Atheists exhorted to ‘come out’ the closet

Atheists exhorted to ‘come out’ the closet

WHILE devout Christians are doing ghoulish things this weekend to mark Easter (I snapped the pic below last night of a procession of Spanish faith-heads in pointy black hoods passing a gay bar in Benidorm), many atheists in the US are attending the American Atheists convention in Salt Lake City.


One of the speakers at the AA event is Greta Christina, a well-known atheist activist, author, blogger and speaker, who, according to this report by Kimberly Winson, had this to say to closeted atheists:

Ask your openly gay and lesbian friends if their lives are better for coming out.

The answer, almost universally, she claims, is yes. That’s the message of her new book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.

In an interview ahead of the convention, Christina – pictured above with a knitted version of The Flying Spaghetti Monster – said:

What non-believers have to gain in coming out is a better life. This has been true about LGBT people, as well. Even in a phobic world, we are usually happier when we come out and the same seems to be true of atheists when they come out, too.

Christina speaks from experience. In addition to being an atheist who came out to her family and friends nine years ago, she is also married to another woman.

Her message is knowingly patterned on the experience of the LGBT community, which has long encouraged lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people to be public about their sexuality. Only by doing so, the thinking goes, can homosexuality be destigmatised and equality achieved.

And it’s worked. Gay marriage is now legal in 17 states. There are now openly gay members of Congress and professional sports teams and Hollywood has a firmament of gay and lesbian stars.

And just this week, at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, President Obama asked Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopal bishop, to give a benediction.

So why shouldn’t atheists take a page from the homosexual playbook? In the past decade or so, many atheist and humanist leaders have begun to openly acknowledge they can learn from those who fought for equality before them.

Said David Silverman, President of American Atheists, who invited Christina to speak at the 2012 “Reason Rally,” which drew upwards of 10,000 non-believers to the Washington Mall:

I am learning not only from the gay rights movement, but the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement. Closeted LGBT and closeted atheists have the same problems. And the LGBT movement is going to win and so are we.

Studies show atheists need to improve their image. A 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University  of Minnesota found atheists are the most mistrusted and disliked group of Americans and:

A glaring exception to the rule of increasing tolerance over the last 30 years.

Five years later, a study conducted by the University of Oregon and the University of British Columbia found that the distrust of atheists stems not from dislike, but from “moral distrust.” In other words, a large segment of Americans thinks atheists, because they do not have any religion, have no morals.


Christina said.

There are a lot of myths and understandings about atheists. There is the belief that we don’t have any morality, any meaning, any joy in our lives. There’s an idea that we are just in rebellion against religion, that we don’t want to follow rules. When there is stigma against you, it makes life harder for a hundred different reasons.

The first step in the solution is for non-believers to come out and show they have the same desires, concerns and problems as their religious neighbors, she said. From there, they can build communities and find support — the things many religious believers say they find in their houses of worship.

Said Kurt Volkan, founder of Pitchstone Publishing, which published “Coming Out Atheist” and other books about non-belief:

Coming out helps normalize non-belief. And normalizing atheism helps create space for non-believers in all parts of the country and allows them to interact with friends, families and co-workers in an open and honest way. The more people who encounter nonbelievers, the more accepted they will be.

Still, Christina wants atheists to come out only if they consider it “safe” to do so. For the book, she gathered more than 400 “coming out stories” from non-believers around the world. All but one said their lives were better for having done it.

That is one of the things that really struck me. When you are in the closet and there is stigma against you, you tend to internalize that stigma. But if you speak up and say that stigma is wrong, you don’t have to take that negative opinion into you. Living in fear is difficult.

39 responses to “Atheists exhorted to ‘come out’ the closet”

  1. Broga says:

    Strange this and a new perspective to me. It has never occurred to me that there is any problem in declaring myself an atheist. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life within an atheist family.

    I think there is huge advantage in atheists declaring themselves. There are clearly so many and they seem to be intimidated into being notional Christians. Ironically, it is now clear, thanks to the internet, that many clergy are atheists. There is a dam being held in check by the censoring, pretence and threats of Christians. The more who speak out the greater the pressure on the bullying Christians and the more difficult for them to promote their superstition.

  2. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Unless you are in an islamic country where atheism isn’t just frowned upon, it’s illegal and a harbinger of a death sentence, then I don’t see a problem with coming out. Yes, you may get a few comments at first but that will die off, especially as more and more come out and it’s no longer seen as weird.

  3. Bubblecar says:

    Identifying as atheist is not a problem in the UK, Europe, Australia etc, but it certainly seems to be a problem for many in the USA.

  4. Matt Westwood says:

    “There’s an idea that we are just in rebellion against religion, that we don’t want to follow rules.”

