Americans don’t like atheists. In 7 states, holding public office is prohibited if you are an atheist. People don’t want their kids marrying atheists. They don’t want them to watch their kids. The Boy Scouts of America hold the position that “an atheist or agnostic is not an appropriate role model.” According to an article published by the Brookings Institute, while “…most Americans say they would not mind if a close family member married someone of a different race, fully 70 percent would object to a wedding with an atheist.”
I happen to be an atheist, so sometimes that shit hurts my feelings. While the connotations of the word “atheist” are varied and generally quite negative, all the word actually means is that I don’t believe in God. That’s it. It doesn’t mean I hate religious people or that I hate America or that I worship Satan. It doesn’t mean that I am not capable of being a decent, productive, ethical person, or that I am incapable of being a good mother or valuable member of society. I am not afraid that a god will punish me, but that doesn’t make me want to start raping and stealing from people.
I was a Cub Scout leader and recently left for several reasons, one of the central ones being their discriminatory practices towards gays and atheists. The pack that I left was full of kind, compassionate people who are in fact taking a stand against the national BSA’s policies on homosexuality. Would they take the same stand on behalf of atheists? Sadly–and I would rejoice if I were wrong–I am inclined to believe that they would not. As much as homosexuals are hated, studies show that atheists are hated more, or at the very least that it is more socially acceptable to hate atheists.
Not that it is a contest. The reason I bring up homosexuality is that I see a parallel between the two. When a gay person comes out of the closet, there can be a variety of reactions. There can be rejection and shock. But there can also be acceptance and tolerance. When people begin to realize that gays are people who they know and love and respect, not just stereotypical, leather-clad constructs of their imaginations, change occurs. Too gradually, yes, but it does occur.
I am open about being an atheist, and I think other atheists should be, too. Of course it isn’t anyone else’s business, but that’s not the point. The point is, our friends and neighbors and family members need to realize that we, the people they (hopefully) love and respect, are capable of all of that we are and do without a belief in god. “Coming out of the closet” like this might be a very scary thing to do in certain communities, but I think it is nevertheless important. In fact, I think this might be one of the best ways to chip away at the mistrust and hatred. And nothing prevents people from continuing to pray over our condemned souls as they brush their teeth before bed.
What do you think? Should atheists come out of the closet? Do you think it would have an impact?