No more tiptoe

An atheist comes out as an atheist. In Kentucky.

I have often tiptoed around stating my lack of religious beliefs because, like
many people in a minority, I fear being shunned and judged. I’ve described
myself with words like non-religious, humanist, and freethinker and have most recently been playing with the “Unitarian” label. But as my kids get older, I don’t want them thinking there is anything wrong with me saying exactly what I am, in terms of my personal religious faith: an atheist. There, I said it. I am an atheist. I AM AN ATHEIST!

Hey Leanna. There are lots of us out here.



  1. Philip Legge says

    And the more people who just say that openly without the world coming to an end as a result, the easier it will be for other people everywhere. (Though in some places it still takes bravery to stand up for yourself.) Congrats Leanna.

  2. Dean Buchanan says

    Brave and smart Leanna. Thank you for coming out to the world.

    My youngest son goes to a public elementary school where he is not afraid to say he is an atheist…

    I know, I know, a freethinker, but he self identifies as an atheist. I think he likes it because it helped him with the whole Santa Claus problem, him being of Jewish heritage and all. I actually think that Santa=God is pretty accurate for a 9 year old. He doesn’t believe in either and likes it!

    Congratulations to you Ophelia, I think FTB is a great place for my favorite bloggers and you are one of them. I love the idea of causing money to be sent to you by simply doing what I do almost every day anyway.

  3. Rieux says

    Great to see you here, Ophelia.

    Hope someone will get to work on the FTB front page to add links to the new blogs that are arriving—you, Greta, Jen, and whoever else. At present, it’s just (I think) the charter members who are listed on the front door.

  4. MikeMa says

    I lived for many years as a closet atheist so that my sons could enjoy the many (non-religious) benefits of boy scouts. I had no problem with the religious baloney as it was a very small part of our troop’s focus although other troops and some individuals were more devout and demanding in that area. Even when it was my turn to provide some Sunday morning inspiration on a weekend campout, I would stress the importance of seeing and appreciating nature’s beauty without referring directly to any source for that beauty. Worked for a decade.

  5. badjim says

    There’s nothing wrong with being Unitarian, and it may not be the worst way to raise a kid. My parents were agnostic and left us kids to find our own ways, so many of us had flings with Christianity, which a more comprehensive religious education might have spared us.

    That said, atheist is a much stronger identity, plus it makes for a less stressful Sunday morning. While church services have their pleasures, communing with nature is, for me, far more rewarding.

  6. Egbert says

    How is atheism an identity? I am an atheist, but also an afairyist, as I don’t believe in fairies. How can those things possibly be about identity?

  7. says

    It must be a struggle to homeschool one’s children when most homeschoolers are members of the ‘on the 6th Day the Lord created Smith & Wesson’ club. More power to Leanna!

  8. says

    Damn, I can’t keep my gravatar and blog link by registering, so I’m afraid someone will just have to let technically useless me out of the moderation filter every time I comment.

    I had a feeling this would happen.

    Now to try to kill off the stupid registration thingy.

  9. theobromine says

    Something I found surprising about atheist homeschooling is the negative attitude of atheists. I have encountered a number of people who have said that it is so important that wacko Christians be prevented from homeschooling that they want make it illegal for everyone.

  10. butterfliesandwheels says

    At this point I’m tempted to agree with them, even though I think school is mostly a terribly inefficient way to teach and hell for kids who are in any way weird or nerdy.

  11. theobromine says

    Well, I’m generally a community-minded person, but I am very reluctant to put my kids through “hell” for the good of society.

  12. pHred says

    OT – but wow am I glad that you have moved your blog here. For some reason I always had a terrible time accessing your old site. I really look forward to reading more from you.

  13. Ophelia Benson says

    Being an afairyist probably can’t, because genuine belief in fairies isn’t all that common among adults, and doesn’t have much to do with the laws, politics, the culture, education, and so on. Being an atheist can for the opposite reasons.

  14. Ophelia Benson says

    I know – the hell part is a real issue.

    It’s one of those things where there is no good answer.

  15. says

    I could no more be opposed to atheist homeschooling than I could milk a bull or fly to the moon by flapping my arms. I was a beneficiary of homeschooling for two years through this fine organisation (Cairns office):

    Australia, like the US, has an anti-establishment clause in its Constitution, so homeschoolers must deliver the state curriculum. Indeed, I suspect that if Leanna contacted Australia’s School of the Air, she could obtain reasonably priced curriculum materials that aren’t larded with religious crap.

    One of my science projects was building my own shortwave radio; I later used it to receive my lessons. I cannot recommend School of the Air highly enough.

    (As you may have guessed, Australians are good at running things in a pragmatic way; hence no GFC).

  16. Ophelia Benson says

    The trouble is that homeschooling in the US is (as must be obvious if you’ve been following the nonsense I’ve been posting about lately) a free-for-all. It’s not supposed to be, but it is. I don’t really know how that came about. Have to look into it, I guess.

  17. says

    How did that happen? If you don’t deliver the curriculum when you homeschool in Australia, your child won’t receive their HSC/Senior Cert/Baccalaureate/Diploma/whatever (Australia has a Federal system, so it varies from state to state, but is not at all religious in any state). That means that no university will admit the student to any undergraduate course.

