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We’re Telling Them They’re Wrong: Why Coming Out Atheist Is Inherently Oppositional

Yup. Coming out is hugely important for atheists. I assume this is not a wildly controversial statement. Coming out — and making our community a safer place to come out into, and making the world a safer place to come out in — is pretty much Number One on atheists’ To Do list. And yes, atheists have a huge amount to learn from the LGBT communities about coming out, not just the why but the how: what to say, when to say it, how to say it, who to say it to, what to do if people freak out. There are tons of parallels between the LGBT movement and the atheist movement, and the importance of coming out is one of them — as are many of the specific strategies about doing it.

But I want to talk about something else today, something we don’t talk about as much. I want to talk about some important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer. I think we have a huge amount to learn from the queer movement about coming out — but there are some places where our experiences diverge, and I think we need to pay attention to them.

And one of the most important is this:

Coming out as an atheist means telling believers we think they’re wrong.

There is something inherent in saying, “I’m an atheist” that implies, “You are mistaken to be a believer.” Even if you’re not saying it explicitly. Even if you couldn’t care less about persuading people out of religion. Even if you’re actively opposed to the idea of persuading people out of religion. There is no way to say, “I don’t believe in God,” without implying, “If you do believe in God, you’re wrong.”

That’s not true about coming out queer. There is nothing about coming out as queer that implies, “Straight people are wrong to be straight.” Contrary to the homophobic canard, queers are not trying to recruit. (And even if we wanted to, it wouldn’t work.)

Queerness is a personal, subjective experience. As is straightness. If it’s true for you, then it’s true. So saying, “I’m queer” has no implications about the sexual orientation of the person you’re talking to. But atheism is a conclusion about the external, non-subjective world. And inherent in that conclusion is disagreement with people who’ve reached a different conclusion. When we say, “I’m an atheist,” we are implying, “There’s a question on the table about what’s really true in the world — and I think I’ve reached the right answer, and I think people who disagree are wrong.”

I think atheists need to cop to that.

I think we need to acknowledge that, for us, coming out is an oppositional act. That’s not all it is, of course. It’s also an act of visibility, of community building, of personal honesty and integrity. It helps overturns myths and misinformation about us. It helps normalize atheism and make it seem less scary, both to believers and to incipient atheists. It makes it easier for other atheists to come out… which helps make our communities stronger… which, in turn, makes it easier for still more atheists to come out.

But it is also an oppositional act. Even in its mildest forms. Even when all we do is put up billboards saying something as innocuous as, “You can be good without God,” or, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone”… we are saying, implicitly, “If you believe in God, you’re mistaken.”

Now, I want to be very clear here: I don’t think this is a horrible thing. I actually think it’s an excellent thing, and I definitely think it’s a completely reasonable thing. We tell each other that we’re wrong about stuff all the time — about politics, science, morality, art, medicine, pop culture, philosophy, sports, etc. — and we don’t see it as a grotesque form of bigotry or personal insult. We actually consider it one of the finest things about a free society: the fact that we can openly disagree, and that it’s not only legal but socially acceptable to do so. I see no reason why religion should be the exception.

And if a believer tries to tell atheists how confrontational we’re being by coming out so flagrantly, it’s worth remembering — and reminding them — that the flipside of this is also true. When someone says ,”I’m a Christian” (for instance), they’re telling atheists that we’re wrong. And they’re also saying, “You’re wrong” to Muslims, and Jews, and Buddhists, and Neo-Pagans, and every other believer who doesn’t share their beliefs. Even the most ecumenical, Kumbaya- singing, “We’re all finding God in our own way” believer has things they believe are true and not true about their God. If nothing else, they think they’re right about how everyone can find God in their way — and they think fundamentalists are wrong about how you can only find God in one particular way. And, of course, they think they’re right about God, you know, existing. Being openly atheist means telling people you think they’re wrong… but so does being openly religious.

So yes, coming out as atheist is inherently oppositional. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I actually think there’s a lot that’s right with it. I think religion is a mistaken idea, and mistaken ideas should be opposed.

But I think we need to cop to it. And I think we need to realize that there are consequences to it.

