We wouldn’t have to—the mere knowledge that we think differently on something as important as religion is enough to scare many away.  Religious beliefs are such a sensitive subject for so many that they’d rather not have to deal with the disparity at all if they can avoid it.

Maybe such things don’t bother you.  I know many who seem oblivious to this.  But some of us are bothered by these things, particularly if they happen within some of our primary relationships (e.g. with our spouses, children, parents, siblings, or close friends).  Now, I’ll admit that there comes a time when you have to say something in order to maintain an honest relationship.  But hopefully this post will explain why some of us are very reluctant and slow to “come out” of the atheist closet.



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  • Donald Butts

    I can relate. I have local friends that get a little awkward around me when anything religious comes up. Last Thanksgiving, for example, which we usually have at our house with family and friends gathered around the table, a friend of ours says the blessing and everyone reaches hands out to those beside them to form a circle. One of our friends, an older lady who was sitting beside me, attempted to reach around me to exclude me from the circle rather awkwardly. I just chuckled and said that it was OK, I don’t have a problem with holding hands while someone prays. But it’s always a situation that can be unpleasant.

  • j

    So true – all of it. I live and work in northeast Texas. I am fairly certain I would lose my job if my lack of god belief became known to my boss. I totally understand about the uncomfortableness that would arise, it would be just as you describe. Love your blog!

  • This coincides with our last few blog post.

    We are running a series on the blog for those who have witnessed Christian privilege/discrimination here in MS. Whether you are atheist, liberal Christian, or some other faith, I want your stories.

    So far we have seen post from atheist in how they are treated and the fears they have of being outed here in MS.

  • I’ll try and send some your way. In fact, we need to collect these as much as possible just to show that we’re not making this stuff up. People not from here just have no idea what it’s like, or how distrusted we are as a group.

  • Observation: I’m still closeted, but my personal observation of people pulling the “I know YOU don’t believe this” card is also an attempt to force the hand of the unbeliever. It’s a classic “witnessing” technique to push someone into a corner so that they have to defend his/her position. In addition, it’s yet another opportunity to bring attention to your difference. In the same way that a homophobe might comment on a beautiful woman walking by while having to make some justification comment to a gay man also in the crowd. (Did that make sense?)


  • Tony

    You have no idea how alien your life is to me. I live in Australia, and I have been an atheist all my life – and that is coming up on half a century this July. I was born and raised in Melbourne (I suppose think; Boston), and went to a private Anglican (for you in the US read: episcopalian) school. But don’t think of it as in any way religious. Think English public school. Stone walls, founders portraits, fags (again, not what you think. Read; servants), rowing, Latin, and being given a brilliant education by deeply repressed Oxbridge-educated homosexuals. Our headmaster once gave us a long sermon on the “rich man- camel -eye of needle” Bible story, trying to reassure us all that just because our parents were rich we weren’t going to hell. I think the most common reaction was a few sniggers.

    But I digress.

    Occasionally I find myself Googling topics like, “Alabama atheists,” or “atheists in Lubbock” because I am completely fascinated by what it must be like to live in a place where atheism is such an anathema; where to be an atheist is to be shunned. None of my former school friends are in any way religious. And don’t even talk about my friends from law school – I recall one of them describing Sarah Palin as ‘quaintly hilarious.’ Listening to your stories makes me think this must be what African-Americans in the deep south must have felt like in the pre-Civil Rights ’60’s. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too far. But then, how would I really know?

    I was never pushed into atheism. Admittedly, the School chaplain was always a bit of a figure of fun, and he was never quite able to meet the biology master’s eye! I arrived at it by looking at the evidence, although to be fair I never had to encounter any strong statements to the contrary. I can remember reading Bertrand Russell’s essay, “Why I am an Atheist” when I was 16 (in the School library, incidentally) but without any blinding ‘road to Damascus’ moment. I recall putting it down and simply thinking, ‘well that didn’t really tell me anything new!’ And, later, I encountered his ‘teapot’ – always my favourite item of imaginary crockery!

    Again, I digress, so let me get to the point of this rambling dissertation before you slip into a boredom-induced coma. I have been moved to write to you because I feel that someone should tell you that you are right. What happens to you when someone discriminates against you is an injustice, and the perpetrator ought to be ashamed. I say this because you are decent people who beat yourselves up unnecessarily on occasions, and seem to bend over backwards to accommodate the people in your life that you care about who do not share your views. That is admirable, and an excellent example of practical humanism. However, don’t let them push you into apologising for your views, because that’s just doing an injustice to yourself. Perhaps it’s not my place to tell you this. Perhaps I am being monstrously presumptuous, and you don’t feel the need for (or see the point) in validation of your views by someone so removed from your circumstances. I don’t know if this makes a difference to you, but I feel that someone should tell you that there are many people in the world who quietly notice what you do, and wonder if they would have the courage to change places with you.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  • I don’t really know what I am… I’m kind of all over the map, raised religious and don’t really practice. Many things have came up in my life that make me extremely doubtful there’s an all knowing loving whatever out there…

    Anyway, what I really wanted to get to is that for me, it’s so irritating that people assume you are religious and say religious things and are offended if you don’t really respond. How am I supposed to deal with that in a safe/nice way? I usually just nod, smile, and ignore…

  • The main reason I think that many so called ‘believers’ have very little tolerance, and therefore such little respect for differing opinions, especially stronger ones such as atheism, is due to a defective and insecure faith. If they were truly ‘spiritual,’ they should be able to welcome differing views without personal attacks.

    I have a friend that has higher morals than most christians, and he makes the atheist claim, and we have the very best of conversation and friendship. I am not better than he, and likewise; we are simply different.

    That said, I would humbly suggest that ‘some’ christians go into the closet, keep their mouths shut, and actually read what they are supposed to believe, and how to act. I for one am entirely fearless when it comes to making a defense, yet sympathetic for horses of another color.

  • No waaay he ended with a meme of world’s most interesting man!

  • While I share your views on atheism and I sympathize with the idea of ‘coming out’ in the US deep south, imagine if you replace ‘atheist’ in your post with ‘gay’. The LGBQT community had to come out and struggle, some suffered the consequences, many enjoy the outcome. In the end it all comes down to discrimination which could lead to self-segregation. I wish all atheist could ‘come out’, I wish there was no discrimination nor segregation in the world.

  • I am fortunate to live in a place (New York City) where being a non-believer is no big deal — there are people here who cheerfully refer to themselves a “Jewish atheist.” But even here, you are never far from a reminder that Christianity is culturally dominant and that many believers possess an arrogance that demands they impose themselves on others.

    Never a week goes by without at least one incident on the subway where a Christian gets on a subway car and starts loudly delivering a sermon on everybody’s wicked ways and how they had better embrace Jesus pronto; this is more often than not accompanied with homophobic rantings. Extremely annoying. These people are like robots — they just go on and on even when challenged.

