Fellow Atheists/Agnostic Atheists - Let's Chat: Do you feel it is risky being "out" these days?

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I only really want to hear from atheists and agnostics. I think this is worth talking about and worth limiting in scope. Let's keep this limited in scope. Let's set aside the emotional frustrations caused by people forcing our beliefs on us and answer a very simple question. Is it a liability to be "out" as an atheist or agnostic. We know it is when you're running for public office in America. But I don't think it is in the case of work, for example. In fact, I work in an industry and part of the country where being conservative and religious makes you stand out more.

Family and friends? That seems to be the bigger area of risk. Thoughts?

EDIT: A sub-question might be "where?". My wife and I are always curious about other places in the country / world to live. America isn't the world. So I'm also curious about the experiences of those living in other nations.

I feel at risk, yes. My job, not really. I work at a software developer and I think that many folks there are atheists or similar. Besides, my beliefs have absolutely no bearing on the work I do.

My risk lies with losing family. Namely, my mother and father. I have every intention of telling them, just not while I'm still under their roof.

I do love them greatly, though.

My fear is that they will remove me as executor of their will and give it to my sister. I could lose my sister and feel very little, it's an abusive relationship already and I do what I can to keep my distance. What I fear is her denying me any mementos from my parent's home when they're gone.

I am almost 30 years old and I would never hate them, even if they were to disown me. They have been too much a part of my life to ever reject them. Even if their religion drives them to reject me. But my sister would be just that spiteful.

Mind you, when it comes down to it, I don't know how they'll react when I tell them. This is a very complicated and specific fear. But I do fear disownment, which is what it comes down to.

No, not personally. I was raised in a pretty non-religious household, and I don't have many friends with strong religious beliefs. I know a couple of my co-workers are also atheist/agnostic, and I have no idea about the rest because it's not something that ever comes up in conversation. I'm a software developer working in a very culturally diverse office, so everyone is generally pretty tolerant.

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I've had a very strained relationship with a manager who I actually helped hire. He was deeply religious, but he seemed offended by the fact that I was not. I mean, really offended. He fired me when I tried to resign, after turning beet red and yelling at me. I thought he was going to hit me. That's about the worst of it, though, besides the arch comments that had become routine. He was one of two major motivators for my leaving that job.

He also had some serious family issues, stress related to that, and that could partly be where he was coming from. But he targeted me after a point, to the degree that we really didn't work well together anymore - he'd been fine before he found out - and that deterioration was kind of ugly. Still, some of it could have been over-reaction due to stress.

I've also been subjected to proselyzation, but that's pretty easy to shrug off. Probably the worst I run into is in these forums, but then, if you don't want your views challenged, why are you here?

So I'd say, no, I don't have trouble with people knowing. I'm pretty assertive, but also live and let live. I'll defend myself and deflect if needed.

I've had a few problems at past jobs, one of which was mentioned in a previous thread, but during none of them did I feel as though I was in danger of being fired (though I did end up leaving the aforementioned job because of all the hassle I was getting).

My family is about as dyed-in-the-wool conservatively religious as you can get without getting into snake-handler territory, but surprisingly I haven't had much in the way of trouble from them. They pretty much just pretend I'm still christian.

Overall, I don't think I am in any serious, capital-letters DANGER from my freedom from belief, but there are a lot of little annoyances and hassles that I face on a day-to-day basis. Before I switched to an ereader, I would often get dirty looks if I happened to be reading atheist literature in public. 2 years ago someone even spit on me at a bus stop while I was reading the excellent Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists. Also, I use to have an "evolve fish" emblem on my car, but had to replace it several times because it kept getting stolen... One of the times was accompanied by a threatening note on my windshield with a rambling warning about "satanistic Darwin's lies." I eventually gave up and switched to a Flying Spaghetti Monster emblem, thinking that would be obscure enough, but after having it on my car for a week I came out of a store to find someone had snapped off all it's tentacles/noodly appendages. Bleh.

Detroit, Milwaukee, and New York have been pretty awesome places to live. I got more sh*t for Being a Piston's/Lions Fan, and later Tiger's Fan than religion.

Look, my cousin was beaten for being gay, and out with a boyfriend. I have no story like that. Usually I am taking a guy to the mat because he is messing with a girl I am with, or a friend of mine.