For one thing: I strongly suspect that relations between atheists and believers are always going to be a little conflicted, a little divisive… in a way that relations between straights and queers don’t have to be. When atheists are trying to get along with believers — whether politically and culturally in alliance work, or personally with the friends and family in our own lives — the reality is that, unless one of us changes our minds, we’re always going to disagree about this whole God question. And for many of us, both atheists and believers, the God question is a pretty important one, one with implications that resonate through our lives and the ways we see the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t have relationships with believers… but it does mean that this disagreement is always going to be present. And we’re going to have to find ways to manage it.

And I think it means that, when believers accuse atheists of being confrontational simply by coming out… they’re at least a little bit right. And when atheists deny that, I think it makes us look a little disingenuous. I think we need to cop to it. I don’t think we all need to be super- confrontational in our approach to atheist activism and community building — as I’ve written and said many times, I think there’s room for both diplomats and confrontationalists in our movement, and I think we’re stronger with both methods together than we would be with either one alone. In fact, I think the “diplomat/ confrontationalist” divide is pretty misleading, and that it’s much more of a spectrum than an either/ or split. But… well, that’s actually exactly my point. “Diplomat/ confrontationalist” is not an either/ or split. It’s a spectrum. And there’s a little bit of confrontationalism even in the most diplomatic, “I don’t want to change anyone’s minds about religion” atheist… simply in the act of saying, “I am an atheist.”

However.

That being said.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

Comments

  1. Andrew T. says

    As someone easing out of the closet on both fronts, this topic has always interested me. I’ve found it slightly easier to come out to family as gay than as an atheist, and I wish I knew what the best strategy was…

  2. Wes says

    This is something I try to tell people all the time. It’s really hard to get people to understand that openly religious people are being just as confrontational as I am when I say there is no god.

  3. quantheory says

    I think that this comes down to the difference between religious privilege and straight privilege. Most straight privilege is really negative privilege, the privilege to not regularly be inconvenienced, attacked, or deprived. The LGBT movement has usually focused on getting rid of privilege by granting that same security to everyone.

    Religious privilege, on the other hand, springs mostly from the special reverence that we grant to religions. The goal of atheists is usually not to obtain the same reverence for ourselves, but rather to denounce those privileges as vices in themselves. We don’t want to be as exempt from criticism as the religious; we want everyone to be equally susceptible to criticism. We don’t want people to assume that we’re nice because we are devout in our beliefs; instead we want devotion to beliefs to be considered a virtue only when those beliefs are rationally justified. We don’t want to move up into the realm of socially acceptable “real” (i.e. traditional and populous) religions; we want freedom of belief to be treated in an equitable manner, where traditional and mainstream status don’t guarantee one’s beliefs special treatment.

    In the end, our movement really can’t represent a mere desire to elevate ourselves to the level of Christianity. We often want to get rid of religious privilege not by expanding it to ourselves, but rather by denying it to others. Though reasonable, insofar as those privileges are inevitably oppressive, this idea is a very tough sell.

  4. quantheory says

    Perhaps I should hasten to add that I’m not saying our universal goal is to make religious people uncomfortable as such (though JT seems to think that’s a good idea, and I’m inclined to agree). Rather, it’s to negate the idea that criticizing religion is somehow more morally blameworthy than criticizing atheism, and therefore that religious people are exempt from the discomfort of self-reflection because they can dismiss all criticism as meanness or intolerance.

    The problem is not that atheists are asked to defend their positions, but that religious people don’t really have to empathize because they are secure in the feeling that they don’t experience the same social requirement. It’s very telling that religious activists try to “flip the script” by making themselves out to be victims of intolerance, when talking about prayer in schools, or the teaching of evolution, or LGBT rights. They are so used to religious privilege as part of normal life that they don’t realize that it’s an unfair advantage over others, and when they start to lose it it feels like a natural right is being stolen from them. Of course, if such a privilege never existed in the first place, then simple equality wouldn’t feel like being deprived of rights.

  5. says

    Yes but they’re telling us we’re wrong too. I’m not sure we need to cop to it any more than they do.

    It’s just that their crowd has been doing it unopposed for so long that they think it’s weird for us to do it but not for them to do it. Privilege, in short. We don’t want to pay too much deference to that.

  6. Simon says

    Yeah was going to say the same thing as Ophelia. Broadly speaking, any position can be seen as oppositional…to those who disagree with it.