    Not once have I encountered someone promoting atheism or agnosticism on a subway car. In part this is because atheists and agnostics are comfortable in their beliefs based on reality rather than belief in holy books and don’t have a need to “spread the word.” But this dichotomy surely is built upon privilege — many Christians take it for granted that are entitled to impose their beliefs on everybody else and that they have a “right” to discriminate against anybody who does not believe as they do. U.S. society relentlessly reinforces that entitlement.

    This is a country that discourages independent thinking and substitutes blind belief. It’d be simply sad were it not for the immense power the country possesses, which makes it, instead, dangerous.

  • See, I have found the opposite. I’m a Christian and I have friends who are atheists. I figured we could all coincide in peace, as I’m not one to preach my religion as the “right” way. However, I am constantly bombarded with memes, information, insults, slurs, etc. I am told I should emulate various atheist celebs like Natalie Portman (who is Jewish), or Billy Joel or “How can a logical girl like you believe in such gibberish?” Maybe it’s different in America, but here in Canada, it’s almost alien to be religious @ all.

    I think we should all just enjoy our time on Earth and each other and stop arguing a point that we won’t know who is actually right until we’re dead and can’t tell each other who is right. I don’t feel that I need to correct atheist and I hope atheists don’t feel the need to correct me.

  • St Five Finger Deathpunch once said: “I’d rather you hate me for everything I am, then have you love me for something that I’m not.”

    If being Atheist is core to who you are, then it’s dishonest to others and yourself to stay in the closet. If it’s not really important to you though, then why would you?

    I think its a personal issue of self-definition.

  • Well, far be it from me to contradict the wisdom of a man named Five Fingered Deathpunch!

    And yet…my point is still that some have their reasons. And that this doesn’t seem to dissuade some from asserting they know better how others should conduct themselves.

  • It’s quite different in the southeastern United States.

  • I grew up California, but went to college in Indiana. While there, I was always very careful about saying that I was an atheist. Unless I was asked directly, I usually didn’t offer up that information. But I experienced some of the same things that you did. One woman was so shocked that her response was “Oh my God, I’m going to go pray for you.”

    I’m not embarrassed to be an Atheist, but I also believe that everybody has a right to come to their own beliefs in their own time. If people ask me, I’ll tell them. I usually don’t ask people. Moreover, I don’t really care what religion people follow or don’t follow, I only care how people treat others.

    Thanks for your perspective!

  • I wasn’t asserting anything other than simply stating they need to make a value call. I did suggest they act on it, but I’m not bending their arms.
    I’d put it to you though, would you rather we not have any discussion? Then why post the piece? Was it not to allow others to chirp in on the topic and thus “assert” their opinions?
    Unfortunately, Atheist in the south if they desire community must then interact with that community and a part of community is in-groups / out-groups and power dynamics. You can’t have community and privacy or society and no discord.

  • You have my deepest sympathies. Being a New Zealander and having lived in Australia, I’ve never felt like being an atheist has been a major issue. Certainly you still get the odd infuriating comment (e.g. Jesus still loves you) from a Christian, but generally it’s something of a non-issue. Being an atheist is seen as being as normal as having a religious belief. I’ve also found most people are happy to talk about their beliefs with me, or vice versa, ask me about my lack of any belief, without it becoming a major issue.

  • Fair enough. While in discussions, however, I try to refrain from telling people what to do, especially if their life situation is significantly different from my own.

  • Even though I am a believer I like that u just wanted to be treated like everyone else and that even though u don’t believe what they believe your still respectful towards their beliefs

  • I have no right to judge you for your choice, nor am I equipped to call homosexuality a sin. Do I not place judgement if I announce your lifestyle is offensive to me? Rather, I would believe it says much more about my ignorance , just as if I were to blast you for your choice.
    I consider myself spiritual, accepting that I am on a journey through life along with others seeking and understanding their place in this universe. I choose to celebrate our differences, by doing so, I grow.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Peace to you and to the courage and conviction you uphold in order to deliver it and claim it. Welcome to the human race. Consider me a newfound, nom judgemental friend. I’ll do likewise . :)

  • Interesting post. I live in the south, though have never felt the ostracism of which you speak as a result of my unconventional views on religion. But, then again, I’m still in a larger city so perhaps cosmopolitanism is stronger here.

    Either way, I know such prejudice as you mention is still quite prevalent, and you expressed the issue rather eloquently.


    Julien Haller

  • This is the most important discussion. I love to hear all sides. Living up here in the northeast, atheism is as common as Starbucks. I happen to be a cross-wearing, Bible study-attending believer, but I relish all discussions. We’re all searching. And when we engage in discussions like these with open hearts and minds, there’s God (goodness) in that. I applaud your carefully worded essay. What a talent you are describe your experience without skewering the Bible-thumpers. I like this. Very much.

  • May

    A different angle, perhaps, but the same experience – a pointless and irrelevant belittling of someone’s views and beliefs, and constant challenging of something that really is none of anyone else’s business. I’m Christian in a broadly atheist or at least agnostic society, and I’ve experienced what you’re describing except in reverse. It’s sometimes a genuine anxiety to reassure that the person isn’t trying to change your beliefs, but more often it’s a small dig. I’m horrified that people can lose their jobs for being atheists (or indeed for any other religious or non-religious stance), I think that says far more about the character of the person doing the hiring and firing than the character of the employee.

  • This is why I moved to Portland, Oregon. There’s variety. And there’s just enough variety and just enough space that everyone can exist pretty comfortably without stepping on each other’s tails. Which is not to say I don’t secretly laugh my ass off whenever I hear someone quote Fox News. Everything under the sun has value, some of it is comic relief.

  • Angel Torres

    Reblogged this on Angel Torres' Blog and commented:
    No comments, to each his own..

  • I deemed myself an atheist when I was in high school for reasons I won’t get into. I’m not exactly sure what I am right now, but I know that I do believe in God. A lot has changed for me since high school. I hated whenever people used to look down on me for not believing in God so I kept my beliefs (or non-beliefs, rather) hidden. Maybe one day you’ll feel differently, maybe you won’t. The point is, it’s all up to you. I command you for being so honest and open to everyone’s judgement.

  • Very interesting and sadly true. My colleague shared with me that some atheists like herself like to refer to themselves as “humanists” to avoid that social stigma. It puts an emphasis on their belief in human potential and not a deity. I don’t even know if I qualify as a believer, since I conceive of “god” as a non-metaphysical, inexplicable force. I think making any assumptions about its will/nature/appearance, etc. is ridiculous though. Hence, agnosticism for me :)

  • I think it is good that you decided to share this blog on atheist closet. I hope now more will come out and share like you did! Thank you!