When I "Came out" here is what I got. My brother-no sh*t. My Dad-Don't care. My Mom-what about your soul? My Uncle-Where did you go wrong? Other Family-Well, at least he is not converting to Islam.

I have had no issues at work. Though higher profile law firms tend to avoid such controversy.

Dating has not been an issue, I think in large part due to a general decline in religious affiliation, belief in my/our generation. I also tend to date highly educated women, so religious affiliation is rarer.

EDIT: I do kind of have one story. I was giving something away on a radio show for a certain "Evil" Website. The winner, answered a game trivia question, got a Comp USA gift card I had gotten as a prize-but there were none near where I lived at the time. The guy who won it was a forum member at that same "Evil" web site, and said "That is ok, I would rather not. Why don't you give it to a nice atheist instead?"

I came to find out later, he was just a prick in general. He in fact worked at the radio station where this "Evil" show was made, and a lot of people felt friction with him.

Put it on your Harley Ruhk, no one f*cks with a guy on a Harley.

In my community, it sometimes seems like atheism is the default religious affiliation (or, more correctly, lack thereof). All my friends happen to be atheists; rarely do I meet a religious person who brings the practice outside religious circles.

In university I once worked on some projects with a very Christian South African woman. Religion never really came up, however, aside from some gentle ribbing on other denominations (Catholics, for instance). The funny thing was her laptop background had something to the effect of 'JESUS KICKS ASS' plastered all across it in hot pink; this laptop was at one point picked randomly to host the entire class' team presentations, so the background ended up projected on a wall in front of everybody. The instructor made her change it, sensing some people's discomfort, but we basically had a laugh about it.

KingGorilla wrote:

Put it on your Harley Ruhk, no one f*cks with a guy on a Harley.

What, a 1985 chevy celebrity isn't manly enough?

ruhk wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

Put it on your Harley Ruhk, no one f*cks with a guy on a Harley.

What, a 1985 chevy celebrity isn't manly enough?

IMAGE(http://www.moviehole.net/img/fletch.jpg)

As a New Yorker from a largely atheist and agnostic family, I've lucked out. I've never faced the threat of persecution from family or work, though I've largely lost one friendship. On the other hand, I spent four years in Bloomington, IN for college, and saw some terrifying stuff that made me largely keep my mouth shut around people once I was off campus (Fred Phelps-esque protesters, using their children to push hate messages).

I've never had a problem, but my family is mostly irreligious with the exception of my mother, and even then she doesn't push faith on me (now finding a nice girl, that's another story).

I have a friend that's highly religious but we've mostly come to a consensus not to discuss it. I'm not going to convince him that the earth is more than 6000 years old and evolution is a better theory for the creation of man than some old book any more than I'm going to convince him that JRPGs are crap compared to western RPGs. Accept and move on.

Of course I do live in a generally liberal town in a generally liberal state in a rather conservative country, so I don't imagine my experience is typical.

I work for a very conservative company but have been quite surprised. I was out for dinner with some higher ups tonight and religion came up. I put forward that I was an agnostic/athiest - and so did both people I was out with. I was really surprised, as I did not get that vibe from that before. It led to a really nice conversation.

On further reflection I did lose a couple of friends coming into adulthood as it became clear that my atheism was getting stronger rather than weaker. They(or their families, I'm not sure which) eventually decided their faiths did not allow them to hang out with me if I was not willing to convert to some sort of monotheism. It was bizarre at the time but I've long since realized that friends like that are not friends worth having.

As an adult I don't necessarily feel 'at risk' but I know better than to walk into a mosque screaming 'Allah is a fraud'. That said if a coworker tried to talk to me about religion I would be extremely wary and avoid the topic, I don't think it's appropriate conversation for work and there are a lot of questionable human resource issues that might crop up if I speak my mind. Outside of work though I would not have any issue holding a discussion with them.

If I don't get royalties from this thread I'm calling prejudice.

One of my old friends from high school is now a lutheran minister in central Iowa. We lost touch when everyone split up to go to college, but I found him on facebook a few years ago and tried to re-establish a friendship.
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Still waiting on that.

ruhk wrote:

One of my old friends from high school is now a lutheran minister in central Iowa. We lost touch when everyone split up to go to college, but I found him on facebook a few years ago and tried to re-establish a friendship.
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Still waiting on that.

