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Is Being a "Closet Atheist" Harmful to the Greater Cause?

I recently started a blog outlining my views and opinions under the veil of anonymity under a fictitious name. I live in a very conservative and very religious region of the United States, and I have several very religious family members with whom I would like to maintain a good relationship. Also, I am not good at arguing in real time. I have found that a person’s ability to win an argument is by no means a reliable indicator that they are right.

Anyway, by not being confrontational and “out”, do you think I’m in some small way hindering the plight of atheists to spread reason and common sense?

Thanks!

Posted: September 16th 2009

flagellant www

Welcome!

There are really two types of atheist: the in-your-face types and the reserved type. I think that both have a part to play in getting the message across. You won’t find any in-your-face types at asktheatheists.com – we prefer a measured, thoughtful approach, answering questions as factually and calmly as we can. I would guess that in our private lives, members of the panel only discuss atheism when the subject comes up. I have many atheist friends but we seldom discuss it.

Given that you live in a conservative, religious environment, you would be well-advised to keep your head down. If the subject of religion comes up in discussion, I see no harm in carefully asking questions e.g. about how religious belief is justified. You don’t have to argue, just ask. This will help you to build up your knowledge base. But there’s no shame in hiding your true position.

On the other hand, there’s no reason why in-your-face atheists shouldn’t have a high profile and confront the religiosi directly. One example is the Rational Response Squad This is a group of young people who are as rude to the religiosi as they are to us. Personally, having watched them live, I find the RR Squad too aggressive. However, in the US, where confrontation seems to be more acceptable than elsewhere, public arguments between believers and atheists may make bystanders and observers do some serious thinking. Public spats are unlikely to bring about much change among the participating opposition, though.

I think that both types of atheist play a part in advancing 'the spread of reason and common sense’, as you put it. The more thoughtful, and quieter, of us do it by providing considered, accurate information when asked. Those among us who are more confident, and confrontational, do it by arguing publicly. It’s a matter of personal choice: one’s disposition and circumstances are more influential than any theoretical position. Best wishes and good luck!

Posted: September 21st 2009

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brian thomson www

I blogged for several years before stopping in 2007: I found it extremely useful in helping me formulate my ideas and opinions. It taught me to lay things out in a logical manner, and spot the gaps in my arguments. This has fed through in to face-to-face discussions with people, where I can (sometimes) present a fully thought-through argument, rather than a half-baked spur-of-the-moment idea.

Questions about how to deal with family members have come up here before, and I think the consensus is that it makes sense to be good to good people. Atheism is (IMHO) not a belief system to proselytize: rather, it is a description of one aspect of who we are. It doesn’t tell us who to be or how to behave towards other people – that’s all up to each of us.

Posted: September 19th 2009

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SmartLX www

You’re actually taking a similar approach to ours at ATA. Rather than getting in anyone’s faces, we let questions and challenges come to us. That gives us the time we need to do research and answer things properly.

If you’re not good at arguing in real time, it’s probably good that you’re not doing it much. You’re playing to your strengths and making considered arguments in print. Others who’ve read your stuff and are better at live arguments could quite possibly use your stuff to win them.

You’re helping plenty, don’t worry.

Posted: September 18th 2009

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