  • it’s amazing (and not in a good way) how stigmas hurt many people. stereotypes and preconceived notions are horrible across the board and hurt many people and yet we can’t seem to let go of them. im catholic (though not practicing) and have a firm believe in God, but i don’t preach or tell others they have to believe, just as i wouldn’t want to be ridiculed for my belief. plus it’s awesome the things we learn when we’re at least willing to listen and not be judgmental one way or the other. very well written and well deserved freshly pressed. hopefully one day no one will feel a need to stay “closeted” about whatever it is that keeps them there.

  • As a fellow Mississippian who has been “prayed for” ad nauseum, every word here rings as absolute, painful truth. It is oppressively inescapable. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to their personal beliefs, but in some cases I realized keeping it all to myself and (mostly) choosing not to be offended by the habitual and passing commentary, the arrogance and smallness of that network means I have less handicapping me…Judgment is weightiest for those who wear the robes.

  • I agree with Tony. I’m an Australian as well, and atheist, and I find it so strange (and interesting) to read about non-secular societies and their deep mistrust of atheism, because atheism and the social acceptance of that life view is such a normal thing here. If anything, in Australia it’s Christians who are perhaps a little more closeted about their beliefs than atheists.

  • In the UK the stigma is more from the Athiest/Agnostic majority against Christians. Not to the level which you state here, but there are certainly judgements of people who are Christians. Is the US similar to the UK on this when you get outside of the Bible Belt?

  • I grew up in Fargo, ND…I can relate. Also, “The Most Interesting Man in the World” picture is brilliant :)

  • Living in Missouri, I don’t deal with the same biases that are prevalent in the Deep South. However, there is still an unfortunate, assertive religious fervor here. I did not so much “come out” as an atheist, as I just made the decision about myself one day. Once I “woke up”, I did not hide my beliefs or feelings from anyone. I am mostly accepted by my family, friends and peers.

    Just as the LGBT movement gained momentum when many people “came out”, and everyone realized we could still co-exist, I think no atheist should ever hide. We need to band together to earn the equality and respect we deserve.

  • On the contrary, gregschina, I feel that the opposite is true. Most states are like Mississippi. When you consider that a disturbing majority of our government and community leaders are unabashed Christians and claim to be leading a “Christian Nation”, atheist and other secularists are in a minority and often discriminated against.

  • I’m with you Tony, I’m also born and raised in Melbourne and have been an atheist most of my life (a whole 24 years!) and can’t imagine my belief having an impact on my job or social standing or anything!

    On the flip side though my mum’s side of the family is pentecostal and my dad’s side of the family is Jewish. Personally I was raised in a Jewish household (mum converted before she married Dad). It’s quite a mix! And I’ve never renounced my Jewish heritage and I love participating in the culture of it all. So I guess that makes me a ‘Jewish Atheist’, not a concept most can wrap their heads around, though I know quite a few!

  • Myself I do believe in God . That said over time I realize religious folks r so judgemental towards others believe and lifestyle. Their practicing their beliefs. Thy shall not judge, love thy neighbor. Love that is just a word to must. When spreading the word they forget to spread the love. So to stop loving and to dismiss someone because of who they choose to be , what they believe . That practice isnt of God.

  • Tony

    Well Ackland Street, or the cheese blintz at Glick’s in Elsternwick, or the old cafe Scheherazade, might convince me that Yahweh is around somewhere, teaching godless goyim like me not to be too sure of ourselves.

    Emma, we don’t know how lucky we are!

  • Actually surprised by the this post here. Thought Americans are tolerant enough to accept different views as well as new ideas.Seriously didn’t except its a difficult thing being a atheist.Laws and movements for LGBT are adopted all over the world.(whats wrong about Atheism ?)Asia and the African continents are portrayed as places of people with religious obsessions but America is portrayed otherwise irrespective of differences in the population.I am from south Asia , no one actually goes to the extent of isolating or firing someone just because they don’t have any faith in religion or religious believes.People co-exist irrespective of their faiths and believes unless there’s a conflict of their views but still we openly shun religious bigots and we even have atheist political parties voted to power.Whatever ,people should be tolerant enough to accept an individuals way of life which is in a way stands without disrupting others freedom.

  • Thank you so much for speaking out about this. I look forward to reading more on your blog!

  • Reblogged this on Signs of my view and commented:
    Actually surprised by the this post here. Thought Americans are tolerant enough to accept different views as well as new ideas.Seriously didn’t except its a difficult thing being a atheist.Laws and movements for LGBT are adopted all over the world.(whats wrong about Atheism ?)Asia and the African continents are portrayed as places of people with religious obsessions but America is portrayed otherwise irrespective of differences in the population.I am from south Asia , no one actually goes to the extent of isolating or firing someone just because they don’t have any faith in religion or religious believes.People co-exist irrespective of their faiths and believes unless there’s a conflict of their views but still we openly shun religious bigots and we even have atheist political parties voted to power.Whatever ,people should be tolerant enough to accept an individuals way of life which is in a way stands without disrupting others freedom.

  • Anything from glicks!! I’d not survive without my glicks challah. It’s a well known fact about me. We’re certainly lucky indeed! :)

  • This was really an eye-opening, interesting read. I hope for a world without discrimination towards anyone based on their beliefs or lack of beliefs.

  • Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a reptile, but I used to enjoy telling people I’m an atheist. It flipped the script, so to speak, and when they’d react like bumbling idiots, be they family or professional relationships, I knew that I could do without them until they learned to grow. Now a days, I’m not so interested. People are afraid when they’re living “in the closet” and afraid when they “come out.” I say grow some balls (not you personally) and take a risk. Life is full of losses and safeguarding yourself by living in fear is just another way of staying controlled by things that you don’t even believe in. Again, I don’t mean you, Mr. Godless in Dixie, but man, what other people think about my spiritual beliefs is about as important to me as the color of my underwear. I’m free!

  • One more thing. I just read your “About” section and understand your position a little better (Even though, I’m from Mexi-Catholic Texas). While you seem to have found a grounding in the vacuum that faithlessness can create, check out this old post that I wrote if you’re interested in what anchored and is still anchoring me. Oh, and this isn’t a shameless plug. I don’t update that blog anymore. http://www.thetiredone.com/2011/06/carlos-renaissance.html

  • That’s the case with Denmark as well… Some people might act a bit strangely towards people who say they believe in God, but no one ever judge an Atheist.

    All in all, I’m just not sure I understand how it can be that much of an issue in America.

  • My goodness what a good insight into your world. I knew it was very religious and conservative in deep south but I was hoping by 2013, more and more people were questioning the world. Do you think it is out of fear that so many people believe? I guess if they are brave and say, ‘hang on a minute! I don’t want to believe this…’ as you explain they’d be shunned. I find this fascinating. I grew up in Scotland. It is still very religious far north and the isolated islands but not so much the mainland.

  • I am in Alabama and so I understand your point if view. I am a Christian believer, but in the closet Politically. Only a few people know that I am a liberal democrat. Like you, I would lie friends and family if they found out I voted for Obama (twice) and support trade unions. I wish I were braver.