    Well, I *am* in rebellion against religion, to a considerable extent, and I *don’t* want to “follow rules”. Particularly if they’re *stupid* rules.

  5. tony e says:

    Within my family I am one (of two) atheists.

    I’ve never ‘came out’ as such, due to the fact that as soon as I was of an age (12) I had worked out that it was, for want of a better phrase, a load of bollocks.

    I fully applaud Ms Christina approaching this from a fresh perspective.

  6. Broga says:

    There is a decided oddity in all this. People with weird and incredible beliefs, whose priests are in their hundreds proven paedophiles, whose ranting preachers (in the USA) are often proven liars, thieves, seducers and hypocrites, are comfortable and protected in their destructive superstitions.

    Another group harm no one and are not supported by powerful state institutions and influential media. This second group, driven by principle, insist on being allowed to exercise their reason and draw conclusions. They have to steel themselves, as if they were criminals who had been uncovered, to reveal their conclusions. These conclusions have been reached not just after using their reason but after much thought, research and study.

    The second group often know far more about religion than the religious group which is so ready to condemn them and, where they can get away with it, persecute them. The religious group have attracted into their ranks some of the most effective scam merchants and con artists in the world.

    If your experience or observations tell you that I have got all this wrong do let me know. It is such a sad reflection on humanity that I wish it were not so and am ready to be corrected.

  7. georgina says:

    “a large segment of Americans thinks atheists, because they do not have any religion, have no morals.”

    Religious people don’t have morals, that is why they need to borrow them from their holy books.
    Atheists have ethics, thus they do not need holy books.

  8. jay says:

    I and my wife are both ‘out’ about our atheism. I was raised JW, she was raised Baptist and arrived at atheism after passing through Wicca.

    It’s no secret to anyone who knows us, or works with either of us.

  9. jay says:

    Humorous side happening. Years ago my wife and I were at a nudist event and recognized a couple from an atheist event we attended the week before. So we had a double minority situation: among the nudists we were the atheist minority, among the atheists we were the nudist minority.

  10. barriejohn says:

    I’ve just received notification of this post:

    If authentic, it’s totally pathetic. Some apposite comments – not all Americans are nuts!

  11. Stonyground says:

    As Bubblecar stated, being an atheist is no big deal in most developed countries. In the much more religious US there is a real possibility that you will be treated like a pariah. I would suggest that, in this respect, the US is similar to how the UK was maybe about sixty years ago. Although UK atheists have gained acceptance without a coming out campaign such as this, it certainly seems like a good idea for the US. American atheists certainly don’t want to be waiting until 2074 to be accepted.

  12. Broga says:

    Apart from the NSS and The Freethinker the voice of atheism in the UK is near to passive. Richard Dawkins does a great job but even supposed secularists are quick enough to say he is as fundamentalist as the religious. This is rubbish. Dawkins, like the NSS, states the atheist viewpoint candidly and without equivocation. And that, with the religious politicians, the BBC, the airtime given to the likes of Vincent Nichols comes as a shock.

    There is a groundswell of secularist opinion, an indifference to religion and an antagonism to much of it. The religious confidence is hollow, a shell and they know it better than we do. We need to keep pushing and much that is happening in the USA is enormously encouraging. Cameron, Pickles and co are on a beach with the tide going out. Like in “Dover Beach” – but the process is speeding up.

  13. charlie says:

    Thanks for saying that not all of us here in the (not so very) old US of A are nuts. I try my best to educate the morons I come in contact with, but trying to fix stupid, well, it sure as hell ain’t easy old man.
    @georgina, YES! You got that right and then some. Religious folks need to borrow their morals (such as they are) from some damn fool book of fairy tales and myths, loaded with false history. While we atheists come by our morals through reading, thoughtful discussions and such. Damn hard work but well worth the effort and much, much better than grabbing some ancient BS.

  14. Trevor Blake says:

    Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death by a Muslim cleric and his students after they accused him of being an atheist. Not thousands or hundreds of years ago, but last year.

    I think uncharitable thoughts about Islam.

  15. charlie says:

    A personal experience comment from 14 years of living in central Louisiana. Some of the more “enlightened”(really, are there such things?) Christians (xtians) in this part of the USA South, when I tell them I do not believe in nor follow ANY religion at all, reply that “Well, that’s OK. But, (always some damn butt, and usually {in these parts} a fat one) you surely “must” believe in Jesus.” Oh, the poor lil’ folks, when I tell them that, no, I do NOT believe in Jesus. In fact, I do not have to “believe” in anything at all. In fact, I can, if I wish, believe that the sky is actually some odd shade of chartreuse. This usually results in them shutting up and looking for the closest exit from this crazy non-believer. I try, really try, to stay polite, but some hard core holly buy-bull thumpers around this are very difficult to get rid of. Then I tend to just walk away and if they persist, I can get a bit nasty, but only as a last resort/self defense. I have had some interesting conversations with different people about the difference between belief and actually knowing something. One can believe any damn fool thing one wishes to, but that is not the same as knowing something. It always amazes me how few in the US of A had not learned before the age of 12 or so. The US education system has really failed the people, big time.
    By the way, I feel I am not a good teacher as I tend to have little to no patience with fools, idiots and stupidity. But, I will give of my time for an open, honest discussion.

