How are you treated as an atheist?

Being involved with FtB has made me really curious —

How are atheists treated where you live?

Living in a more conservative area of the US I don’t always feel safe speaking openly and I know very few atheists in real life (three to be exact but two moved out of the area). I’ve learned living here that it’s easier to just let people assume you’re a Christian even though it feels miserable.

I know that there are places where atheists are the majority and are living openly and safe, but then I know there are places where you can be sentenced to death if you are believed to be an atheist.

Where does your home fall on the spectrum?


  1. Jazzlet says

    In the UK most people don’t discuss religion and it is certainly not assumed you are religious unless you display visible signs. I know one Catholic, but apart from her I don’t think any one I know is religious. I knew my best friend for a couple of decades before it came up that he had been raised as an Orthodox Jew

  2. says

    In Latvia, majority of people are either non-religious or they live as if they were non-religious and are reminded about some vague beliefs they have only once or twice per year during some religious holiday. Especially in larger cities and among young people, being an atheist is the norm. It’s devout and openly religious people who are perceived as unusual.

    I have been openly atheist for all my life, and most of the time people didn’t even notice or care or pay attention, because that is the norm anyway.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I teach at a community college in a mid-sized university town in the US. Out of our faculty of ~100, I can only think of one who is openly Christian and religious. I’m sure many among the rest are casual church-goers, but there seems to be a kind of tacit agreement among all of us that discussing religion is tacky. It’s rather nice.

  4. mathman85 says

    I, too, live in a rather conservative area of the U.S.—one of the other corners of Ohio, as it happens. I don’t often bring up my views on religion around here, though my immediate family is aware that I’m an atheist, and I’m entirely willing to tell others what I think if they ask. Statistically speaking, it’s almost certain that several of the local people that I know personally are also atheists, but I can’t recall any of my local friends or acquaintances ever openly admitting it.

  5. says

    I live in Czech Republic, one of the most non-religious countries in the world. So when I say to someone that I am an atheist, the odds are they will say “me too”. Being an atheist here means being treated normally because being an atheist is normal. What is not normal, is being religious of the “pushy and obnoxious” persuasion.

    I was actually surprised in my teens when I learned that there still are adult people in the world who believe in this religion stuff, and I keep on being surprised until today.

    Churches cling onto some power by – as usual – lying and deceiving voters into electing their lobbyists into office, but such dishonestly enacted pro-religion policies are often widely unpopular and get quick backlash.

  6. says

    I live in Norwich, England.

    In the 2011 census, it was the least religious city in England and Wales, with 42.5% of the population identifying as “no religion”. At least one of the city’s two MPs is an atheist.

    So I’m probably in one of the best places in the world to be an atheist.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I’m in the UK. A fair few of the clergy I’ve met were atheists. We have an established state religion of which the Queen is head, but as a people we’re quite suspicious of the actually religious. Hence when our Prime Minister was asked about his faith in an interview, his press secretary stepped in and said firmly “we don’t do God”. That attitude made me proud to be British.

  8. says

    Where I live, in a relatively prosperous district in Australia, religion or the lack of it hardly ever comes up. Being self employed helps of course, I’m simultaneously the boss and the bottle washer. I’m one of the few remaining specialists in my field and if a customer, devout or not, wants my help they just have to put up with me. It doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t have influence, just that it’s not all pervasive.

    When I discuss important social issues, some people are clearly relieved to be in the presence of a fellow atheist, so their life experiences are probably quite different to mine.

  9. kai0 says

    Sweden here.
    I occasionally am surprised by finding out that this or that person is religious, but mostly they seem harmless on the whole. However, it seems more people are open about being religious these days, perhaps inspired by seeing religion being important in many other countries.

  10. says

    Reporting from NYC here, that infamous bastion of moral turpitude: feminists, POC, AOC, leftists, queer people, Muslims, godless heathens and all those other notorious devils your mother warned you about. Especially those godless heathens!

