My Old Kentucky Homesite

The Atheist Out Campaign

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 02/22/2010

One of my main objections to the various freethinker billboards is that they’re cold, aloof. Atheists, skeptics, freethinkers will get accepted in society only when we have faces, only when theists come to realize that we’re their neighbors, their coworkers, their classmates, maybe even their kids. The friendly woman who held the elevator for you in the lobby of your office building this morning, or the polite guy who slowed down in his car so you could safely merge into his lane on the highway, they could be atheists. The teacher who encouraged your creativity, the doctor who squeezed you in for an emergency visit between others’ appointments, the people down the block who brought you your mail that had been erroneously delivered to them, they, too, might be atheists. Atheists come in all shapes and sizes. We represent the full gamut of ages, social backgrounds, races, and places of origin. Some atheists are funny, others deadly serious; some cheery, others gloomy. There are longwinded atheists and terse atheists, outgoing atheists and shy atheists, atheists who are active and atheists who are sedentary. We’re a cross-section of America and we’re everywhere. But many theists don’t even realize that they know us — because far too many atheists are afraid to talk about their atheism.

So I think we should to start the Atheist Out Campaign. There’s nothing drastic about it. You don’t have to confront those you dread, or jump on any bandwagon. You don’t have to contribute money, or go to meetings, or hand out fliers. In fact, you don’t have to do much. You merely have to help create a geometric progression of acceptance by telling just three people who don’t already know that you’re an atheist, that you are. Pick friends, relatives, casual acquaintances, or even complete strangers. It doesn’t matter. Just put a face to atheism: yours. If you find other frightened, closeted atheists in the process, enourage them to do the same.

Some of you may ask: “What if I lose my job? What if my family disowns me? What if my friends shun me?”

My question: What if they don’t? What if you’ve been squelching part of your intellectual and emotional life all these years — for nothing? Your silence propagates the fear, but your forthrightness breeds freedom. Something has to be done to combat the forces of intellectual darkness that threaten to take over our country; we can all begin by refusing to hide from the light of reason.

19 Responses to “The Atheist Out Campaign”

  1. Approximately half my colleagues are atheists, but I’ve never heard anyone admit it in mixed company. One colleague saying, “Well, I’m not religious, but if I were …” was the closest I’ve heard to anyone announcing their atheism in mixed company. One who is a professed agnostic (again, not in mixed company), even sends his child to the local evangelical private school and attends church. It is strange that while we have out homosexuals, no one ever claims to be a “faithfreeist.”

  2. Des:
    You’ve illustrated my point exactly. Why do so many freethinkers cower in the presence of superstitition? Those ridiculous, and ultimately anonymous, billboards make me scream in frustration. How can allegedly “reasonable” persons allow unreason to rule their behavior? What we need are parades and rallies, attended by folks who are proud to say, “I don’t believe in any gods.”

  3. What if I lose my job?
    – You sue

    What if my family disowns me?
    – Then you’ve just saved yourself years of anxiety and the subsequent health problems and therapy that would result from that anxiety living a lie and pretending to be someone or something they’ll love. Family love isn’t supposed to be conditional.

    What if my friends shun me?
    – Then they weren’t really your friends, were they?

    Those alleged freethinkers near you are really getting under your skin, aren’t they? I think the gays have it right by outing their own who are trying to hide.

  4. Jeff Hope said

    Now I understand why you posted a comment on my blog hoping that I would start blogging under my real name. While that probably won’t happen soon, I can tell you that I do not hide my lack of religious belief. I also don’t proclaim it without being asked. But if any one asks if I’m a Christian or if I believe in a god, I have no problem saying no.

  5. Jeff Hope said

    I should also say that we are neighbors since I live in Tennessee.

  6. the chaplain said

    An Atheist Out Campaign. I think someone else suggested the idea before you. Where’s the link to the Larry Wallberg T-Shirt collection?

    …telling just three people who don’t already know that you’re an atheist, that you are

    Too bad you didn’t post this last week before Dave the deacon outed me on a friend’s facebook page – I’d already be 1/3 of the way to my quota. Can I count her anyway? I haven’t done the Dan Barker thing and written letters to everyone I’ve ever known, but I’ve gradually been coming out to friends, co-workers and family members. I don’t look for confrontations, but, if they come my way, I don’t back down from them either.

  7. Postman said

    An excellent idea, Larry. And to show my solidarity, I choose you as number 1 on my list:

    Larry, I know we’ve never discussed this before and I’ve never come right out and said it, but I am an atheist anti-theist.

    Gawd, it feels good to get that off my chest!

  8. Philly:
    Good responses to all three hypothetical questions, although suing might not do an atheist any good here in Kentucky.

    I’ve thought a lot about the comparisons between the plight of today’s atheists and the problems of homosexuals before the gay movement really got into full swing. For better or worse, I think atheists have a much easier time staying “in the closet.” Covert homosexuals — and, of course, there are still plenty of them — had to squelch not only their emotions, but their most primal, physical urges. Atheists have to deal only with their intellects and emotions. (Hell, you and I know of some atheists who would probably deny that their emotions had any bearing whatsoever on their mental activity.) In any case, lacking the physical element, burying one’s freethinking identity is a somewhat easier task, for some, than burying one’s sexual identity. However, the ironic thing is: it’s unreasonable to do so.