    I went through the Queensland system, but there is a great deal to be said for the very traditional New South Wales system. NSW students are assessed using high-pressure final examinations, like the high-performing schools in Scandinavian countries.

    Australia has very good educational outcomes, by the way.

    I hope Leanna reads this thread. Ophelia, if she contacts you, I’m happy to put her in touch with friends in the Cairns office. School of the Air has excellent materials; I can’t imagine them being any more expensive than full fee homeschool courses in the USA.

  18. Egbert says


    Much like any oppressed minority, their identity is imprinted onto them by their oppressors. However, here in Britain, atheism is not an oppressed minority. I think it might help galvanize atheists who are an oppressed minority, but it also alienates from the mainstream, leads to divisions and problems from within, and ultimately it is a false sense of consciousness.

    In a sense, it’s what the religious folks do best, by building a group identity for themselves. It’s why free thought offers a way out of those identities.

  19. Ophelia Benson says

    skep – yes that could be part of the difference – university and college entrance are much more open in the US than in the UK, and from the sound of it, Australia. (And Japan, France, Germany…) One viable option is to go to a two year college and then transfer – so in effect the two year college is where you get the HSC/Senior Cert/Baccalaureate/Diploma/whatever. You’re not necessarily screwed if you don’t do it by age 18. Good in some ways but bad in others.

  20. says

    Just reading this thread. Thanks for the link, Ophelia! And thanks so much for all the general support here.

    To answer some basic homeschooling questions, each state in the US regulates homeschooling as it sees fit. Kentucky is one of the easiest states to homeschool. I send a letter to the board of education each fall stating my kids’ names, ages, and grade levels and… that’s it. Homeschools are essentially treated like private schools, and pretty much left alone unless someone suspects truancy. While I am happy to have such freedom in homeschooling my own kids, I can certainly see the issues with the current system when families choose to homeschool for indoctrination instead of education, and I’m in favor of more homeschooling standards. (And for that matter, I’m in favor of more standards for all of the evangelical Christian private schools that are popping up all over this state.)

    Our public schools in Kentucky are exceptionally bad. I believe last year’s graduating seniors had proficiency rates in reading and math of about 33%. By third grade, my daughter was being teased for enjoying reading, and she was learning that it’s not really a good thing to raise her hand in class. As far as “socialization”, which is the big argument against homeschooling, I feel pretty strongly that my husband and I are better equipped to teach our kids social skills than a group of 25 same-aged kids. (But they are around other kids often through sports and other activities.)

    It is hard sometimes feeling like I’m the fringe of the fringe. I’m very liberal in most matters and believe wholeheartedly in the ideal of the public school system, but I don’t really feel like sending my kids to the currently messed-up system as a matter of principle. Most of the teachers in the public schools in my county send their own children to the local private schools, which speaks volumes. (Of course the schools are Christian, and not really a good fit for my family.)

    Skep, high school standards vary so much that things like ACT and SAT test scores are more important to colleges and universities than high school transfers. I would love to learn more about this School of the Air.

  21. theobromine says

    From what I know of homeschoolers, the Christian ones are actually more likely to have a rigorous and academically focused curriculum, certainly in the classics, languages and history/geography, and even math, physics and chemistry (with admitted weaknesses in geology and biology). Among the (other) atheist homeschoolers I have encountered, some follow a curriculum, but many tend towards an “unschooling” approach, particularly for younger children. It is important to understand that while following a strict standard curriculum may be the only way to successfully teach groups of 20-30 kids, homeschooling parents have the advantage of being able to tailor a curriculum to the child’s abilities and interests, and evaluate the learning outcomes without formal testing.

    As for “socialization”, I am fond of the response I once heard from a homeschooling parent, who said, “We give our son the same kind of socialization he would get in public school: Once a week we steal his lunch money and lock him in the bathroom”. As someone who went through public school at a time when being a science geek was unpopular, and being a girl science geek was unheard of, almost all of my socialization experience consisted of being bullied at worst, and being ignored at best. I will echo Leanna’s point about challenging the idea that being in an age-segregated group of peers is the best way (or even a good way) to teach a child to become a contributing member of adult society.

    Leanna: More power to you, and best of luck. My 2 partially homeschooled kids both finished college/university undergrad; one of them now has a job, and the other is in grad school.

  22. Ophelia Benson says

    Hey Leanna! Good to meet you.

    I really agree with Theo and Leanna and all about socialization – I think school is the worst place for that. I too was nerdy and weird (surprise surprise!) and felt like a Martian – and that was in a tiny academic all-girls’ school, so how I would have fared in a big public school I can barely imagine.

    But the lack of regulation is really quite alarming. Some homeschooling is just home without the schooling.

  23. says

    Theo, always happy to hear stories of homeschooled kids doing well in their adult lives. Love the socialization quote, and I will have to make sure to use that one in the future.

    Ophelia, I agree that the lack of regulation can be alarming, but also see merit in the argument that that state doesn’t have the authority to regulate homeschools while public schools are failing so completely miserably. I’m not sure what the solution is!


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