    Even for me, it’s an interesting and timely question, it turns out. Soooo…I’ve recently had multiple surgeries followed by hospital admissions at an enormous, sprawling, nominally Jewish hospital-and-medical-school complex in Manhattan. It’s the kind of place where the intake forms in nearly every doctor’s office – and I’ve been to a LOT of ’em – ask for “preferred name” and “preferred pronoun,” and the various departments proudly display a rainbow flag or two with messages of welcoming and inclusivity. The staff, from renowned surgeons to janitors, is probably as diverse as the U.N.’s. You get the picture.

    Now I don’t know if it’s an effect of cancer and its treatments or just a typical case of don’t-give-a-fuck-itis, but if someone who is responsible for some aspect of my medical care is going to ask me about my religion, and the physician practices all do, I say “atheist” without skipping a beat. I have that privilege here.

    Or do I? Two surgeries ago back in November, I remember filling out some form or answering some questioner as usual with “athiest.” I get up to pre-op holding, and various people and teams keep dropping by to introduce themselves, then examine and interrogate me (anesthesia docs, O.R. nurses, surgical residents, etc.). I instantly forget all of their names, faces and roles. As I was being wheeled away to the O.R., one of these people, a woman perhaps in her thirties, leans over and says to me almost conspiratorially, “It was nice to see ‘atheist’ in your chart. I wish more people were so open about it.” Huh?! Okay… As an aside here, yes yes this is a “Jewish” hospital, but nearly every single Jewish person in my circle of friends is at least agnostic, and some are quite openly atheist. And also Jewish, in the cultural sense. They celebrate and honor Jewish holidays with family and friends, just like other atheists might celebrate Christmas.
    FF to my most recent surgery and admission, about a week ago. It’s 6:00am and I’m at the very first gatekeeper: the insurance coverage and your copay’s due now person. She takes my credit card and asks me the usual litany of basic biographical questions, including religion. “Atheist,” I say. She doesn’t blink, but after a few seconds appears puzzled at her screen. A supervisor type behind her apparently overheard me, and comes over to assist. It’s apparently no longer a fill-in-the-blank space, and it’s not on the (new?) drop-down menu. I mean it should be right there after Adventist, Seventh Day. Or whatever. I helpfully pitch all sorts of euphemisms like “godless?” “how about heathen?” “None?” “Listen I can take agnostic, just for today?” They’re both mystified that it’s not there. I say, “Come on, I can’t be the only one here today, there are lots of us!” They sort of mumble agreement and apologies and a “Yeah, I know some…” I don’t know what religion they finally decided to choose on my behalf. Pretty sure the credit card part was the only real key to getting past them.

  11. TGAP Dad says

    I live in East Lansing, Michigan, in the literal shadow of Michigan State University. My neighborhood is diverse to the point that I characterize it as “having at least two of any demographic you could name.” Suffice to say that it isn’t ever a conversational topic where I live. Odds are that whatever you are is different from the neighbors next door. My workplace is pretty much the same: devout, lapsed, and never-were shoulder-to-shoulder (almost literally in the damnable “open office” layout!) Some have asked, and I casually informed them I was atheist. (Weird – none of the many Muslims there tried to kill me. Somebody tell Fox “News.”)
    Now, I used to live in a rural community west of Grand Rapids (Michigan, ashes), which is nearly diametrically opposite. Monday morning small talk is ALWAYS about church – which church, sermon critiques, who was and (gasp!) wasn’t there. This is the homeland of the Christian Reformed church, the west Michigan Dutch, as it were. Think of the Taliban, without the frolicking and humor. I kept my beliefs and opinions to myself there.

  12. kestrel says

    I used to live in a VERY religious area. Utah in the USA, in fact. Just about every single day I’d be asked by random strangers what my religion was and how many children did I have. Of course they were expecting me to say “Mormon” and “about 30”.

    So one day this guy is at my house, looking out the double-glass-sliding doors, right at my goats. I mean, there they were in all their glory. And he’s looking right at them, and says, “How many kids do you have?” and I say, “Well right now I’ve got eleven but I’ve got a set of twins due next week” because I thought it was totally clear that I raised goats.

