And yet, my recent activism has confirmed what I long suspected: there are dozens of other atheists (and agnostics) in my neck of the woods. Unfortunately, only some of these people are willing to be open about their lack of belief in the supernatural. The open ones I know are mostly under the age of thirty.
I don't have any particular ideas about the best way for someone to come out of the atheist closet. I came out fairly gradually. This fit my situation, because my transition from Catholic to atheist was a gradual one. Yet it's clear to me that no matter how gradually one may arrive at atheism, the destination may come as a shock to many.
In the several years that my family has lived in our town, we've never been church-goers. When someone would push the issue with me, I would simply say, "I'm (or we're) not religious." But it's now clear to me that when I used the phrase "not religious," some people thought, "Oh--she prefers to get it straight from the bible," and others thought, "There's still hope."
Revealing one's atheism to a religious parent is often an unavoidable part of the coming-out process. I can say, from agonizing experience, that just because you haven't attended church in thirteen years and were observed reading The God Delusion on your last holiday visit doesn't mean your mother is necessarily prepared for the a-word. But if you're lucky, after you've both cried a lot, she'll still love you and your kiddos anyway.
I came out as an atheist, to a few people at a time, because my own sense of integrity demanded it. And I'm not very good at pretending. I became even more out when I started blogging about atheism in June. My reasons for the blog were many, but one was the mixed messages I felt I was sending my children. On the one hand, I was telling them I was comfortable with my atheism; on the other, I was going too far out of my way to avoid discussing my unbelief with others. I realized this when one of my children kept asking me if I was sure the First Amendment protected my statements that I didn't believe in God, and if it did, why I was so afraid to tell anyone outside our house. Homeschool Atheist Momma Karen captures my thoughts perfectly when she says, "I'm fighting for atheist openness so my kids can take it for granted."
For readers considering coming out of the atheist closet--or for those who are simply interested in the different forms the process takes--I have stories for you. Click on the links to read about:
Teresa MacBain, who was active as a Methodist minister when she came out at a national atheist convention;
Jerry DeWitt, a bible-belt pastor who accidentally outed himself with a Facebook photo;
Walter Petit, the president of Western Kentucky University's Secular Student Alliance, who came out to his mother while still a young teen;
Leanna, another Kentucky homeschooling mother who didn't want her children to think atheist was a dirty word.I also welcome readers' own coming-out stories, as well as your thoughts about the Out Campaign.