Today Greta Christina’s book, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why came out. I have read the book and I absolutely loved it. I want to tell you why I loved it, my thoughts about coming out as an atheist in Iran (as a theocratic country).
Why I loved this book?
Coming Out Atheist is part argumentative, urging the reader to come out, and providing reasoning why it is a good idea to do so, part instruction and help book, sharing tips about how to come out, to whom come out, how to manage your life coming out, etc. Both parts are accompanied with many interesting anecdotes from many atheists from all walks of life. Both parts accompany both general advice and reasoning, and advice and reasoning for specific different groups who are atheists, and also about coming out to different people in your life.
I enjoyed reading the book – which Greta Christina so kindly let me have this side of the Iron Curtain – because it is successful in all of these aspects. The adjective I consider the most suitable for the book is “comprehensive”. It really does cover everything quite nicely.
Of course, I’m not the intended reader of this book – I’m an already an “out” atheist, in a situation that being out is not quite pleasant, so I need no convincing that coming out is a good thing to do, and I have already burned all the bridges so coming out tips may not be useful to me now because it’s too late – but this book is quite valuable for another reason. To me the main value of this book was that it helped me to understand other atheists from other walks of life and their struggle better. I could understand things like struggling with families and friends, etc.
So, if you’re an atheist doubting about coming out, or an atheist looking for tips on coming out, this book is for you, but more importantly, if you’re someone who’s interested in understanding the atheist experience just from a comprehensive and multiple points of view, this book is still for you.
Also, I saw a fundamental respect for all of these different walks of life in the book. Greta Christina never goes off the grid, assuming things about people, forcing a view from a dramatic point of view. This is not a revolutionary book, written with the content to enlist as many soldiers to the cause with disregard to their individuality and safety – Greta Christina very clearly states that “we want no martyrs”. This is not a pamphlet. There is genuine sense of concern for the safety and well-being of the reader. It’s a humane and empathetic book. Ultimately, that’s even more reason to love this book.
Coming Out as an Atheist in a Theocracy
There is a chapter dealing with theocracies, and I would like to mention some things because I think I do have a good perspective on this. Funny things is, the chapter that I found spoke to my experience the most closely was the next chapter, the one which was written for students. As a teenager, I suffered the most at the hands of teachers and classmates, and my family is secular, and yet they have always fought my atheistic tendencies for different reasons (chiefly fear for my safety).\
There’s nothing I disagree with in the chapter on theocracy – no misconception.
I love the fact that Greta Christina classifies countries like Egypt and Indonesia as theocracies. I really love the fact that she classifies the theocracies into “de facto” and “overt”. Realizing that Iran and Saudi Arabia are not the only theocracies in the region and “secular” countries like Egypt under Mubarak and Sisi are also quite theocratic, is key to understanding our region and its problems.
And the best advice one can give is really already in the book: “If you’re an atheist in a theocracy, get the fuck out.” Unfortunately it’s easier said than done. The advice about internet and internet anonymity is also very important.
But as I’ve said, there things I’d like to add. Being an “out” atheist in Iran since I was 15, I know a lot about to whom to come out and to whom not – and there’s an advice in one of the other sections of the book which is completely reverse for someone in a theocracy. Greta Christina talks about how coming out to strangers can be less intimidating to come to than family and friends – well the quite opposite is true in a country like Iran.
The less you know somebody, the more likely it is that they are a regime mole. Acquaintances can be more dangerous than strangers – a stranger might take it upon himself (and it’s a man, that’s why I use male pronoun) to stab you to death right in the middle of the street and if he is well-connected no shit will happen to him. Or, he might escort you to a basij barracks and have some fun on your behalf. An acquaintance might report you – and to destroy your life. Absolute trust is crucial in coming out.
Also, if you come out as an atheist in Iran, being ostracized is guaranteed. It doesn’t matter even if your entire family and friends are atheists – religion is so steeped in our daily lives that we cannot escape and create a purely secular space.
There are differences on a personal level though. On some very personal level, I discovered that in some aspects coming out as an atheist can be easier – if you are sure that the person you’re coming out to is not a fundamentalist and a regime supporter.
The main difference, it seems to me, is this: people are in a defensive position. Islam is very political, and it seems to me that by coming out atheist to people they will treat us with someone who is wronged very much by Islam and that they feel guilty about it (again that’s not true about pro-regime families).
And it seems to me many things that are Islamophobic in a western context are very normal in Iran. If I translated the way some young Muslims made fun of Islamic customs and rules you’d say these are the most vile Islamophobe sites, but not, these are young devout Muslims.
Now, just to clear any misunderstanding – I still think being an atheist in Iran is much harder than in USA, the feeling of being absolutely ostracized and facing all the bullying and bigotry is still there, I’m talking about a more personal level, among family and friends and the like.
How to Buy This Book
As I’ve said I recommend getting this book. Here are useful books:
Ordering info: tinyurl.com/outatheist
The ebook on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/
The print book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/
The book info on Pitchstone Publishing (publisher of the print book): http://www.