    You should have seen the look on his face. We never did get to what religion I was.

  13. says

    It’s not as big of an issue personally in Chicagoland. There are very religious people here, but I don’t feel like people are forcing me to be religious. As opposed to growing up in Oklahoma and Missouri, where there was tremendous peer pressure to be a Christian.

    Though I fear that might change if “Religious Freedom” rulings go the wrong way for Atheists. Then I can see some suburbs trying to jump on the religion bandwagon.

  14. says

    Reporting in from Vancouver, Canada.

    It practically never comes up. Canada’s culture is shot through with veins of Christianity but it’s not even the same order of magnitude as the United States. I can go weeks without encountering any mention of Jesus or any other religious figure outside the context of an epithet, and that tends to be from me because I picked up a couple of religious swearing habits despite being pretty firmly an atheist.

    It may amuse you to know that the main one of these is I will use “Jesus wept.” as a sort of mythological replacement for “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” despite knowing it is a very Catholic thing to do… because I didn’t pick it up from religious folks, I picked it up from Hellraiser!

    The only time in years I can remember this coming up and it being an actual issue was when I attended a pro-choice counter-protest and therefore wound up tangling with a bunch of religious bigots.

  15. says

    In Canada, nearly all the religious harassment came from the sperm and egg donors until I cut them out of my life. When they found out I was an atheist, they wanted me forcibly reindoctrinated (“re-education camps”, anyone?) but that never happened.

    In South Korea, harassment was rampant and constant. People in “higher” positions saw it as their “right” to impose their religion on ‘subordinates’ (work or socially), to demand religious participation. And in a country where half are christians (most fundy or catholic), they weren’t subtle about it. Some buddhist temples were burnt down by christian arsonists.

    In the religion soaked Philippines, the worst part was the church bells, 6pm “prayers” on shopping mall loudspeakers. They’re about 90% catholic (outside the muslim areas) so I guess they feel confident enough not to worry about atheist foreigners, though I don’t know how they treat their own atheists.

    In fourteen years in Taiwan, the only time religion ever gets on my nerves is the major holidays – 10/10 day (independence), Dragon Boat Festival, and (this coming week) Chinese New Year, when fireworks will be blasting incessantly for 24-48 hours. Most are taoists and buddhists and they don’t care if I’m openly atheist. The scarce few fanatics of other religions don’t hold any sway except with the Taiwanese who oppose marriage equality and other LGBTQIA rights.

  16. springa73 says

    Not actually an atheist myself, but where I live (Massachusetts,USA) I would say that both open atheism and aggressive religiousness are not very common. Most people seem to be casually religious or non-religious but not prepared to call themselves atheists. So, from an atheists point of view it’s not ideal but a lot better than many other places.

  17. wereatheist says

    Berlin, Germany. Probabely like NYC with far less POC.
    Largest religious group are ‘nones’. Second largest is Lutherans, church attendance below 1%.
    Muslims and Jews mostly are not that religious, either.

  18. CPC says

    Isn’t it that you usually don’t recognize the “normal” or moderate follower of the one or other religion (including atheism)? It’s always the extremists who harass their environment. And extreme atheists can be as annoying as extreme Christians, Muslims or Jews (are there extreme Buddhists?).
    I live in Northern Germany with atheism being the major “religion”. And I have a colleague who seems to hate all religions and spreads his hate speech regularely, which is annoing.
    But most of the people here don’t seem to give a dime on their neighbors religous bellieves and accept them beliving differently. Some find it silly to believe in God, some interesting, others brave and others again just wonder why.
    I also find that it is easier to debate about religion with followers of other religons than with atheists. Maybe that’s because there is the basic agreement that there is a God and one only has to debate about “details”, while with atheists it’s about the principle question. And as this is a matter of believing (not knowing), it’s difficult to discuss.
    Interesting topic 🙂

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