  16. barriejohn says:

    Jay: Thanks. It seems kosher!

    Charlie: This post and others do demonstrate that. And what can you say about a person whose morals come from an ancient book? The more you think about it the more ridiculous it becomes.

    Broga: The news this morning is full of “The Royals Head for Church at Easter” stories. Such fine upstanding people; we should all emulate them, surely? And I turned on the television to be confronted by Justin Welby dragging a huge cross around!

    (He’s worried about suffering. Where WOULD we be without the Bible’s divine guidance?)

  17. Bubba T Flubba says:

    Charlie…..To understand why the majority of Americans are xtians just think what religion is about. It is the solace of the half educated dumbed down repressed common man. The USA is run by big businesses, top level government, military and security chiefs. Now to make all that work you need a well fed passive malleable unthinking workforce with just enough ambition to acquire the latest Sony TV or latest model year VW. Give the people just enough education to keep them semiliterate and unquestioning. Give them a god to whom they can be thankful. Give them a cosmetic veneer of a democracy. Feed them junk TV to occupy their dulled faculties.
    Do all that and the mega rich ruling elite can do pretty much what it desires. The surest way to bring it all down would be to educate everyone and teach them to be critical thinkers.

  18. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: The Cross of Welby. Seriously embarrassing as Welby performs a pantomime with no basis on any history or facts and indeed contradicted by what we know from work by biblical scholars – these do not include Welby.

    Easter and Christmas are perfect times for Welby, Nichols and co to slip into knee jerk mode and persuade the gullible to respond without thinking. Hit the suckers with the ritual and something emotional like this clown lugging a bloody great piece of wood around and they will do a religious simper.

    Welby looked embarrassed. I doubt if this is really his style at all but he is now committed to playing out the religious charade.

    I wonder how much William and Kate’s New Zealand holiday, with security staff, nurse, hairdresser etc, is costing the UK tax payers? With his genes I don’t think there is much to William and he looks vague and “performing.” They never say anything of interest: literary, political, philosophical or challenging. Just perform like trained monkeys with the trainers on hand to set them up for each photo opportunity.

    Charlie must be gnashing what is left of his choppers. He is a vain git who regards himself as a genius and I don’t think he will be happy with the attention going elsewhere.

  19. barriejohn says:

    Broga: Our royals get most of their genes from Victoria, who was as thick as shit. They are very poorly educated as well. I think that Philip and Anne are the sharpest tools in the box, which explains the numerous faux pas, but the rest are hopeless. I would thoroughly recommend the two BBC documentaries Royal Cousins at War, which seem unavailable on the net now, sad to say. King George, Tsar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm, and the only one who comes out of it with any honour is George V (a shocking parent of course: “My father was a tyrant so I’m going to be the same”), who had the sense to realize that he only had a symbolic role in the affairs of this country. Cutting ribbons and wearing feathers was just about it. If only Charlie Boy had as much sense!

  20. Oy Vey says:

    Re where people get their morals. Next time someone says they get their morals from their religion, I will ask “Don’t you have any morals of your own?”

  21. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: I watched Royals Cousins at War. How many people have been slaughtered to satisfy the vanity of these royals? I read, how true who knows but it is plausible, that Charlie is upset by the attention the William and Kate holiday is getting. Camilla is said to be the only one who can calm him. He was also said to be upset by the attention Di got.

    Charlie has a problem. As well as being an emotionally deprived child and the product of a cold mother he has grown up to be an unintelligent and unprepossessing man. Add to that his wasted life with no role and he is now, past retiring age, still waiting for what he fatuously assumes to be his right i.e. to rule the rest of us.

    Would any mature man or woman be prepared, or even able, to go through life without taking part in a free and open discussion using what they know? And being ready to defend their opinions? Charlie, surrounded by self serving sycophants, unloads his many letters on to servile government ministers. His opinions appear to be so appalling that they dare not reveal them to public scrutiny.

  22. Matt Westwood says:

    As well as Anne and Philip, Andrew’s not so bad. But as for George V, he showed himself to be a complete utter shit for not coming to the aid of his cousin in Russia who ended up being murdered by the revolution.