I think that kind of ambiguity could spoil the sample. Of course his faith may be an issue, but perhaps he just doesn't care to speak to you. People grow apart for all sorts of reasons.

1Dgaf wrote:

If I don't get royalties from this thread I'm calling prejudice.

You're not living up to your name.

1Dgaf wrote:

I think that kind of ambiguity could spoil the sample. Of course his faith may be an issue, but perhaps he just doesn't care to speak to you. People grow apart for all sorts of reasons.

C'mon, I'm a pretty likeable chap.

Anyway, yes, I realize that he may have had his own reasons, but I wasn't really "out" when we had last parted, and the dialogue seemed to end strangely and abruptly when the subject eventually came up afterwards. It may just have been a coincidence, and I may just be paranoid, but it was just weird timing.

SallyNasty wrote:

I work for a very conservative company but have been quite surprised. I was out for dinner with some higher ups tonight and religion came up. I put forward that I was an agnostic/athiest - and so did both people I was out with. I was really surprised, as I did not get that vibe from that before. It led to a really nice conversation.

Aside from my family issues (my wife and I were told were were "living in sin" and "going to hell" when we lived together before marriage) I've had almost no issues in the workplace or in my personal life either. I would concur with this, though. These pleasant surprises are nice. I'm actually heartened to hear that people have it good in many cases.

I'm also aware of Detroit. I went to a commitment ceremony there last year and was introduced to a huge group of gay and lesbian folks. I assume they aren't judgmental towards atheists.

1Dgaf wrote:

If I don't get royalties from this thread I'm calling prejudice.

As far as I'm concerned this is basically your thread. I figured that if we stayed on topic we could actually have the original conversation so I risked Certis' wrath.

DSGamer wrote:

Aside from my family issues (my wife and I were told were were "living in sin" and "going to hell" when we lived together before marriage)

Hell, my Catholic Parents did that.

KingGorilla wrote:
DSGamer wrote:

Aside from my family issues (my wife and I were told were were "living in sin" and "going to hell" when we lived together before marriage)

Hell, my Catholic Parents did that.

Fair enough. This was different, though. At least I feel it was. My in-laws to be wouldn't put in the invitation that we shared an address. They told my wife not to tell people we were living together. They pressured me ceaselessly until we got engaged. It almost broke us up, honestly. And years later when I realized how sh*tty that was to do that to a 23 year-old that was doing right by their daughter we had it out, went to therapy and other stuff.

Aside: Largely copied from locked thread.
I live in work in Canada. Yes all of it. As far as work or the day to day is concerned I have near zero problems. You can feel the increase in religiosity in rural areas and conservative Alberta but the extent of "persecution" is pretty much limited to those charming signs proclaiming "the wages of sin is death!".

Family is another story but not as bad Mike. One side of the family is Ukrainian Catholic the other strongly Dutch Christian Reform. My parents are theists but of the loosest sort. I don't think I could challenge my own families beliefs. There is a real risk of losing a connection with people I love or at the least changing it drastically. At the very least it will make saying grace around the table way more awkward. Declining grandparents also make this a little bit more of a hot-topic. Is there a graceful way explain to a highly religious aunt that you don't think the grandmother you all love is not going to heaven because there is not one to go to? Debate on topics of theology/meaning of life etc are also intimidating. They all most suspect my terrible secret but are operating on a DADT policy.

I generally use the DADT policy with friends but I certainly don't censor myself if the topic arises. The
debates with friends of faith while some times impassioned and frustrating have never destroyed a friendship accept in perhaps one particular case. All my close friends are atheist too so religion is kind of a non issue.

So basically things are OK. I'm sure any negative experiences will be correlated to area and your own families traditions.

I had a whole thread earlier this year seeking advice on "coming out" about my atheism to my family.

So... yeah. I do feel it's risky. And no, I haven't actually managed to get it out in the open yet. I sent out feelers, and it's a disaster in the making.