  • Many people believe that not being religious means that you have no moral code. Only by coming out and showing that we’re good people and that sense of morality doesn’t have to be imposed by a religion but rather comes from within we can make other people understand that they’re wrong in their assumptions. Being yourself is rarely the easiest choice, yet the only one which is healthy. There are always buts which make people lie about their religion, sexuality or any views. Still, I think I’d rather be unpopular for what I truly believe in than a popular liar. You make your article sound as if an atheist coming out in the Deep South was as hardcore as a woman deciding to drive in Saudi Arabia. In the States the law is on your side as you said and it’s illegal to get fired for your religious views. I also don’t think close friends would think any less of a person because they’ve admitted that they’re an atheist. If they would, however, maybe a person should reflect whether these people are real friends at all.

  • “In the States the law is on your side as you said and it’s illegal to get fired for your religious views.”

    Still happens, though. And where I live, the legal process for filing a complaint is lined with many a devout fundamentalist/evangelical whose first allegiance is to his or her religion rather than to the constitution.

    “I also don’t think close friends would think any less of a person because they’ve admitted that they’re an atheist.”

    Clearly your closest friends are not evangelicals.

  • I’m a Christian and I can totally appreciate your post and understand your situation. I hate that you have to face those judgmental attitudes and frankly, hypocrisy from people who claim to be followers of Christ. I think Christ would disagree with your beliefs but he would do so with love and acceptance. I have atheist friends who are good friends and we have great and respectful conversations about reason vs faith. I have learned a lot from them and I hope they have learned from me. I hope too, that you will have the strength to openly be who you are and that the so-called Christ followers in your life will learn about the grace we are called to extend to everyone.

  • I’m a Christian independent who didn’t vote for Obama but I didn’t vote for Republicans either. My friends don’t understand my obsession with social justice and lack of support for right wing God fearing politicians.

  • Even if it still happens but it doesn’t mean it would happen in this particular case. If it did then I think it’s something worth fighting for. My friends are not evangelicals, but I have friends among Jews and Muslims and even though they don’t agree with my religious views they still respect me as a person. If a friend would stop respecting me because of my views it’s not a friend I want to have anyway. I come from a Catholic country originally and it wasn’t easy to be open about my views. Yet, as I said, even though it wasn’t easy it was healthy.

  • I live in Virginia and I have Texas family. I came out as a lesbian first. That was tough. Then I got myself a (wonderful) Jewish girlfriend (whom they learned to adore)… But by far the hardest of my announcements was telling them that I don’t believe what they believe. It continues to disappoint them and I get comments like, “I know you’re still a Christian deep down no matter what you say!” Truthfully, though, I never said I was an atheist. I’m not really comfortable with the agnostic label either. I’ve studied many religions and like to keep an open mind, but I remain convinced by none.

  • I understand that your situation was different. But please understand that one of the primary points of this post was to explain that it’s not always about choosing what’s “easy.” That’s an unfair judgment, and it’s a facile dismissal of the very thing I am trying to elucidate.

    Some people’s life situation is very complex. Some would lose their spouse, their children, their families, and/or their closest friends. Sometimes you just decide that the things you love are more important to you than simply “being true to yourself.” What could be more true to yourself than choosing to preserve the things you love most?

  • In the south, the only thing on the social totem pole lower than homosexuality is atheism. If you’re gay in MS, there is a place for you, a community, even. If you’re atheist, people would really you rather leave.

  • Yep, it remains the only major clash amongst my southern family. They could care less about the rest now. I appreciate your post so much. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights. I at least get some distance from them when I need it; I can’t imagine it from even deeper in the south and constantly surrounded.

  • I live in St. Louis, which isn’t the south, but it’s both very Catholic and very… I don’t know that provincial’s the right word, but I think you take my meaning. They love their own and it’s not always easy being an outsider here.

    And I find myself doing a lot of what you wrote about- purposely avoiding the situation. You’d think it would be an age-related thing (i.e. older people are less likely to deal well with atheism), but even younger generations express incredulity about atheism. That always surprises me.

    At this point, I’m just rambling but I guess my point is- I can relate. Great article.

  • I don’t know how many people are dealt with the actual choice between saying they’re atheists and losing everything they have. “Simply being true to yourself” is not some hippy idea. The reason why you’re publishing your post is because people are not true to themselves and will lie for social convenience. If you’re willing to accept someone for what they are, also for their being religious, it’s just fair to expect the same from them. If people love you for what you’re not what’s the point of this love? Can you even call it love then?

  • I find it much easier to accept a loved one for being religious than they do accepting me for being an atheist because they have been taught that my position is morally inferior, and an act of rebellion against their god. They have been taught that people like me deserve to be tortured for all eternity in never-ending flames. Since I do not believe that about them, I don’t have the same internal pressures they do for demonstrating disapproval.

    Does that make sense?

  • Most atheists I know would say that reason is as important to them as religion to others. As religious people believe in the abovementioned, many atheists equally diapprove of people who don’t think for themselves and prefer to accept what they’ve been taught. So no, it doesn’t really make sense to me as reason can be equally a part of someone as religion of someone else.

  • I don’t think it’s analogous at all. An atheist thinking that another person’s devotion to religion will lead to poor choices is not on the same level as a person believing that anyone not of their religion will be tortured for all eternity. While both sets of beliefs may lead to exclusionary actions, or at least rude conversations, it’s still not analogous.

    And anyway, I was talking about myself in the last comment. I do not personally judge another person as inferior for holding to one religion or another.

    Nor will I judge another atheist for staying closeted because I know too well what the cost can be. Again, it’s not simply about choosing what is easy. It’s about choosing to not give up things and people that you love dearly.

  • this is indeed a sign

    of – at least –

    a minor mental illness

    and the lack of understanding

    is hardly





  • A zealous atheist believes in reason to that extent that he thinks that these who don’t believe in it, don’t deserve to live as they’re wasting their life potential. You could ask how many atheists truly believe that and I could ask you how many believers truly believe in the abovementioned. We are all responsible for our lives but the “not giving up the loved ones” excuse is just an excuse. People often turn out to be surprisingly understanding and saying if he/ she will admit that he is an atheist they will lose their family is an overgeneralization. They decide to come out or not, it’s their decision. What I don’t like it’s the “they don’t come out because they can’t” thing. Of course they can, they choose not to. You say it’s about love, to me love based on a lie is just a lie. Besides, do you think it’s honest towards others to keep such a thing a secret? If you know they might stop wanting you why are you depriving them of choice?

  • Seems to me you’ve made up your mind. I’ve already said what I think. You’ve made some vast generalizations and I’ve tried to be careful to say “some of us” with each thing I’ve suggested. I never said that the consequences would be the same for everyone who comes out. I’m only speaking of the few hundred or so I know down here in the South. If you have never lived here, you likely would not believe what it is like.

    And not many of my atheist friends would say that adherents don’t deserve to live (unless I caught them on a really bad day…some of them have some heavy-duty tempers!), just for the record.

