This is the foreword I wrote for the new book, “Atheist Voices of Minnesota: An Anthology of Personal Stories,” with writing by PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan, Mike Haubrich, Chris Stedman, August Berkshire, and more. The book is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly through Minnesota Atheists.
It will also be available in eBook format for Kindle and Nook, but isn’t yet. UPDATE: The Kindle edition is out! For event, author, or bookstore orders, email [email protected].
Atheist Voices of Minnesota: Foreword
by Greta Christina
We have to tell our stories.
We owe it to each other — and we owe it to ourselves.
Coming out is the single most powerful political act atheists can take. Coming out is how we combat the myths and misinformation about us that are so widespread. Coming out is how we show the world that we’re not bitter, joyless, amoral monsters. Coming out is how we show the world that we are their friends, their neighbors, their colleagues, their family. Coming out is how we show the world that we are ethical people, happy people, people with joy and meaning in our lives.
And coming out is how we find each other. It’s how we find friends who share our values. It’s how we create communities — communities that provide emotional support. practical support, guidance in hard times, safety nets in harder times, rituals, rites of passage, avenues for charitable work, avenues for social justice work, avenues for just plain hanging out and having fun. (You know — the things that most people get from religion.) And it’s how we build a movement to make real change in the world… not just for atheists, but for everyone.
What’s more, coming out has a snowball effect. When we come out as atheist, other people will feel safer coming out. And they’ll make the next wave of people feel safer. And so on, and so on, and so on. When we tell our stories — about how we deal with illness and mourn our dead, how we get married and raise our children, how we grow up and grow old, how we love the world and find meaning in a finite life — people who have no religion and think they’re alone can learn from our experience. And people who are questioning their faith but fear what that might mean can see that it doesn’t mean disaster, that in fact it can mean joy and integrity and liberation. Telling our stories about our atheism makes the world safer for other atheists… and for atheists-to-be.
But we don’t just owe it to each other to tell our stories. We owe it to ourselves.
Coming out as atheist makes our own lives better. Coming out makes it possible to live honestly, and with integrity. Coming out makes it possible to find friends we really connect with, friends who share our values. Coming out means not living in constant fear of discovery, not constantly keeping track of who knows which secrets about us and how they might hurt us if they tell. Coming out means that the people who love us really love us, and not some other person who’s walking around with our face and our name pretending to be us.
The LGBT community learned all this decades ago. Consistently, polls show that the single factor most likely to predict whether people support gay rights is whether they know a gay person. (Or, to be more accurate, whether they know that they know a gay person.) There’s a reason the LGBT movement has focused so much energy on encouraging people to come out — and on creating strategies and support systems to help each other come out. Atheists can learn from this example.
So as much as we can, whenever we can, we have to tell our stories.
Exactly as the writers in this book have done.
Atheism isn’t a handful of high-profile writers and speakers and celebrities. Atheism isn’t Richard Dawkins and Julia Sweeney and Ricky Gervais. These people are important, of course. But atheism is all of us. Building a community, and creating a movement for social change — that is something that is done on the ground.
Social change is a long game. It doesn’t happen in a day or a week; it happens over years, and decades. And it is rarely done in big dramatic gestures. It is a million conversations, a million small acts. It is telling our children the truth, as best we know it, when they ask about death. It is staying sober without benefit of a fictional Higher Power. It is being a teacher and teaching an evidence-based history of Christianity. It is refusing to sign a document pledging faith to religious doctrine… even though that refusal means having to look for a new job. It is getting into debates about religion on Facebook. It is volunteering at Camp Quest, the summer camp for kids of non-theistic families. It is going onto local cable access TV and arguing against creationism being taught in public schools. It is hosting a local atheist radio show. It is speaking out for gay rights, for reproductive rights, for organ donation, for an end to cruelty to animals… and speaking about how our atheism informs these ethical stands. It is joining our local atheist group. It is telling our friends, our bosses, our spouses, our children, our parents, our grandparents, that we don’t believe in God.
Exactly as the writers in this book have done.
Social change is a long game. But every atheist who tells their story — as the writers in this book have done — is part of the game.
Again: “Atheist Voices of Minnesota: An Anthology of Personal Stories,” with writing by PZ Myers, Stephanie Zvan, Mike Haubrich, Chris Stedman, August Berkshire, and more, is currently available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly through Minnesota Atheists. It will also be available in eBook format for Kindle and Nook, but isn’t yet. For event, author, or bookstore orders, email [email protected].