  7. Greta Christina says

    Ophelia @ #5 and Simon @ #6: Yes, I agree. I even said so. :-) Here’s what I said:

    And if a believer tries to tell atheists how confrontational we’re being by coming out so flagrantly, it’s worth remembering — and reminding them — that the flipside of this is also true. When someone says ,”I’m a Christian” (for instance), they’re telling atheists that we’re wrong. And they’re also saying, “You’re wrong” to Muslims, and Jews, and Buddhists, and Neo-Pagans, and every other believer who doesn’t share their beliefs. Even the most ecumenical, Kumbaya- singing, “We’re all finding God in our own way” believer has things they believe are true and not true about their God. If nothing else, they think they’re right about how everyone can find God in their way — and they think fundamentalists are wrong about how you can only find God in one particular way. And, of course, they think they’re right about God, you know, existing. Being openly atheist means telling people you think they’re wrong… but so does being openly religious.

  8. NatalieB says

    I was actually thinking (and writing a little) about this just the other day. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had two really nice conversations with a person who was alienated from his Mormon family when he came out as atheist, and another who was pretty much disowned when she split from her Jehovah’s Witness family. The experiences rang very, very true to the many stories I’ve heard from LGBT folk coming out, and my own experiences doing so (TWICE! Once as gay, then later as trans).

    What I thought was particularly interesting about the parallel is the way that the family is used an instrument of social/cultural control. Many people end up in the position of having to choose between their family, community and support networks and being true to themselves. It sort of seems to be about making the “cost” as high as possible to be out as gay or bi, to transition, or to turn your back on your religion.

    What I find amazing and beautiful is how many people do find the strength to make that sacrifice. What fills me with sadness is the unknown many who can’t.

  9. Roger says

    Being- or, rather, announcing- you’re a believer of a different kind is as much an oppositional act to every other believer- often with the additional assumption that they’ll go to hell and be tortured for ever and that’s just what they deserve in many cases- so, logically, coming out as an atheist should really be less offensive to believers than changing beliefs. Yet it isn’t, which suggests that believing is much more psychologically important to believers than what people believe.

  10. DS says

    Greta, you often say things that I have been thinking (but in much better words). It’s always annoyed me a bit when both believers and non-believers act like their statements of non-belief/belief aren’t are “just personal” and not inherently indicting the other’s position. if you believe in god (and state that) you are making a statement about the nature of my reality as well (surely you dont believe in a god that only exists in your reality)

  11. Rieux says

    Quantheory @3 and 4—those are great comments.

    Greta, I don’t know how major an issue this is, but as a caveat to the contrast you’re drawing here, we should probably note that there are straight-identified people who believe, generally for stupid reasons, that being queer is an entirely unnatural thing—that no one is really gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, etc. I think that’s relevant here, in that coming out as queer to those people is indeed saying “You’re wrong,” at least as much as coming out as atheist (or openly identifying as Christian or whatever) is.

    Given the standard model of sexual orientation and normal human variation of same, the contrast you’re drawing (i.e., “I’m gay” doesn’t mean “Straight person, you’re wrong”) holds up. And I certainly wouldn’t dream of disputing that model—but some people do.

    I suppose I’m arguing that openly identifying as queer necessarily carries belief content in and of itself. Being attracted to members of one’s same sex doesn’t (or not in the same way), nor does feeling that one’s gender identity and one’s body aren’t aligned. But the decision to openly identify as gay or lesbian or transgendered implies that one holds certain beliefs about human sexuality… and people who dispute those beliefs aren’t crazy to see out GLBTs as an open repudiation of their ideas.

    Finally, on slightly less formal logical terms, there’s another element of coming out that does (we hope—right?) communicate to certain homophobes and atheophobes that they’re wrong: they’re wrong to imagine that queer people and atheist people are dirty, scummy, hopeless wretches. By being both (1) happy and caring and productive human beings and (2) openly queer and/or atheist, that’s challenging something they believe, too. It’s a little less oppositional, in an open-debate sense, than the challenge you’re noting in the OP here, but there’s still some disproof going on.

  12. Jurjen S. says

    This kind of thing has been bugging me for almost four years, since reading this article (originally published in Wired as “The Crusade Against Religion”), specifically this passage:

    This type of conversation takes place not in central Ohio, where I was born, or in Utah, where I was a teenager, but on the West Coast, among technical and scientific people, possibly the social group that is least likely among all Americans to be religious. Most of these people call themselves agnostic, but they don’t harbor much suspicion that God is real. They tell me they reject atheism not out of piety but out of politeness. As one said, “Atheism is like telling somebody, ‘The very thing you hinge your life on, I totally dismiss.'” This is the type of statement she would never want to make.