Not only do I work in high tech, but I also work near a private university that's prestigious for various fields on the national scale. I've never had any problems with my agnostic atheism--and when working with people with that sort of academic background, pretty much every sort of discussion is going to come up at some point, including religion and politics. (And particularly since I was a religious studies minor.) I was once in the somewhat awkward position of being sort of a moderator in an over-dinner talk on a work trip between an evangelical atheist type and a Mormon who supports intelligent design. Even though my position "A: You're an asshole, stop. B: No, really, how can you credit ID with being actual science?" was awkward, it was really just a discussion over dinner where everybody cared passionately about their position. It probably went on longer than made anybody feel comfortable, but it didn't impact people working together at all. Another one of my co-workers was Catholic, and we had some very good discussions about abortion issues. etc. etc. No problem.

With my immediate family, I have no concerns and never have, because we were basically brought up to be agnostic atheists. My mother was raised as a Lutheran and my father a Catholic, but they'd already left that behind when they married. We never said grace around the table, and when we'd have larger family dinners at my grandparents' homes, we basically just remained quiet while grace was said (though I admit it felt a bit weird). Further out than that, a lot of family on my mom's side is very religious-right style religious, and there's occasionally been some weirdness out of that. But I think that they adapted to things back in my mom's time, so had no real expectations. A couple of my cousins are real holy rollers, though, and I would definitely not bring up a religious discussion with anyone on that side of the family. On my dad's side, well, my uncle attended seminary for a bit, but... well, he's gay. Anyway, lapsed Catholicism is such a tradition that I think it's easier for that side of things to understand (although I ran into a crazy crazy evangelizing Catholic guy on a street corner a few nights back shouting about how the Catholic church is the only real church. Bizarre.)

The only awkward moment I've ever really had with religion was in junior high school, when my math teacher was driving me and two other members of the school's math team to a competition. I forget the exact details, but it was something like "Where do you go to Church?", and the one guy was like "Blah Church", and the other was "I'm Jewish", and I was "I don't go to Church", and the teacher said "Oh, we'll have to fix that", and I was like (in my head) "Bwuuuh... WHAT?" So.... that was weird.

I grew up in the very liberal Seattle area and never had family issues because I didn't really have a clue how many families out there were religious. It just didn't come up. In fact, I never spent much time thinking about defining my views because there was no reason to do so.

After moving to NC, that changed. I am not a confrontational person and I was shocked by how often it came up, whether it was people assuming what I was or outright demanding to know. Honestly, I'm atheist mostly because I felt backed into a corner to define myself for the benefit of others so they could label me and move on. I've had quite a few undertones of it being an issue in some places I've worked. I know that some coworkers have stopped hanging around or chatting with me after finding out that I'm atheist. Luckily I don't really care much about socializing outside of work with my coworkers. But overall it hasn't been much more than the disdain I often face if I say I'm a vegetarian, or that I don't want kids. It's just another reason for someone not to like you.

Generally I don't hide it, in fact I fired my hairdresser the day before my wedding after she repeatedly tried to convert my pagan bridesmaid. She even went so far as to talk to me privately about "what to DO with her" like I was going to gang up against my friend.

I do concern myself with keeping it private when it comes to my jewelry business. I feel like a lot of my customers would be disturbed by it, and really it has nothing to do with the service I'm providing for them. So at the holiday arts shows I will listen when a customer is chatty about the upcoming holidays and how "terrible" it is that the "true meaning" is being ruined, blah blah blah. I try to not have to agree directly, but it grates my nerves that I don't feel like I can be myself.

Hypatian wrote:

.. and I was "I don't go to Church", and the teacher said "Oh, we'll have to fix that", and I was like (in my head) "Bwuuuh... WHAT?" So.... that was weird.

Yeah, this is part of why I don't hide it much anymore. When I used to avoid it entirely coworkers would assume I was christian. So if I made a comment about sleeping in on Sundays, or even worse HUNGOVER, there were a few that would be so shocked and disdainfully say that I should be in church then.

I feel like I should explain my situation a little more clearly. I wrote that on an iPad that was clamped to an exercise bike, while riding it, so it was not so easy to type or form complete thoughts between breaths.

My reasons for being nervous about coming out and my sister are actually quite a bit more intertwined than I'd indicated.

