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Society and Atheism
Why "come out" as an atheist?

A common question among atheists, especially those who used to be theists, is whether or not to "come out" as atheists, or pretend to be a theist when around friends and family.

Some of the arguments given in favor of "coming out" include:

Staying in the closet is an emotionally draining experience. Most of us feel bad about deliberately lying, and really bad about deliberately lying to our close friends, family, and loved ones. But staying in the closet requires precisely that. This generates loads of guilt, and carrying around that kind of guilt is pretty unhealthy from an emotional point of view. Making matters worse, you have to expend a great deal of mental effort to maintain the facade, a task made even more complicated by the fact that you are attempting to fool those who know you best and thus are the most difficult to fool.

Staying in the closet tends to isolate you from the atheist community and get you more involved with the theistic community than you might want to be. People naturally gravitate towards people who are like themselves. We tend to choose friends who share our interests, our values, and our beliefs. But if everybody thinks you are a theist, then atheists will tend to stay away while theists will want to get closer to you. This is the exact opposite of what you want. If you come out, those around you who are atheists will be more likely to befriend you, providing you with much-needed emotional support. And in a society that is 90 percent theist, we need all the emotional support we can get.

Staying in the closet steals away time. When you pretend to be a theist, it is inevitable that you will have to participate in theistic events such as going to church, attending prayer meetings and kinship groups, and the like. This sucks away time that you could be using for working, studying, playing, or just sleeping in. Atheists know better than anybody that our time is finite, so why waste it practicing primitive superstitious rituals?

You run the risk of being found out. If this happens, the people you are trying to fool will be far less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. If your spouse confessed to having an affair, you would be more likely to forgive your spouse than if you found out about it secondhand. By the same token, your friends and loved ones are far more likely to tolerate your atheism if you admit to it than if they happen to find your copy of Atheism: A Philosophical Justification when you're not around.

Try this simple thought experiment: Imagine confessing your atheism to your friends and loved ones. Picture their reactions. Make it a worst-case scenario. It's probably a scary scenario, isn't it? But if you are found out, their reactions will be even worse than what you've just imagined! Not only will they be angry at you for becoming an atheist, they'll be angry at you for lying as well. (And unlike atheism, lying is a legitimate thing to be angry at.)

One other thing to keep in mind is that unless you only have a year or two left to live, you will be found out. Nobody can keep up that kind of facade for very long. In the long run, coming out will be significantly less straining than staying in.

Coming out is a powerful way of promoting tolerance for atheists. Remember that your theistic friends and family have had their heads filled with stereotypes about atheists by their leaders and fellow theists. By coming out, you can show that these stereotypes are bull. Indeed, you may be the only atheist they know, and thus the only person capable of dispelling the stereotypes. And if they ever become interested in atheism themselves, they'll know who to turn to when it comes time to ask questions.

Caught in the Net welcomes interesting flotsam culled by its readers. Send E-mail to netfishing@chireader.com. There's a T-shirt in it for you if we print it.

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