    Emphasis mine. At the time of reading, my gut reaction was “how does that make atheism more impolite than openly professing any religious position (or lack thereof)?” If you profess yourself to be a Christian, you are implicitly telling every Jew he’s wrong about the messiah thing, every Muslim he’s wrong about Mohamed being God’s prophet, etc. Conversely, proclaiming yourself a Jew or a Muslim sends an implicit message to every Christian that they’re wrong about Jesus being divine.

    But as quantheory says, many people accord religion some special privilege whereby certain behaviors are tolerated, even deferred to, when committed by the religious, but are the subject of criticism when committed by those with the guts to openly proclaim themselves atheists.

  13. stacy says

    If you profess yourself to be a Christian, you are implicitly telling every Jew he’s wrong about the messiah thing, every Muslim he’s wrong about Mohamed being God’s prophet, etc. Conversely, proclaiming yourself a Jew or a Muslim sends an implicit message to every Christian that they’re wrong about Jesus being divine.

    But as quantheory says, many people accord religion some special privilege whereby certain behaviors are tolerated, even deferred to, when committed by the religious, but are the subject of criticism when committed by those with the guts to openly proclaim themselves atheists

    There’s no question there’s privilege at work, but I wonder if there isn’t something more. Maybe a vague idea that atheists, having gotten past the social conditioning and comforting denial-of-mortality inherent in religion, are stronger than theists, and therefore ought to be more considerate of their feelings?

    I suspect some of the atheist gnu-bashers must feel this way. Heck, I catch myself feeling this way myself sometimes. It’s condescending to religious people, really.

  14. Jurjen S. says

    What, we atheists need to be nicer because we’ve managed to divest ourselves of the need for a Bronze Age fairy tale as a security blanket? Well, okay, but only if it’s universally acknowledged that any theistic worldview is (ultimately) based on a Bronze Age fairy tale and a handicap (in the sporting sense) is assigned accordingly.

  15. hoverfrog says

    Surely “coming out of the closet” implies some sort of secrecy or shame or at least the shedding of it. I’m an atheist. I always have been. I’m not ashamed of that. I don’t keep it a secret that I don’t believe in a magic sky daddy. If anyone should feel shame or embarrassment and want to keep their beliefs secret it should be those who believe in deities.

    Nor do I find the fact that some people are gay to be shameful in any way. To be perfectly frank about it I don’t even find it interesting. Some people are gay. Great, good luck to them. I couldn’t be happier for them.

    Neither group should have to “come out of a closet” because neither should ever have to be hidden. It is only that bigotry against gay people and against atheists (and plenty of other groups) is so widespread that the bigots can get away with silencing those who disagree with them.

    Sadly this is where that sense of secrecy stems from. We have nothing to be ashamed of by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

  16. karmakin says

    There actually is a really good explanation for what most people in this thread are talking about.

    Theism is more important, at this juncture, than the actual religion itself.

    Now, I don’t think this is equally the case for all religions of course. However, for a large portion of the population, this probably is the case. This is why they don’t see other religions as the same sort of personal attack..as long as the religion is not “denying” the core fundamentals of theism, or maybe it would be better to say monotheism, then it’s fine. We’re all on the same page.

    Which is particularly upsetting to me, as I don’t really have a problem with religious institutions, per se, as much as I have a problem with overt theism in and of itself.

  17. NatalieB says

    @Rieux:

    I don’t think identifying as gay/lesbian/bi/trans/etc. actually implies any kind of particular belief about human sexuality. It doesn’t require any belief. It’s just your own experiences. Whether or not a gay man believes that his attraction to men is “wrong” or “unnatural” or whatever, he is still experiencing that attraction. Whether or not a trans woman believes gender is a social construct or biologically determined or whatever, her gender identity is still in conflict with her body. “Coming out” generally *implies* a certain kind of acceptance of those things, but it isn’t necessary. Being queer just IS, regardless of what you believe about it. You could only say that coming out is challenging someone’s beliefs if that person actually believed there was no such thing. But that is almost never the case… even the most hardcore heteronormative bigots at least accept there is such a thing as LGBT people. Belief that it’s “wrong” is not in any way in conflict with the belief that that’s who someone is. The conflict and “I believe you’re wrong” stuff comes from latter statements, like “I think you should be supportive of my sexuality / transition / whatever”, not from the coming out itself.