    My post wasn’t about faith-free writers announcing who they are on their blogs. As one who had a pseudonymous blog for a few years, I know how much fun it is to create a new persona. When I started that blog, I (delusionally) saw myself as a kind of “Publius” of the Atheosphere. After a while, as my subject matter strayed further and further from my original politico-legal intent, my assumed identity started becoming more and more like the real me, until it would have been impossible for anyone to pinpoint exactly what the differences were between “the Exterminator” and Larry Wallberg. For all intents and purposes, there were none. But by that time, I felt established under my alias — and, to be honest, I still enjoyed having it. My wife was certainly pleased that no one was making nasty phone calls to me or sending hate mail to our house (both of which had happened on a number of occasions when I’d been writing a newspaper column). So, out of deference to her, and also because I got such a kick out of having developed what I thought was a novel character (it wasn’t), I didn’t reveal my real name.

    But in the actual world, as opposed to the Internot, I’ve always been a proud atheist. Just as you are.

    By the way: Except for having different college basketball teams, aren’t Tennessee and Kentucky the same state?

    Don’t get me started on the Dawkins “Out” Campaign, which clearly was just a ploy to sell ugly merchandise.

    As far as your own “out”ness goes, you’ve come a long way since the time when you were a frightened lurker writing people emails asking them, please, not to tell anybody about your intellectual life. I know for a fact that you’ve told far more than three people about your atheism. Your story is a pretty good example of what I had in mind when I wrote this post.

  9. Postie:
    So that’s why all my mail from God has no return address. I knew there was something unfishy going on at the post office.

  10. Now I’m wondering: do I actually know anyone who is unaware that I’m an atheist? Well, acquaintances, shopkeepers, my mechanic, some of my neighbors don’t know. It hasn’t actually come up in conversation but, if it did, I would have no problem ‘outing’ myself. I just never thought of it in terms of putting a face to atheism (not that I’m sure this is the face you would want associated with atheism (might be a bit of a turnoff)).

    As to pseudonymous blogging, anyone who knows me in the flesh and blood will (would?) have no problem knowing who I am. I have (on at least one occasion) signed my real name to a comment (and I think it was on your old blog (had to do with an over-reaction on my part (shit, I’m rambling))).

    I think that what would surprise people the most (those acquaintances who don’t already know) if and when they do find out my religious and theological predilictions is how breathtakingly boring I am. Well, not boring, but ordinary. Minivan and a mortgage, two kids, cats, fish, a rat (three days ago, (((Girl))) blessed us with rat (cute, but still a rat (name of Rizzo (from the Muppets)))) and some fancy posts and pans. Ordinary middle America except for my beliefs. Maybe that’s what scares the radical Christians so much — we (just like gays) are ordinary and rather unremarkable people.

    Sorry for the long ramble.

  11. (((Billy))):
    Maybe that’s what scares the radical Christians so much —we (just like gays) are ordinary and rather unremarkable people.
    My point exactly. How could anybody who’s not a wingnut bigot suddenly decide to hate good ol’ Billy, the guy up the block with the Minivan, the rat, and all those parentheses?

    Like you, I’d find it difficult to meet my quota of three. But I do have a few new neighbors I haven’t met yet. Maybe I could dress up in a suit and tie, carry a copy of On the Origin of Species in my hand, and knock on their door at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. But I know I’d have a hard time pasting a vapid smile on my face at that hour. Or at any hour, if truth be told.

  12. That’s why my wife complains when I write anti-theist blog posts. She is certain that a torch-and-pitchfork-armed mob is always waiting in the wings.

    We went to a child’s birthday party about a year ago. The mother is an evangelical. It was a little weird that the guests mostly spoke about church crap. One of the guests approached and asked, “What church do you go to?” My wife’s quick response was, “Uh, we just moved.” We had moved about 4 miles away from our old house. “Oh, so you’re still looking?” “Uh, yeah.” I was appalled, but not enough to cause a scene at a kid’s party.

  13. Des:

    Your wife’s response at the party was pretty damned funny; how did you not wind up with soda coming out of your nose? My wife is also a bit wary of repercussions from my blogging, speaking, writing, and just mouthing off in general. (And I’m not referring just to my spoutings on the subject of atheism.)

    Perhaps you should add a disclaimer to the footer of your blog:
    The opinions expressed above are those of the writer only; don’t blame his poor wife if you think he’s an asshole. At least you don’t have to live with him.”

  14. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to out me now, are you Larry?

    I’m probably going to out myself one of these days on my blog. The only thing that really scares me about that is that cl may try to look me up if he’s ever in PA. 8)

  15. SI:
    I’m probably going to out myself one of these days …
    In the meantime, you might want to consider pulling up your fly.

  16. He hasn’t popped in on me yet, SI.

    DS: YOU wouldn’t have been causing the scene.

  17. In the meantime, you might want to consider pulling up your fly.

    {looking down} Oh, shit…

  18. TinaFCD said

    My elderly neighbor of 30 years is slowly deteriorating. I have helped her do a lot of things, from picking up a prescription after her dentist pulled a couple of her teeth, to picking up her car in a parking lot because it broke down and many many other things. She is always saying “god bless you!” and such. Her daughter lives in another state and we keep in contact, just in case something happens next door. She is very religious and sends me gift cards to restaurants or just a money gift card for helping out with her mom. The cards are always religious in nature, she has no clue that an atheist is taking care of her mom. I wonder how she would react? Atheists care just like everyone else should.

  19. Tina:
    She has no clue that an atheist is taking care of her mom. I wonder how she would react?
    Why don’t you mention it, and find out. Since when are you shy?

    See, you’d be a perfect kind of person to say something. If the daughter is reasonable, she may be shocked, and then ask you a few question — and then let it go. Next time somebody tells her how evil atheists are, she’ll summon up your picture in her head and she’ll wonder whether the bigot knows what the fuck he or she is talking about.

    Of course, if the daughter is unreasonable, she may fire you from the “job” — for which you’re not getting paid.

    Aren’t you curious to see what kind of a reaction you get?

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