  • I live in Virginia, and have been out for years. So out, that I presented an Honorary PhD in Heresy to Christopher Hitchens.

    Coming out came at a significant cost regarding relationships with friends and family. Nothing new there. Many are not comfortable with someone who is willing to step outside societal norms.

  • It’s almost like living in the past for you – it must be very hard not being accepted for who you are & being segregated because of your beliefs (or lack of beliefs or whatever people call it lol).

  • Thanks for the light reading.. ha!

    I grew up very religious, attending AWANA 2X a week, (a children’s bible study, if you will) which then blossomed into going to some sort of church function 4X a week while in high school. After school, I did attend a Christian church on Sundays, but not much more. Flash forward 20+ years and my mother dies. I have also enrolled in college for Horticulture. The classes I took involved geography and geology and after studying these topics, things started turning in my head. Why am I praying? To who? Why is there more than one religion? Why is there religion of any sort? Why am I living my life to please some dude that lived a bunch of years ago with the threat of going to hell? It seems we’re already there!

    I’ve since decided to stop with the whole ‘god’ thing, and focus more on energy. Energy, good or bad can be seen and proven to exist. I try to put forth good energy, period. That is my religion. I guess I’ve never labeled myself as atheist, but all my friends know I don’t believe in THE God or any other god for that matter & they don’t avoid topics around me, or try to convert me (I’m in the Midwest – Chicago suburbs). I believe that when I die, my essence (good energy) will go back into the ‘earth pool’ of energy and be redistributed. Basically, I’ll be pushing up daisies!!

    Congrats on being PRESSED!

  • It is true that the strongly Christian are sometimes mocked here in the UK with labels such as ‘god-squadder’ and ‘bible-basher’ but generally there is a good tolerance of differing views on faith. Just as in many areas people with differing skin colour can go about their lives without being openly abused.

  • People who want to believe deep down in their souls that there is no God, no Heaven or hell, and that they are just slabs of walking meat have that right, Connie


  • Slabs of walking meat and brains, you mean ;-)

  • To atheists, the brain is also just a clump of meat with electrical impulses and that there is nothing spiritual involved.

  • Well I usually reserve the term “meat” to refer to…
    …never mind. You are correct. We not believe in invisible spirits.

  • All I’m saying is that there is always a choice. I know converts to islam from Catholic families who lost their families, but I also know converts whose Catholic families accepted the choice. Regardless of beliefs people are always people and may be understanding. But then again, may not. I don’t think even down there in the South the consequences would be the same for the few hundreds. I also know that it is through speaking up that the real change takes place. It’s everyone’s individual choice whether they decide to be a part of the change and deal with the consequences of doing so or not. Most people decide not to and that’s fine, not everyone has to be Nelson Mandela. I somehow naively believe that anyone could, though.

  • Reblogged this on Jake Kuyser and commented:
    I’m re-blogging this as I feel that tolerance of different views and beliefs is important. It is helpful to learn to live in harmony with your fellow humans even if they are different. I am dismayed not just by the lack of reason but the open discrimination in that part of the world. My father told me of a time before I was born when he went for a job with a family-run business who were very religious and because he was not they did not see him as a ‘proper’ person and did not give him a job. Which might not seem very ‘Christian’ but actually is what many Christians are like. It seemed hardly believable at the time when he told me. I am grateful to live in a time and place as tolerant as I do. Peace to all and all that. I call myself an agnostic as it is often easier that way. An Atheist is sometimes seen as being as militant as the Catholic in their beliefs and thrusting them onto others. However although I might concede it is impossible to disprove the existence of a ‘Divine Being’, I feel such a deity must be a cruel one to allow such misery as there can be found in this world as well as allowing such horrific acts as have been done in his/her/its’ name. I try to find room in myself to live in harmony with people of all types. I even try to get along with people who are openly racist although I can’t help making my non-racist views known and I might mock them for it but not so they can hear it. The fact is that they have their views and they are different to mine. I’m not likely to change them so I might as well let them be. Did I just compare racism to religion? Oh dear. Don’t hate me, that would be Jakeist. Anyhow, what am I saying? Atheists and religious people of all faiths are entitled to their beliefs. Other people believe different things to you. Accept it. Live with it.

  • You can be spiritual without being religious. Where does that put you in the walking talking meatsack race?

  • Apologies for the wall of text but it seems paragraphs are not allowed in reblogs.

  • Jesus said, “God is a Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. Atheists don’t believe in God or that they have spirits.When they die, they’ll find out otherwise.

  • Technically, the first part is right, but as for the second part…many atheists still believe in spirits, they just don’t believe in a Supreme Being. There’s an awful lot of variety among atheists, and the only thing they all have in common is that they lack belief in gods.

  • There is one God who made you (you didn’t make yourself), inside and out. You were not an accident, neither is anything you see.

  • I though my parents made me :-p I sure do look like them.

  • I told my daughter as she grew up something very true…
    ” God made you, not me. I do not know how to make a human being.”

  • Oh, but I know exactly how they’re made. See, all you gotta do is…


    I feel ya, Constance. Thank you for sharing. It’s “been there, done that” for me, though, as far as belief in gods is concerned.

  • If you believe that your God made me, you must also believe that he or she made me and atheist or agnostic or whichever belief. You probably also believe that ‘He’ can not be wrong and you should respect that. You should go along with what is.

    You believe in the existence of a divine being and you are entitled to that view. I’m not so sure. We should let each other be ourselves and try to get along. If your religion makes you feel good then please carry on. I’m happy for you. I really am. Be happy and love thy neighbour even if you think they might end up in hell. Or reincarnated as a wasp. Or a butterfly. Just be happy being religious and loving your divine being.

    I think it would be nice if religion could make me happy but that does not work for me. Poor me.

  • Atheists are taking an enormous gamble with their souls (they do have souls, but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that fact, else they’d have to acknowledge God’s existence, as well). But, they’ll find out.

    This is my last comment on this matter: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16; and, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which reads,” Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, He was buried, He was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures…” Have faith and live.

  • There is only one God. Hey, I tried to convince you.

  • Yes, ma’am. My Muslim friends told me the same thing. And they threatened me with Muslim Hell if I reject Mohammed. So regardless of which one I choose, I’m condemned by one religion or another.

  • I feel the opposite. In my profession at least, most people look down upon religion, specifically Christianity so I don’t say much to avoid the weird awkwardness that comes out when people look sideways when I tell them I can’t work OT on Sunday morning and would rather do it on Saturday. I think it’s hard with anyone who believes anything other than the majority where they gather.

  • If I was to take a religion and start believing there is something actually, literally, divine about a particular book would that not be a gamble also? What if I picked the wrong book, the wrong deity or group of deities? I choose to try to love my neighbour but not to worship religious idols.

  • True. People don’t often do well at being accepting of differences, do they? Something we all need to work on.

