The recent email that I sent around announcing the launch of this site was how I “came out” as an atheist—although I don’t think anyone I know would be surprised to learn that I don’t believe in a god.
Even though it didn’t seem as though there was a great deal at stake in making this announcement, it wasn’t something i did casually. 'Atheist’ is still a loaded word and I was anxious about the possibility that this news could hurt people that I love.
I live in the deep south of the US. Religion here is a big deal. Even if they don’t regularly go to church, the vast majority of people still profess a deep belief in god. My journey from unquestioning believer to atheist took over four years.
It was not easy to work up the courage to do so. I had already lost all my friends when I stopped going to church, so they were not a problem. The highly religious don’t take well to those who start asking questions.
My family was a different story. I did not say the word “atheist” to them. I told them that I no longer believed in god. Most of them got angry. A couple of them told me that it was just a phase. For several months relationships were strained.
Sadly, it took the death of my brother for them to look past my atheism and once again see me as part of the family. There are still those in my family who tell me “it’s just a phase”, although it has been nine years.
There are still very few people in my life who know I am an atheist. If it became widely known, I could lose my job and my home. In the past, when it became known in the neighborhood I was living in at the time that I’m an atheist, I faced some persecution in the form of slashed tires, missing pets, and shunning. I can only hope that one day here in the US, it will be no big deal that I am an atheist.
As far as I know, this “coming out” is only a big deal in very religious countries such as Iran and USA.
In Australia, New Zealand, England, etc, it’s almost the other way around, where the religious have been ashamed about their superstitions and are quick to defend themselves against accusations of ignorant creationism and other literalism, as well as homophobia, misogyny and other bigotries.
I would suggest to join other atheist organizations – safety in numbers. There are plenty of groups, and they’re growing. This will give people confidence to know there are hundreds of millions of atheists in the world with the intellectual confidence to stand on their own two legs.