“Coming out is the most powerful act nonbelievers can take!” “It’s personally powerful; it’s politically powerful.” “If you want to help humanism/atheism, if you want to push back against the corrosive influence of religion, if you want to make life better for yourself and other godless people—come out about your godlessness.”
People have been saying this stuff for as long as I’ve been in the organized godless movement. I’ve been saying it myself. In fact, I’m about to come out with a book—Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why—that offers specific strategies and overall guiding philosophies for coming out of the godless closet. In preparation for writing this book, I read and listened to hundreds of “coming out atheist” stories, and there was an immense variety among them; I read stories that were hilarious, poignant, tragic, ironic, sweet, dramatic, joyful, anticlimactic. (And yes, many of these stories appear in the book, told in people’s own words.) But as I started to read through the hundreds of coming out stories I’d collected, one consistent theme emerged: Most of the time, coming out atheist turns out okay.
This was a huge surprise. When I first decided to write this book and started doing the research for it, I was bracing myself for an onslaught of horror stories: stories of ruptured families, shattered marriages, broken friendships, ruined careers, disowned children. I was bracing myself to write a guide on coming out as godless in a world that’s probably going to reject you, shun you, even despise you, once it knows you’re a heathen. True, that hadn’t been my own experience, but I figured I’d just gotten lucky living in the famously progressive and largely secular San Francisco Bay Area. I was even writing a diatribe in my head—a scolding little speech I was going to include in the book, aimed at all the bigoted believers who had made life so difficult for the atheists in their lives.
But once I started reading the stories, I had to scrap that entire mental narrative and start another—a narrative of encouragement, and of reassurance. Because most of the time, when atheists tell the people in our lives that we’re atheists, it turns out okay.