  18. Rieux says

    Natalie:

    Whether or not a gay man believes that his attraction to men is “wrong” or “unnatural” or whatever, he is still experiencing that attraction.

    Certainly. But what is the nature of that attraction? Is it one way of existing as a human being, or is it a deep and detestable sin that he must needs repent of, receive absolution for, and potentially be cured of? Publicly saying “I’m gay” does in fact express an opinion on that question.

    Whether or not a trans woman believes gender is a social construct or biologically determined or whatever, her gender identity is still in conflict with her body.

    And if she persists in deep denial that “gender identity” is any more part of her self than a case of motion sickness is? If she decides to accept what she takes to be God’s manifest intention in giving her this penis and testicles, she (and the many others shoving such ideas at her) will directly deny any such “conflict” between her body and her self.

    Conservative Christians are not, allegedly, gay (or lesbian or trans or what-have-you), they struggle with same-sex attraction or have gender identity issues.

    There is a fundamental difference, and an ideological one, between believing that gay, lesbian, transgendered, and similar categories are things that people are rather than behaviors or sins that people commit or suffer from, but which can theoretically be cured and forgiven. Which is why you get homophobic idiots comparing homosexuality to kleptomania—and not, say, left-handedness.

    even the most hardcore heteronormative bigots at least accept there is such a thing as LGBT people.

    That’s simply not true. I gather you’re not terribly familiar with (or else you’re just ignoring the existence of) organizations like Exodus International, or the Gender Identity Awareness Association. They absolutely do not accept that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered are things that people are. The fundamental notion behind such groups is that transgenderism and homo- and bisexuality are curable conditions (e.g., behaviors and temptations), not identities.

    Why, on your model, would anyone identify as “ex-gay” or “ex-trans”? As you know, thousands unfortunately do.

    Being queer just IS, regardless of what you believe about it.

    There are millions of people who directly and fervently dispute that. The ideological conflict doesn’t go away just because you (and I) are very confident they’re wrong.

  19. NatalieB says

    First of all, I just want to quickly say that I do understand and respect what you’re getting at and think you’re raising some great points. Just wanted to say that so that this doesn’t come across like an argumentative or dismissive kind of thing. :)

    Certainly. But what is the nature of that attraction? Is it one way of existing as a human being, or is it a deep and detestable sin that he must needs repent of, receive absolution for, and potentially be cured of? Publicly saying “I’m gay” does in fact express an opinion on that question.

    Does it? I’d say that publicly saying “I’m gay” could (in theory, at least) mean “I’ve committed that deep and detestable sin I need to repent for”. The belief in the existence of gay people doesn’t direct contradict religious belief the same way saying there is no God does.

    And if she persists in deep denial that “gender identity” is any more part of her self than a case of motion sickness is? If she decides to accept what she takes to be God’s manifest intention in giving her this penis and testicles, she (and the many others shoving such ideas at her) will directly deny any such “conflict” between her body and her self.

    She’d still be trans. Whether or not she recognizes the conflict, or remains in denial, she still experiences it.

    There is a fundamental difference, and an ideological one, between believing that gay, lesbian, transgendered, and similar categories are things that people are rather than behaviors or sins that people commit or suffer from, but which can theoretically be cured and forgiven. Which is why you get homophobic idiots comparing homosexuality to kleptomania—and not, say, left-handedness.

    I think maybe what you’re getting at is that coming out means to expressly describe this as part of who you *are*, rather than something you “commit or suffer from”. I’m not necessarily sure that’s the case. Again, this is only in theory, but someone could come out as having committed the “sin” or “suffer from the curable condition”, and it would still be coming out.

    That’s simply not true. I gather you’re not terribly familiar with (or else you’re just ignoring the existence of) organizations like Exodus International, or the Gender Identity Awareness Association. They absolutely do not accept that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered are things that people are. The fundamental notion behind such groups is that transgenderism and homo- and bisexuality are curable conditions (e.g., behaviors and temptations), not identities.

    Regardless of whether these organizations believe that being queer is something you “are”, they still accept that these things are part of the world though, that such “sins” / “conditions” / behaviours do occur. That’s really all I’m getting at.

    Why, on your model, would anyone identify as “ex-gay” or “ex-trans”? As you know, thousands unfortunately do.