  • Wow, thank you for being so candid in writing of your experience. It makes me think of how Americans sometimes start speaking louder and slower around a foreign person for fear that they won’t be understood. While their actions may be awkward, they are probably just not certain how to respond since the majority of their circle of influence all appear so similar. I hope they will read what you’ve written and see that their “editing” is unnecessary.

    Discrimination of any kind is dishonorable. As a follower of Yeshua, I can tell you that hypocrites exist everywhere, regardless of faith. Nonetheless, I am very sorry that you have to live so privately, and I hope things change for the better.

  • Reblogged this on Catching Fire and commented:
    It is very hard, especially in the South to admit that you may have walked away from typical religious faith. In the UK this is more common and in NYC this is more common. But this is THE SOUTH where we hold strong to tradition. I personally pick and chose who I discuss my values with and I work for a very conservative company so I try not to mention it at work. But this decision, like one’s religious beliefs is a personal and individual choice…

  • It’s not my place to threaten you with hell or death. My job was to tell you about the Lord Jesus. I did, now I’m done. So long…

  • “Atheists don’t believe in God or that they have spirits.When they die, they’ll find out otherwise.”

  • Hi godless…really interesting post. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and am a Christian…a follower of Jesus, if you will. It’s no different here, but in reverse. I am very sorry to hear about your experiences with people who claim the Gospel as their world view. The stories of the woman at the well and the Good Samaritan come to mind. Jesus was loving without qualification. We are called to be the same…period.

    One idea I have for you. I think you need to frame your world view in terms of what you ARE…not what you ARE NOT. Your “About” page is signed -godless. Without God. The word atheist essentially means the same thing. Someone who denies the existence of deity. For your friends that you are afraid to “come out” to…instead of saying, “I don’t believe in God”, tell them what you DO believe in. That is a far more constructive beginning to the conversation…and one that is not threatening to them. And…it would be helpful for you too.

    I confess I have only read this one post…perhaps you have laid out your world view in other posts. No matter what our world views are, though, they need to integrate the reality around us. I happen to think the Christian faith does this very well…far better than any other world view. You obviously don’t agree. But for an atheist to say that they are not a believer because Christianity is lame…that leaves a vacuum. What do you believe then…and why does it work as a practical foundation for living? Start your conversation that way and I think it will be a great ride that you and your friends can take together.


  • trippstestblog

    Hi Connie. Google “Pascal’s Wager”. What you’re proposing here isn’t a new idea and it’s an argument that has many holes and presumptions in it. Cheers!

  • However, the difference is what you are asking us to celebrate! Therefore, we should welcome a fresh opinion. The only thing we do not need is hate of the other, but till we relate we will never be more than “other.” Unsolicited advice at the very least shows some attempt to converse.

  • Ms. Walden here clearly doesn’t care about rules of evidence. But for anyone who does care about the status of the Gospels as evidence, (and is unsure about them) I posted this: The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence.

  • Thanks for the feedback, Todd. In my context (the Deep South), I find that this conversation NEEDS to start by clarifying by identifying myself as an atheist because there is such an entrenched stigma about it. Atheism needs to be personalized for many people I know because they see us in caricatures only, through two-dimensional good vs. evil glasses (and we’re the bad guys).

    But your point is valid. I am also a Humanist, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere (see my Video section). I will be discussing that more in the future as well. Again, thanks for the input!

  • I recently wrote my “coming out” letter to my parents. I’m fortunate that I’ve had a relatively positive response. I also live in a the UK where it’s being atheist is not a big deal, at least not in my experience. I sympathise with the struggles of people who fear to be honest. It’s a sad and unfortunate state to be sure.

    Here’s my letter to my parents, for what it’s worth: http://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/part-ii-on-how-i-became-an-atheist/

  • Thanks for starting a dialogue. I am a Christian in the north and like Todd, the roles are reversed. It’s a shame that people treat you and other atheists differently. I wish more “Christians” loved everyone instead of just those who agree with them. On behalf of the ignorant, I apologize.

  • I think I may have come across your letter at some point. Very well written! I can identify with a great deal of it. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Oh right, sorry. And thanks!

  • I find it interesting that you used the term ‘coming out’ to equate the stigma of being atheist to that of being gay. It serves to emphasize the strong social bias against those who believe something counter to the mainstream. I also find interesting the comments of non-South Christians who refer to a reverse bias – being Christian in a non-Christian mainstream society. I can understand their discomfort, especially those who feel called upon to proselytize whether or not others wish to hear about salvation. As an atheist, I am sure you can attest to how quickly that gets tiring.

    I believe this life is it; that there is no heaven or hell, and I won’t be reincarnated as another life form. I believe that most people are inherently good while some choose to commit acts of evil. I have loving and caring friends, some of whom are devoted Christians, but it is usually a showstopper if someone asks me if I have been saved. Nevertheless, I always graciously accept the offers of others to pray for me if it makes them feel better.

    Personally, I think we would all be more comfortable if everyone kept their religious beliefs to themselves. For those who possess great gifts like health, prosperity, athletic ability, musical talent, or a belief in eternal salvation, you are most appreciated when you have the good grace to accept your blessings without feeling the need to preach about them.

  • You hit the nail on the head. I too live in the south (NC) and am an atheist. I work in a company that gives praise to our heavenly father before social functions (like Christmas dinner). There are a few of us around and fortunately the atmosphere is tolerant but not obliging.

    However, that is why I have this Internet persona – to protect myself from discrimination in future endeavors. It really is a pain in the ass having to maintain two identities though.

  • Jon

    I never would have guessed that this is happening maybe because I am one of those who are oblivious of the situation. Nevertheless, I still respect your choice and quite frankly support your idea. Kudos to you!

  • Can definitely relate to this. Still a closeted Atheist because I come from an extremely Catholic family and country where admitting you’re an Atheist is equivalent to saying you sympathize with Hitler.

  • Thank you for this very thoughtful post. I used to be very open about my Atheism, when I was among friends with like minds. Recently, I’ve found it difficult to mention my beliefs because of my fear of how some of the new people in my life will react. I live in New York City, a place where people would never get away with firing someone for being an Athiest, but I still have no idea how some of my friends will react. I think religion, or lack thereof, is a very private affair, yet it somehow seems to come into conversation. Like you said, it’s a palpable difference in how people treat you, even if they don’t mean to. I really enjoyed reading.

  • I have to wonder why on earth anyone *has* to know what another person believes about God. I’ve had many a conversation about religion but never an argument because I always simply back away whenever someone starts getting a little wild-eyed and let them believe whatever they want to believe without opinion or judgment from me. You don’t ever need to tell anyone you don’t believe in their god, or any god. When does this topic even come up in polite conversation? Best to just change the subject and move on because nobody will change your mind and you surely won’t change theirs.

  • Your reply is so funny.

    And it goes to the heart of your problem. You ARE without God. And you choose that as your identity.

