3/25/13

On Coming Out, Atheist is a Bad, Bad Word

Coming!!!
Coming!!! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My new year's resolution was to be out of the closet, and here it is March and I'm still on the wagon.  I've been out in the social media, out on my personal web page, and just generally out all the way around.  I'm in my mid-thirties, relatively secure in my job, my friends, my own skin, and it was time.  It feels good.

One can find plenty of coming-out testimonies, plenty of pleadings and arguments that beg closeted atheists to come out, but I don't want this piece to pander or beg.  One has to make his or her own decisions about such things, and a person's reasons for being in or out is his or her own business.  All of our circumstances are different.  Years ago, for instance, I wasn't comfortable enough in my career to be out, and that situation has improved enough that I'm willing to risk it.

But notice that I just used the word risk.  I'm sure many of Mississippi's atheists feel a great deal of societal pressure to stay in the closet, or perhaps even jump back in.  In my own life, things had to align just right, and so I was in a double-bind.  Showing Mississippi that I exist is perhaps the most important reason to be out, so that people can't demonize atheists quite so easily, yet coming out opens one up to the demonizing.

On facebook, my being out has had the unexpected consequence of demonstrating that the word atheist is still a very, very bad word among many of my fellow Mississippians, and that was brought to my attention by members of my own extended family.

My grandmothers are still alive, both in their 90s, and each of them was informed about my atheism by members of my family.  What struck me about this situation was a phone call from my mother, who told me both grannys asked her about it, very much concerned, and that she lied to them.  She told them that I was not an atheist because if I was, well, that would have been far too much for a 90-year-old to bear.  They are too old to deal with such horrible news was her sentiment, expressed in only slightly milder words. 

My own mother insulted me right to my face.  Being an atheist is a bad, bad thing, and if I won't stay in the closet, dear ole Mom will try to stuff me back in.  I brought the insult to her attention.  I'm an atheist, and I'm proud to be an atheist, I told her.  As far as I'm concerned, dear ole grandma can know it, too.  I shouldn't have to hide my identity from the very people who are supposed to love me no matter what.  My own children could do nothing to switch off my love, so I was willing to risk it with Granny.  Mom wasn't feeling so frisky, though.  She chose to maintain the lie.

I, for one, am sick of one of the core features of my identity being treated as if it is some deep flaw, some awful defect.  I am an atheist, and I am proud to be one.  I struggled to get here, to overthrow my childhood indoctrination and live a life devoid of wishful thinking and superstition.  I base my views on evidence, not divination, and I try to do good with my life, to have a positive impact on the people in my life.  So much human potential is wasted on things that don't exist, and it saddens me.  I am no longer willing to let it slide.  I don't care if you are my 90-year-old grandmother.  I am going to be who I am because that is one of the surest things I can do to make this world a better place than it was when I got here.

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