    To identify as “ex-gay” or “ex-trans” you’d be tacitly admitting that at one point you were gay or trans.

    And just a minor quibble: Thousands of “ex-trans”? I kind of doubt that. “Regretioners” and de-transition are actually *extremely* rare. I can’t remember the actual data, but I’m pretty sure the rate of regret for transition is WELL below the rate of regret people have for cosmetic surgeries and stuff, and definitely well below the myths that certain anti-LGBT organizations like to perpetuate. And I’d imagine most regrets are related to discrimination and social consequences (losing jobs, families, housing, etc.), not the transition itself. It’s not really relevant to this discussion, I know, it’s just something I felt like pointing out. :)

    There are millions of people who directly and fervently dispute that. The ideological conflict doesn’t go away just because you (and I) are very confident they’re wrong.

    Yeah, there are ideological conflicts. I don’t dispute that. But the ideological conflict isn’t based on whether or not LGBT people (or let’s just say “people who identify as LGBT”) actually exist, in the sense that atheism vs. theism is about whether or not God actually exists. It’s about what LGBT means.

    I mean, of course there are differing beliefs on this stuff. And of course coming out as queer can bring someone into conflict with the beliefs of their families. But it’s not intrinsically ABOUT conflicting beliefs in the same sense that coming out as atheist is.

    As I mentioned in my first comment, I think making the comparison between coming out as atheist to coming out as queer can be very valuable. And that the similarities do matter, and can teach us a whole lot. But… I mean, I’ve come out as atheist, gay and trans, and I can say with some decent certainty that all three were, despite their similarities, also very different things with very different implications and challenges. That’s all.

    But I respect what you’re getting at. There’s definitely a reason people get upset and defensive and feel threatened when someone comes out as LGBT to them. And LGBTIQ people DO, by simply existing, threaten many assumptions about gender and sexuality.

  20. Roger says

    I don’t really have a problem with religious institutions, per se, as much as I have a problem with overt theism in and of itself.

    -Karmakin

    The fashion just now is a Roman Catholic frame of mind with an Agnostic conscience: you get the mediaeval picturesqueness of the one with the modern conveniences of the other.

    People may say what they like about the decay of Christianity; the religious system that produced green Chartreuse can never really die.

    -Saki

  21. Rieux says

    Natalie:

    I think we pretty well understand one another. Thanks.

    @22:

    Just wanted to say that so that this doesn’t come across like an argumentative or dismissive kind of thing.

    No worries. I argue for a living. I haven’t found anything you’ve written to be inappropriate or unkind. Argumentative, sure—but that’s not a bad word where I’m from. (I.e., Attorneyville.)

    .

    I’d say that publicly saying “I’m gay” could (in theory, at least) mean “I’ve committed that deep and detestable sin I need to repent for”.

    I dunno about “in theory,” but in practice that’s definitely not what “ex-gays” and the religious numbskulls who demand they stuff themselves into doctrinal straitjackets understand “I’m gay” to mean.

    .

    And of course coming out as queer can bring someone into conflict with the beliefs of their families. But it’s not intrinsically ABOUT conflicting beliefs in the same sense that coming out as atheist is.

    And what I’m saying is that, when the believers in question are staunchly anti-gay ones, that’s not such a stark contrast—because the very notions of queer (1) identity and (2) pride that are fundamental elements of coming out set up a direct conflict with widespread homo- and transphobic theology, a conflict that is “intrinsically ABOUT conflicting beliefs.”

  22. Tony says

    >What I find amazing and beautiful is how many people do find the strength to make that sacrifice. What fills me with sadness is the unknown many who can’t.<

    I never thought about it that way, but you're right. That does take tremendous strength. I remember how nervous I was coming out of the closet at 21, and then thinking (quite naively) it should be easy for others to come out. At 36, I have a better understanding of the complex issues involved in coming to terms with one's sexuality (and I wish I could reach back and smack myself at 21 for thinking such a thing was "simple").
    I just realized that it's doubly tough to be gay and atheist. For many parents, having a gay child is difficult to deal with, but if their child is a believer, there is still the chance they can be "saved". Having a child who is gay and atheist must be the equivalent (to many parents) of losing their child.

  23. WannaBOutside says

    “There is no way to say, “I don’t believe in God,” without implying, “If you do believe in God, you’re wrong.”

