To the closeted atheists, you are not alone

The BBC has discovered American Atheists.

Atheists in the US are rallying together, launching a new TV programme and providing support for those who go public with their beliefs.

“Sometimes things need to be said, and fights need to be fought even if they are unpopular. To the closeted atheists, you are not alone, and you deserve equality.”

So goes the rousing speech from the American Atheists president, David Silverman, in the opening moments of the first US television broadcaster dedicated to those who do not believe in God, Atheist TV.

A series of testimonies from prominent atheists then follows.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life and I completely advocate people ‘coming out’,” says Mark Hatcher, from Black Atheists of America.

“Coming out” is how many atheists in the USA describe what remains, for many, a very difficult admission to make publicly.

I know Mark Hatcher – I was on a panel with him at the CFI Summit last fall.

At one of the biggest gatherings of atheist students in the country, in Columbus, Ohio, Jamila Bey from the Secular Student Alliance said there were many attendees who were nervous about being interviewed and had indicated so by what they were wearing around their neck.

“Red lanyards mean ‘You may not talk to me’,” says Bey. “A number of the students we have aren’t ‘out’. Their parents may not know that they are atheist or questioning their religion.”

She said many were worried about being ostracised or were even scared of violence if they revealed they did not believe in God.

I know Jamila, too. It’s odd reading about people you know at the BBC.

They offers some numbers.

Who is an atheist?

• 2% of US adults say they are atheists

• 67% of them are men

• 26% of them see themselves as spiritual

• 82% say at times they feel a deep connection with nature

Source: Pew Research Center

That 67% – that’s sad. That’s terrible. You’d think it would be worth making organized atheism less shitty to women in hopes of bringing more of them in.



  1. says

    I don’t know what the stats are here in Canada, but as our country often seems to mirror yours in certain respects, I’m noticing a lot more in terms of revivalist and evangalist Christianity rearing their contentious heads a lot more in the last couple years.

    Especially in politics, creationism and anti-abortion pro-life movements.   These three areas have a long history of creeping back into our headlines a few times every decade or so.  Usually, in my opinion, during economic downturns such as the global recession we are are still recovering from.  (I call the people who initiate these revivals religious vultures.)

    And, of course, that’s also generally when right wing conservatives get voted into power and shortly become firmly entrenched in their positions, drunk on power and use every under-handed trick in the book to stay in power.  For Exhibit A, I give you Prime Minister Stephan Harper…who I swear secretly idolizes Putin.

    And, of course, he never hesitates to affirm his faith, when it suits his political agenda to keep cramming his “austerity measures” down our throats.

    Being openly atheist is definitely easier in Canada than in the US, but we too, have certain areas where it’s best not to open about as it can cost you a job.  It’s illegal, but the onus to prove why you didn’t get the job, or why you were fired, is hard to prove and easy for employers to get around.

    I have a friend that moved to Alberta – the peak of Canada’s Bible Belt and home of the busiest Creationists – several years ago.  She had “re-discovered” religion shortly before moving after being raised in a nominally Christian family that leaned heavily towards higher education and science.

    It was her who helped me convince my then heavily indoctrinated husband, that the human race could not possibly have sprung from just one man and one woman (nevermind how they supposedly came into being…lol).  And just a few short years later, she remarries a super religious guy, moves to Alberta and was soon a full-on evangalist Christian and Creationist and believes the bible to truly the literal word of god!

    She firmly believes all “sins” are equal.  As in a little white lie to spare someone’s feelings, is just as wrong as horrendous crimes like rape and murder.  And that when someone dies, her god will judge them on those terms.  But of course if the repent – and He will surely know who genuinely means it – all is forgiven so into the Pearly Gates go the “souls” of killers, pedaphiles, rapists and all the other dregs of humanity, so they can spend enternity in a state of ecstacy!

