Since I started this website a couple weeks ago, something has happened that has surprised me. And it’s happened not just with one person, but multiple!
Basically, it’s gone like this each time:
First, someone informed me privately how much he appreciates what I’ve been writing on this website.
Second, I thanked him, and told him I had no idea he’d seen or read this blog, because he’d made no comments, left no “likes” or “plus ones,” had not re-shared it or re-tweeted it, or any such. Then I told him that I really need to gain some readership traction for this new website, and I’d love it if he’d re-share my posts, tell others about the website, and help me spread the word about it.
Third, he responded by telling me he could never do that. He’d get too much flack from his family. It would harm his business too much. And so on. BUT he told me he’s part of a secret, private group that discusses such things. Then he told me he’d share it there, and invite me.
And so I’ve been recently invited to these groups so secret that — even as a long-time, outspoken atheist — I had no idea about them. The good news is that there are more atheists, secularists, and the like out there than it seems. The bad news is that the bigotry against them is still so pronounced, even right here in the United States in the 21st century, that many of them still feel the need to remain in the closet.
When George Bush was campaigning for the presidency, he said at a press conference, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” Now imagine replacing the word “atheists” in that quote with “blacks” or “gays” or “women.” It would cause an uproar, and the fallout would be huge. It probably would have ended Bush’s political career to say such a thing. But when a presidential incumbent made such a statement about atheists, it was literally not even noteworthy enough to make the evening news.
No doubt, blacks, gays, women, and various other groups still have to deal with prejudices, these days, but no real contender for the presidency would dare openly say at a press conference that they shouldn’t be regarded as citizens. The tides have turned in favor of these groups, and while too many still have to put up with prejudice, discrimination, and inequality, the fact that public figures speaking openly against these groups would be widely censured shows that these groups are on the path of winning acceptance.
Meanwhile, atheists are perhaps the only remaining group toward whom such open bigotry and discrimination are widely considered normal and acceptable.
Because of this, most nonbelievers hide their irreligion from others. For example, look at Barney Frank, the ex-congressman from Massachusetts. He came out of the closet as a homosexual in 1987, 6 years into his 32 year political career — yet did not dare admit he was an atheist until after he retired from politics, in 2013. It’s a choice I can understand, unfortunate as it may be.
Almost every atheist has experienced cases where reaction to her / his unbelief has negatively impacted family relationships, friendships, romances, business associations, and the like. Currently, a mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is suing her 7 year old son’s public school teacher for berating and punishing her boy when he answered that he doesn’t believe in God, as you can read about here. Atheists are still banned by state constitutions from holding public office, in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. And even where constitutions don’t ban them, those who are openly atheist are generally considered unelectable. Recent polls have shown that a higher percentage of people — more than half — would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate than would not vote for a black, a Jew, a Mormon, or a homosexual. Recent studies have shown that more people, many more, would disapprove of their son or daughter marrying an atheist than marrying a black, a Jew, or a Muslim; and more people think that atheists “do not at all agree with my vision of American society” than blacks, gays, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims. Another recent study has even shown that atheists are more distrusted than rapists.
Part of the problem stems from the theistic notion that without God’s edicts and without fear of God, atheists have no basis for morality, or perhaps even have no morals. (An erroneous view that I’ll address in another post, later.) Another part of the problem is that, like the little girl that the little boy spoke to in the Indiana elementary school incident linked above, many theists find disbelief intrinsically offensive; they take offense that atheists reject what devout believers hold dear. Yet another issue is that many religions’ holy scriptures encourage bigotry and misbehavior toward nonbelievers, with explicitly prejudicial passages about them and / or about how they should be treated. Here’s one of many such passages in the Bible, for example: “Only a fool would say, “There is no God!” People like that are worthless; they are heartless and cruel and never do right.” Psalm 14:1
While I can sympathize with those atheists who hide their irreligion, changing the bigotry and discrimination that atheists put up with requires theists meet atheists, learn about them, and see that they’re not the wicked bogeyman many theists imagine.
Which is one of the reasons I consider this blog important.