    That’s not true about coming out queer. There is nothing about coming out as queer that implies, “Straight people are wrong to be straight.” ”

    At this point, is occurs to me that the difference is truly that being an atheist is indeed a choice, while being homosexual is not. Being both, I find I have to explain my choice more frequently for the atheism than for the homosexuality.

  24. dannykeith says

    I recently came out to parents as an agnostic atheist. I kind of have been all of my life (I’m 46) but like a good son and husband, I tried to tow the line. I wanted to believe, in fact, I kind of envy those that can and do. Life would be easier if I could just assign a belief in the supernatural as an explanation for everything we don’t quite fully understand. But that’s not me. I have always been accused of being overly analytic in my thought processes. I’m sure anyone who has similar notions knows the drill.

    The problem is that I love my parents deeply and I have unintentionally hurt them. Now they refuse to talk to me. I’m not sure if they ever will. Luckily, they still talk to my wife and their grandchildren. My wife has been supportive of me and she is a staunch Catholic. While my ‘statement of non-faith’, as it were, has made it difficult between us – she still loves me and wants me to be happy. She is a very different brand of Catholic than my parents. We have been able to reach compromises when it comes to things of a religious nature. She is very open and understanding whereas my parents are quite the fire-and-brimstone pre-Vatican II types.

    This article has been very eye-opening to me. What I am searching for is some advice on how to re-establish a relationship with my parents. If they come right out and say I am dead to them, that suck hard but I would just have to deal with it. And if we start our relationship up again, I don’t want them proselytizing to me every time we have a conversation. Parents have strong mojo and especially since they are the ones who planted the seeds of belief, I feel it is important for them to respect my wishes and not speak of god or any other religious thing if it’s in the form of getting me to ‘come back to the fold’. I asked this of them and they ignored me. I finally had to tell my dad to stop it. I did it politely in an email (he kept sending me religious information and lured me into a religious conversation by starting an email innocuously talking about his dogs, etc.).

    Before I completely runaway with this post – I’d like to know if anyone else has had a similar experience and if you were successful in gaining back a loving relationship with your parents – how did you do it? Any comments, ideas, criticisms are most welcome. Thanks.

  25. Leum says

    At this point, is occurs to me that the difference is truly that being an atheist is indeed a choice, while being homosexual is not. Being both, I find I have to explain my choice more frequently for the atheism than for the homosexuality.

    If anything, I’d say sexual orientation is more of a choice than belief. I can choose not to act on my sexual orientation (which is all the homophobes really care about), but I cannot choose to believe in God. I have been persuaded on this point, and while I could pretend to believe, I cannot in fact do so unless I am persuaded otherwise. Belief is not chosen.

  26. Jorge Laris says

    You got something wrong, I had met people who really think that gays and lesbians are going to make everyone else gay and lesbian… it is a stupid statement, i know, but it is what some people does thinks.

    It sounds crazy =/

  27. WannaBOutside says

    Leum, I beg to differ. While you are correct that I could choose not to act on my homosexuality, it does not make me not a homosexual, and it certainly does not make me a heterosexual, or asexual for that matter. My atheism, on the other hand, is my rational, reasoned choice. I was brought up in a relatively religious family, I learned all the indoctrination materials, and I chose to reject them. I did research into other religions, and found that none of them made any sense to me, and I rejected them as well. In other words, a person can be persuaded to believe something, but cannot be persuaded to enjoy sex with the wrong person.

    BTW, I also agree that “that is all the homophobes care about”, but it is NOT all the LGBT community cares about.

  28. other says

    I see nothing wrong with being who you are; therefore, if you are gay then that is who you are. If you hid this then you never are being who you were intended to be. Just what the world needs more lies. People need to grow up and accept the fact that what makes humanity great are the differences. Religion is nothing but a controlling doctrine to make everyone the same and control their actions. Religion is a source of racism, murder, sex slaves, slavery, hatred, etc. Religion is evil and the only way around that is by cherry picking the doctrine and sticking your head in the sand. Lose religion today and make a better tomorrow. Do it for your kids, do it for your country, do it for the world and stop the insanity of religious destruction.

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  1. [...] been used as the yardstick by whihc strategies to advance secular goals are measured. We are told, again and again, that atheists must “come out of the closet“, and thousands of words have [...]

  2. [...] choose religious belief with all the bad that comes with them.)  I read what wonderfully eloquent people are saying and I think how much better it would have been for me if among the options my parents had presented [...]

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