  23. barriejohn says:

    Leafing through my mother’s Daily Msil in search of something to cheer me up, I happened upon this from the pen of Lord Scarey(“Amanda Platell is away”, you’ll be sorry to learn):

    It even gets a plug in the editorial, thus:

    In defence of family

    This Easter, the Mail congratulates Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, for speaking out so powerfully against Britain’s politicians who undermine the traditional family.

    What a pity his successors have been too obsessed with global warming, food banks and gay rights to defend the greatest institution on earth. It’s families that create self-reliant, aspirational, decent citizens – not politicians.

    Can you believe it?

  24. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: The implication, of course, being that marriage involves counselling by a vicar and a church wedding.

    What’s happened to that other woman who had a Daily Mail column and got booted out by the proprietor’s missus? I think she got the boot for being too excitable. I suppose she is still earning a crust somewhere although I never come across her I’m happy to say.

  25. barriejohn says:

    Broga: Melanie Phillips. She implied that there were other things ahead, but that looks increasingly like wishful thinking or spin.

    According to Private Eye she really made a fool of herself on Question Time, and Rothermere’s wife went ballistic. Still, as one of the commenters says, when you become a parody of yourself it’s time to go anyway.

    PS Dominic Lawson is dire, but he’s picked up one of those worthless awards already!

  26. barriejohn says:

    Here it is. Always worth another look:

  27. Broga says:

    @barriejohn: Dear Melanie. I guess that without her regular Daily Mail excrescence she loses most of her exposure and attraction as a participant in various programmes.

    I get Private Eye now. My wife enjoys the crossword (she is much brighter than I am) particularly since they stopped Enigma in New Scientist. However, she refuses to read the rest of Private Eye as, having tried it a few times, the scams, fiddles, ripping off of the public etc make her so angry. She developed a particular disgust and contempt for what goes on in Local Government.

  28. barriejohn says:

    Broga: I won the Private Eye Crossword twice and decided to give everyone else a chance! I sympathize with your wife, and tend to stick to the funny part now. One poor guy wrote in and said that he had reluctantly decided to cancel his subscription after many years as he could no longer stand reading week after week about all the spivs and conmen who were ripping us off with the connivance of our wonderful politicians, and found it all too depressing. I knew exactly how he felt – some days I just can’t bear to pick it up!

  29. Matt Westwood says:

    I recommend the Independent on Saturday — there’s a mid-range-difficulty “theme” xword in the back of the Sports section (they moved it there from the magazine’s games page, a retrograde move IMO because it means I can’t just chuck the Sports section away without bothering to open it any more) which I’ve finished a few times and has a blog on

  30. Matt Westwood says:

    Whoops sorry, that’s

  31. AgentCormac says:

    Has the subject of David Cameron and the ‘guidance’ he finds in christian faith been covered earlier? It’s been a rather full-on weekend, so I’m afraid I haven’t been keeping up. Some interesting comments on the story here:

  32. barriejohn says:

    AC: We did discuss it. It looks as if the biter has been bit though:

    That was a short romance!

  33. T says:

    @Bubblecar, I live in the US and everything is fine. It is a common ignorant belief that everywhere in the whole country is like the bible belt. Not so. Whilst fundamentalist-Christians are in full flock, it is not as huge as a problem as some stereotype it as to be here.

  34. charlie says:

    @Bubba T Flubba,
    Yes, I know what you said. I was born in the US and have lived my 66 years here. OK, I did have that “all expenses paid” Southeast “vacation” (13 months in Vietnam 1970-71 with 5th Marine Regiment). Still, I have always had very low tolerance for stupid and the older I get, the less I have until I recently realized I have zero tolerance for stupid. Ignorance can be overcome, hell, I am ignorant of many things, but by reading and asking questions, I overcome that ignorance. Stupid is much different and much worse. Yes, I know the saying “You can’t fix stupid”. And yet, I am too old to stop trying and I never did learn how to quit. Dad never taught me to quit, just stop doing the same damn thing if it kept turning out wrong. Don’t keep making the same mistake. The Marine Corps obviously doesn’t teach Marines how to quit, ever. So, with that background, well, maybe I am becoming a bit stupid myself, but damn, I refuse to quit or to “go quietly”.
    Thanks for your comments to me just the same, I DO appreciate them.

  35. ian says:

    the Atheist bus campaign, caused me to go a bit more public than usual.
    The stickers and posters I started pasting everywhere, especially my house door and vehicles have caused some interesting changes. I no longer get any
    unwanted visitors trying to “save” me. A couple a very irritating neighbours who used to visit, commenting on my lack of crosses on the wall etc, again no longer knock on the door, they actually cross the road to avoid talking to me
    “a win for ME”.