Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst

“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.


The Humanist cover
Thus begins my latest Fierce Humanism column for The Humanist magazine: Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst. To read more, read the rest of the piece. The Humanist’s online edition is all revamped and shiny, by the way — I encourage you all to take a look. Enjoy!

Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst

6 thoughts on “Coming Out Godless, and Not Assuming the Worst

  1. 1

    I am pleased that in your Humanist piece you don’t use the G word. This is about beliefs not about imaginary beings. I like your construction “…. purely because we don’t believe in any gods.” It has always puzzled me why so many athiests speak of “not believing in God” as if there was such a thing to not believe in. It seems to me to use the believers’ framing.

    I think we should take every opportunity to use the lower case plural. It’s not that I don’t believe in Leprechaun, it’s that I don’t believe in leprechauns.

  2. 2

    ludicrous @ #1: Actually, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I do sometimes capitalize God. It depends on how I’m using the word. If I’m referring to generic or multiple gods, I don’t capitalize it: if I’m referring to the specific god of Judeo/Christian mythology, I do, just as I would capitalize Zeus or Thor or Kali. The convention in English is to capitalize proper names, including the names of fictional and mythological characters: when I’m referring to the specific god of Judeo/Christian mythology, I capitalize the name for the same reason I capitalize Voldemort.

  3. 3

    I take your point. However I think “God”, at least as used by atheists almost always refers to the generic and not to a speciafic Christian, Jewish, Greek or Muslim god.

    At any rate we almost always have the option of the lower case plural. As in ‘I don’t think there are any gods, do you?’

  4. 4

    I think we have the option of referring to either “God” or “a god” without violating any grammer rules. I isn’t there profound difference in meaning? I wish I could describe exactly the difference, help!

  5. 6

    So if the atheist wave succeeds, and atheism predominates and atheists actually gain political control, will it be a new world of peace and plenty for all?

    jimchristensen @ #5: No. What did I say in this article, or indeed anywhere in any of my writings, that makes you think I think that?

    I think the world would be somewhat better if people didn’t believe in religion. I think religion is a mistaken idea, and one that, on the whole, does significantly more harm than good — in part simply because it is a mistaken idea, and in part because of its ultimate unfalsifiability and lack of any reality check. And there’s some data to back me up on this: countries with lower rates of religiosity and higher rates of atheism tend to be countries with high levels of happiness, prosperity, stability and equality (although it’s hard to tell which is the cause there and which is the effect). But no, I don’t think it would be a Utopia. People will still be people.

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