    And it would be painful for you to choose to merely be you.

    What that tells me is very simple and very atheistic, you want the people around you to become like you are.

    Oh well.

    I have lost jobs, and been discriminated against, because I am a Christian. That has never meant that I expect those people to become like I am. Being a Christian is truly difficult in modern America.

    To each his own, but I think the previous writer nailed it down for you.

    Learn to accept who you are, or change to become who you really are.


  • This: “let them believe whatever they want to believe without opinion or judgment”

    Beacuse this: “nobody will change your mind and you surely won’t change theirs.”

    Exactly. :)

  • The previous writer managed to say something similar but with far less condescension. I’m not sure where you’re getting the notion that accepting the label “atheist” means I want everyone else to become one, too. Also, I’ve explained elsewhere that I only accept this label reluctantly…I prefer the term Humanist because of what it stands for.

    I’m sorry that you’ve seen discrimination for being a Christian. I will not condone discrimination for religious differences no matter toward whom it is directed. I will gladly support your right to religious freedom just as surely as I will support my own right to not be religious.

  • Openly declaring skepticism has ever been – and still is – a painful issue for me, especially when it comes to family events like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthday parties and so on. It’s hard to find yourself alone when surrounded by people you’ve learned to respect and love since you were born. Many years passed after my deconversion while I kept the habit of showing contradictions in the Bible, arguing on the logical flawed biblical concept of god, hell and so on. Eventually, time showed how this approach was meaningless and counterproductive, at least in the context of a more radical fundamentalist environment like mine. Fundamentalists won’t try and see something differently from what they’ve ever seen because they just don’t want to. Therefore, I personally don’t see honesty (in this sense of the word) as the best choice to all occasions. That said, I avoid talking on this subject (atheism) as much as it’s possible for me among relatives. That brings such an amount of isolation of course. Just as I use to say to myself, ‘I’ve lost my family to religion’.

    There’s another point to it: asserting different points of view, be it political, personal, or religious, can sometimes change a pleasant meeting into something not so enjoyable. As we know, most human beings would rather hear something they want than someone speaking the truth – Unfortunately. On the other hand, we all have the need of being part of a group. Depending on the people you are talking to, saying you are an atheist means breaking links between you and everybody else. I mean, of course people who really know me are aware that I’m no longer a theist, it’s just that they feel uncomfortable with my openly declaring that. So now I see no reason for that anymore. I think it’s the same case as to political views, when I used to be very opinionated at defending my personal convictions on politics, and after some years acting like this, noticed there weren’t much profit from it.

    Let’s picture a situation in which you are surrounded by Christian relatives in a family meeting, and the subject of God, Jesus and the Bible is brought up – as usual. Now I see if I just keep silent about my personal view of reality, that doesn’t mean I lack honesty towards what I believe/disbelieve or my way of seeing reality. Of course, if someone comes to ask me directly if I believe the God depicted in the Bible exists, he’s going to hear a sound “No, I don’t”.

    Like many other issues in life, I don’t find necessary to expose my opposing opinion every time other people say things I disagree with. That’s what went wrong with me in the past, I used to think that ‘intelectual honesty’ implied pointing out my opinion whenever the opposite opinion showed up.

    But as I said before, it’s necessary for us to feel part of people who see important matters in a way similar to ours. That’s why it’s important for me to take part in online forums like the one we have right here.

  • Well put, Glaucio. You expressed well why this isn’t always just a matter of intellectual honesty. It’s often simply a strategic decision to “pick your battles.” We are not only rational beings, we are also emotional and social beings. For me this means sometimes I decide to withhold my opinion in order to continue enjoying a good relationship with people who see things differently from me. Often, they are doing the same!

    My problem comes when others cannot keep their opinions to themselves and judge me for not believing the same things they believe. At that point, I will speak up.

  • Yep. Just got a comment recently along the same lines, in fact. The moment you try to elucidate a humanistic basis for ethics, someone has to say “that sounds like what the totalitarian dictators would say.” Not a super constructive direction to take the conversation.

  • Thanks, reheated :-)

  • Hi, Alana. I think fear is used, definitely. But here the indoctrination process starts so early that people are taught to believe in things before they have developed any critical thinking skills at all. That’s why it’s so effective.

  • It’s a shame, isn’t it? Maybe if more of us “come out” it will make it easier for others.

  • Funnily enough, Hitler was a devoted Catholic. But I know what you mean.

  • I imagine that being a closet atheist is like being a closet gay – you only think people don’t know what’s going on, but they do.

  • Hi there, so you could say it is brainwashing children. I totally agree, young kids just believe what they are told to believe. :(

  • I can relate. When I became a Christian up in “godless D.C.” – even worse, in the progressive nonprofit world – I experienced some of the same behaviors only in reverse. All of my atheist and anti-Christian friends started to treat me that way! People just want everyone to be like them, it seems. Hang in there. We are all one, as it turns out – we just aren’t very good at it.

    Congrats on the FP!

  • Agreed, and something that is not often considered or talked about. I grew up in Utah in a secular family, so it wasn’t difficult to discuss religion objectively. Unfortunately I took this familiarity and confidence out into school, university, and the workplace before I realized that I was doing myself lasting harm by “admitting” my status. It wasn’t difficult to find others, so I never felt obliged to come out. But it would have been comforting to speak about my beliefs as often and as loudly as the religious did without worrying about the consequences.

  • In my experience, the big problems arise in social situations both from those of any faith who assume it is their duty to convert those of another faith or background, and from the unspoken assumption that everyone in the room feels the same way about everything. The nature of the belief is almost irrelevant. I dislike avocado, yet you love it. What gives either of us the right to tell the other they are wrong? And yes, I have tried guacamole, and no, I don’t feel the need to keep sampling every single avocado that I happen upon in the assumption that there is somewhere the one fruit that will change my mind. I’m fine eating beetroot instead, thank you, so help yourself to your dip of choice and neither one of us will go hungry. Might be over-egging the metaphor here, but still.

  • Reblogged this on Rattlers Pit and commented:

  • Do you think? The south can be unforgiving and rigid. I spent a couple years working in Canada and found it so relaxing to be able to state my views. But here in Alabama “liberal” is a dirty word. – even though we are a poor and uneducated state.

  • Well, I’m going on what Greta Christina and others have said about learning from the LGBT community’s struggles. I’ve often heard it said that the first step to lessening the stigma of atheism is for more people to come out and self-identify. The more people discover that they know people who are atheists and are also normal people, the more it puts a human face on something that previously existed only in a two-dimensional caricature for them. Plus I know that the more I identify myself the more it’s giving others in the south a way to connect with each other through stuff that I’m posting.

  • Inspiring.

  • I am not an atheist, contrary to what a lot of people think in my real life, but I am not a fan of organized religion. Mississippi is not a good place to be an atheist. I went to college in Alabama and I got lectured for just reading my horoscope. I don’t come out to people that I meditate nowadays. In Miami, it is just not accepted to be anything other than Catholic. I understand your decision and wish you the best.

  • Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, here at meatfillin we place our faith in the great Pie God. It is an all-seeing, all-doing god that has placed the holy grail of perfect pie somewhere amongst the Northumberland countryside, for which we devote our days in search of, hopefully one day leading to the ultimate state of fulfilment and happiness.

    Our god is the one true god and you atheists are fools.

  • Piobaireachd

    I hear the pies at St James have really gone doon hill, meatfillin, so you must be further north. =)

  • Nobody should attack anybody for their worldview, whatever that worldview may be. Thanks for sharing!

  • Piobaireachd

    I think worldviews are fair game, but ad hominem attacks are not. People should be able to support their world views with data and evidence. To what degree does it support/encourage well being and opportunities for growth? There are good worldviews and rubbish worldviews from that POV. The Taliban’s worldview, for example, should be attacked. It clearly promotes human misery and suffering. They don’t get a free pass. Sorry. There are plenty of other examples of world views that are epic fails. They should be ridiculed out of existence.

  • Yep, can’t argue with that. The pies at St James’ certainly aren’t very good, they taste of football for a start!

  • What a dark day for organized religion, Christianity in particular, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Anyone who claims to be Christian, the turns around and ostracizes others for not believing has lost all context of what being a Christian is about.

    I will admit that voicing your Atheism is gutsy, so too, can claiming to be Christian. Maybe we are more alike than different. As a practical Christian, I have more respect for an Atheist who knows what they believe or don’t believe, than I do a Christian who treats his fellow man (or woman, or child) with any less respect and care than they would their own brother, since its clear they don’t have a clue as to what is is to be Christian.

    Christianity should be about living a life that reflects what Jesus taught, not about ramming stupid rules down peoples throats.

    You’d think we’d learned something from the crusades.

  • I graduated from a private Baptist college in the deep south and this post hits home with me. Still to this day, I have difficulty at times revealing that I’m an atheist. I’ve been testing the waters for a while now and dripping my atheism into conversations here and there without much problem, but that’s because I’ve been very selective of who I speak with. One day I would love to just a post a status on my Facebook and see what happens. Nice post.

  • Holy cow. Y’know, I’d never really realized that there’s a “closet” as far as sharing one’s religion or lack thereof goes.Thanks for the eye-opener.

  • I’m not exactly closeted about it, but here in NC, I do have to pointedly separate my business from my politics and (lack of) religion. I’ve learned to just smile and say Thank you when people tell me to have a “blessed day”, etc.

    It used to bother me slightly, but I know they mean well.

  • I can completely understand your reluctance to share this part of yourself with your colleagues or acquaintances, but it must be so difficult not to be able to share this with your family or close friends. When I was a child living in small town Texas, I always thought it was fun to get a rise out of telling my Christian classmates that I didn’t believe in god, but my parents belonged to the Unitarian-Universalist Church (a church without a specific creed or god) where many of the members were atheists, humanists, agnostics, etc. So despite any conflict at school, my family unit and our close friends were like me. As I got older, though, I realized that constantly being in conflict with everyone at school made life more difficult. In high school, I simply collected a small group of like-minded classmates as friends and kept my religious views to myself for the most part, even though at that time I despised religion and particularly Christianity. I left Texas for California to go to college and stayed. I haven’t even dreamed of moving back and the conservative, Christian default culture is one of the main reasons. Adulthood and escape from the South has allowed me to develop a better understanding and acceptance of religion and spirituality and I don’t feel the same defensive ill-will I used to, as I have been able to see how it can be a really positive thing in people’s lives.

  • Thanks for posting this. keep posting.


  • If people really opened up about what they truly believe, I imagine we would not find the rigid uniformity that appears on the surface of religious groups. That may be what really scares people about an atheist outsider – someone whose beliefs differ from mine challenges me to examine, understand and articulate my own beliefs. Many people don’t like to do that.

    Part of the issue you’ve raised is that religion is both a system of beliefs and a culture. Many comments above refer to challenges that stem more from the cultural aspect of religion rather than the beliefs themselves. But most religions are not content to simply be a belief system; they intend to create a culture. Cultures, by definition, have insiders and outsiders.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  • Golly, you got a few responses to this one, did you! I left Mississippi and moved to the most liberal part of Oregon because of the way atheists are treated in the South, especially the rural South where I lived. Even there, though, I was out because that’s just who I am. Some people simply don’t have the option of keeping their mouths shut when it concerns an issue that they feel strongly about. That said, I was treated as if my atheism meant that there was something wrong with me, and the same attitude prevails here, yet where I live (in Eugene with a metro area of around 300,000), there are several atheist groups, and all seem to be prospering, and some have 200-300 members. This means that even one group probably has more members than there are un-closeted atheists in the whole state of Mississippi.

  • uglicoyote

    Reblogged this on The Road and commented:
    I understand this position.

  • Thank you for your post, it rings true for me. Never having been to the South, I’m not sure what it’s like, but I think there are some parallels with life here in small town Yukon.

    I know that for me, I wasn’t eager to come out of the closet. In the end, it happened when I had to stand up for my kids’ rights at the local public school. And yes, it has come at a cost, just as you suggested.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  • I’m a former Christian Scientist who was raised in the South, I have not “come out” to my family about my decision to leave, or my new found agnostic/atheist views. Although I’ve since moved to a more liberal part of the country, I find it is easier to stay quiet about my CS past & path away from it than it is to talk about. It is easier to mutter something about “spiritual” and change the topic than it is to explain why I left (which is why I blog about it).

  • This type of post blows me away. Until I began blogging I never would have imagined that atheism was such a major issue.

    But it seems that, while Dawkins, Krauss etc and (the late great Hitch) are doing their best to light fires under the backside of the religiously retarded, they are ever going to struggle when so much of the U. S. of Eh? believes that metaphorically rubbing two sticks together is where its at when it comes living in the 21st century.

    Best of luck.

    If ever you fancy a light-hearted laugh pop over. There’s always something religiously mental happening.

  • Tiffini

    Thanks for this POV. We are moving to Northern MS, very small and remote town in a few months, and I’m really worried about how we’ll be perceived as liberals, atheists, etc. And I’m concerned about my kids being taken in by the pervasive Christian culture. We’re only staying a year, though, and it’s tough to keep my mouth shut, but I think it might be for the better.

  • I live in Australia and from my experience, I haven’t had the same sorts of problems to the extent you outlined to those that happen in the USA to people. When I was a Christian though, I questioned a lot of things and put these questions to high positioned people in the Church……which I can tell you they didn’t like one bit. They turned my Christian girlfriend against me, and after doing so made it near impossible to see or talk to her. People whom I used to enjoy just turning up to there house for a social visit, treated me all of a sudden like I had just been released from prison for killing their children. Theres that Chrisitan love coming through.