The Invisible Minority

Though atheists are the most mistrusted minority in the United States, they are in a unique position among mistrusted minorities: they can be practically invisible at will. Racial minorities cannot hide their physical features. Immigrants cannot hide limited English language ability and can never completely lose their accents if they began learning the language after a certain young age. Religious minorities cannot hide their attendance at services, special diets, special dress, or other public practices; their religions might even demand them to boldly proclaim their faith publicly. Homosexuals and bisexuals cannot hide their relationships without difficulty and considerable inconvenience, and sometimes cannot hide their orientation due to their voice and mannerisms. Atheists, however, differ from the mainstream only in terms of their beliefs, which are inherently undetectable unless expressed by the one who holds them. Atheists remain invisible until they choose to reveal themselves.

Fear of Rejection
This is a decision, however, which atheists must make, repeatedly in the case of new acquaintances. The only substantive reason either to actively hide or to passively conceal one's atheism is fear of rejection. Upon acknowledging their disbelief, some atheists are disowned by their families, some by their husbands, wives or partners, and some by their friends and co-workers. It is for good reason that revealing one's atheism is occasionally referred to as “coming out of the closet”, a term normally used in reference to revealing one's unorthodox sexual preference or identification. Fortunately not all atheists experience such negative and unpleasant reactions from those closest to them, but almost without exception they encounter varying levels of rejection from at least some people who learn of their lack of faith, ranging from a slight cooling off of fomerly fully amicable relations to immediate, hateful and highly vocal repudiation. Occasionally atheists will receive a positive reaction upon professing their disbelief, almost exclusively from fellow nontheists, with whom personal connections can often be more easily established due to mutual empathy.

Coming Out of the Closet
Despite the power of potential rejection, there are numerous motivations to reveal one's atheism:

  • to feel honest with oneself and with the world
  • to establish personal connections with other atheists
  • to increase the political influence of atheists as a group
  • to educate believers that atheists are normal people, not evil or crazy, thus reducing the stigma of disbelief and making it easier for other atheists to reveal themselves
How does one reveal his atheism? The easiest way is just to tell someone when asked! Occasionally the topic of religion arises in social settings, and when it's contextually appropriate, one may express his views clearly and without equivocation. Of course, one should expect to be asked to explain his reasons, so it's good to have an answer prepared. There are more active approaches such as wearing clothing or decorating one's car with certain messages, or purposely raising the topic of religion and then discussing one's disbelief. While their are certain advantages to these approaches, one should be aware that a vocal atheist can be just as annoying as a vocal believer!

Personal Experiences
My personal experiences in acknowledging my disbelief have been somewhat favorable as compared to other atheists. The reactions have ranged from loud exclamations asking how I can possibly not believe in God to friendly respect from other atheists. Some people tell me that they had never met a professed atheist before. Without my actively raising the topic, my family and friends have all learned of my atheism. I am grateful that my mostly religious family has been so understanding and respectful of my position, and that my relationship with them has not suffered at all. My employer and co-workers remain unaware of my atheism, despite occasional opportunities to address the issue, because I consider it unprofessional to discuss religion in the workplace unless absolutely necessary. I have, however, never lied or mislead them about my beliefs.

Anonymity of Secular Planet
Readers may question why this blog is completely anonymous after hearing the author advocate openness regarding one's disbelief. The answer is quite simple: the internet can be very dangerous. One should always be cautious in revealing one's identity online, especially when promoting a minority opinion which is so reviled. Consider some of the various terms used by the religious to refer to the irreligious: infidel, heretic, heathen, apostate, wicked, impious, idolatrous, godless, ungodly, unholy. In a world of violent lunatics, I will choose my battles carefully. An anonymous blog acheives the goal of championing atheism without endangering my personal safety.


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