    So, while cares for me deeply and loves me like a sister (the feelings are mutual), and freely admits I am a good person who has spent my life helping others wherever possible, she also believes I’m doomed to spend enternity in hell unless I “accept Jesus” in my heart!

    I still love her dearly, but this is just another reason why I despise religion.  It brainwashes people to the point where they stop thinking for themselves. It opens them up to believing and accepting the most absurd. In my friends case, her conversion took place just as her two boys hit puberty. So rather than teach safe sex, she taught abstinence. And that worked out about as well as you would expect it to….which is to say, of course, not at all.

    Ophelia, my apologies if you fee these comments have gone off-topic. I wrote what came to mind after reading your post. (Yes, my mind does hop all over the place sometimes!

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Surely the nonbelief breakdown by generation will cheer you up:

    Silent (ages 69-96): 9%
    Baby Boom (50-68): 16%
    Gen X (34-49): 21%
    Millennials(18-34): 29%


    Religions tend to be female-dominated, yet children overwhelmingly pattern their adult religiosity on their fathers’ example, which paints a bleak picture for religions already in decline and praying desperately for a “revival” that isn’t going to come:

    And wordsgood, I enjoyed your contribution. Thank you.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    Also, from the Pew source listed above, only 36% of Millennials describe themselves as “a religious person”, compared to 55% of the Baby Boomers.

  4. James Howde says

    “That 67% – that’s sad. That’s terrible. You’d think it would be worth making organized atheism less shitty to women in hopes of bringing more of them in.”

    That seems fairly obvious, so we need to look at exactly what needs to be done. Let’s see, the belief organisation with the best women:men ration is (pause for inadequate research) the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And a quick trip to Wikipedia to find out how they are arranged reveals that what we need is: an exclusively male governing body, no tolerance of dissidence about doctrines and practices; and members who openly disagree with the religion’s teachings to be shunned.

    I don’t see how were going to get anything like that put into operation.

  5. r42b says

    @wordsgood – yes, Alberta is more conservative and religious than the rest of Canada in general. But don’t paint the whole province with one giant brush. I lived in Calgary for 13 years as an open atheist and had no problems whatsoever. I’m sure it would be the same in Edmonton which is much more liberal than Calgary. Rural Alberta is definitely very religious in general but Calgary and Edmonton make up almost half the population of Alberta. Don’t make it seem like the whole province is full of religious nut jobs 🙂

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    Another curiosity from the BBC piece:

    • 26% of them see themselves as spiritual

    where “them” = the 2% of US adults identifying as atheists in a Pew Research Center poll. I guesstimate the latter at 4 million, so the “spiritual atheists” = ~1M.

    I doubt many of those will speak out at FtB, and I haven’t seen ’em at (presumably gentler) Patheos either.

    Do they have an organization, a media figurehead, a book, a blog? How do they break down by age & sex?

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Note the discrepancy in figures from Blanche Quizno’s # 2 & my # 7. Her lowest number of “non-believers” is 9%, while my cite claims 2% of US adults as self-identifying “atheists”. Both numbers come from Pew, so the discrepancy boils down to the difference between the two labels.

    Considering how few living Americans are >= age 69, I think we can safely tally “non-believers” at, minimally, 20% of the US adult population (I skimmed BQ’s linked article, and did not see proportions or absolute numbers for each generational cohort). This implies one helluva image problem for the word “atheist” – well, we knew that already – but also a stupendous opportunity.

    A pity that Dave Silverman and Richard Dawkins and Edwina Rogers get to take the de facto lead in developing that situation.

  8. Matt Penfold says

    Isn’t the Global Secular Council almost, if not entirely, male ? And almost, if not entirely white, as well.

    Maybe I now understand their thinking.

  9. HM says

    @wordsgood and @r42b, Alberta is probablyore conservative than other parts of Canada but rural areas in BC an Alberta ate definitely more religious. One thing I count when driving between Vancouver and Calgary is the number of churches in the towns I pass.

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