Around the time I was 15 or so, my sister left the Catholic church, which both sides of the family belong to (Father's side Roman Catholic, mother's side Byzantine Catholic. Don't ask me the difference, I don't know, other than Byzantines take communion by a priest flicking it into your mouth with a spoon, and that they sing the entire mass except for the sermon). This was a very nasty time in our home. I expressed to my cousin (whose religious or theological affiliation I'm not 100% certain of, I only know she doesn't go to church) my desires to no longer be a part of the Catholic Church or attend church at all (I trust her, I'm probably closer to her than most of my family) which was kind-of a half-assed coming out. I also expressed that I was afraid to say anything to my parents, at which point she reminded me of just how bad it was when she overheard my mother saying my sister could go live at her friend's house if she didn't want to be Catholic. They ultimately never ended up kicking her out. Things got better over time and now they largely grumble quietly behind her back that she's no longer Catholic, but don't really confront her about it.

The difference is, when she left, she became Pentecostal. So she still follows a brand of Christianity, as distant from Catholicism as it may seem. Coming out as an atheist would open up an entirely different can of worms. I think my parents see me as the one who still carries the banner of the family. That my sister let them down. That, while they love their grandson, he isn't being raised right because it's not a Catholic upbringing.

Catholicism is important to them. But it's never been less important to me. All of the political and social misdeeds, and abuses of trust that have been revealed about the church are only icing on the cake. That didn't break me of the church on its own. I eventually just came to the conclusion that god was not real. But I know there will be tons of questions, not the least of which will be "Why?" and I don't know that I have a solid answer for them. I just can't believe in it anymore. I can't bring forth a testimony that says, "This is the reason. This is the day, the time, and the place where I finally saw that god was not real. This is the cause." I suppose I need to do some real introspection to find that thread that got pulled to unravel the tapestry before I bring this to them, but I'm sure there's no real reason that would be satisfactory to them anyway.

The risk is that I will lose my family. Now, it's more clear why I think I will.

I never had a problem and generally it doesn't come up and i don't bring it up. When it does come up where i live now (it's very religious) i usually get a pass because i was brought up as a Catholic and have even been confirmed. However, i'm not confrontational about faith - i'm quite open-minded despite being offended by the "science" push that certain religious people have taken.

Being in the military its a rather strange situation. While in the US there are many super-rightwing religious types, but there are a good portion of agnostics and atheist and such as well as a few non-christian religious types. So the question of what god you pray to during holidays or what church you go to does come up and we do have wide-ranging debates about all that kinda stuff, we just kinda keep it cool and as non-personal as possible. You still get the guy/gal who just goes crazy over the fact that I'm not into religion but they tend to get weeded out over time.

However, being on deployment is different. The times that I've been on the ground in the desert, yeah religion is a big thing but we are all getting mortered/shot/rpg'ed at so the religious tend to go to church more and those not in church just take over while they are gone and maybe you can get a break to go do something else while they take over shared duties for awhile. Its a much more give and take situation.

On the boat (aircraft carrier) it can be a bit different, people live/eat/breath/etc literally shoulder to shoulder and on top of each other and after a bit even small differences can drive you up the wall. Finding a way to blow off steam can be a huge part of staying sane out there. Religion is a big part of the USN, it helps many of those kind of folks to deal with the stresses of living like that in such a dangerous environment. It does bring out some of the nuts among us however and I have received my fair share of proselytizing, the nightly non-denominational(christian) broadcasted prayers, the prayers at every ceremony (there are alot in the Navy), the expectation that I should have some sort of god that I follow or I would somehow be "immoral". They do have atheist meetings but those tend to just be bitch sessions to blow off steam, even if they do help some of the newer atheists deal with some of the nuts.

I have met some truly amazing people however. One guy would pray at his rack for like 30min or so every night, carried this huge bible around to study every day and went to every church function he could get time on. But he never bugged the atheists and kept to himself and worked hard. So really I guess it depends on where you are at and what the situation is.

I do catch some crap for being an atheist but I also get to sling just as much of it back as long as we keep it civil and do our jobs the military doesn't care. It certainly takes all types to keep the Navy afloat, but I would keep my mouth shut if/when I have to spend time in the deep south of NA.

So yes, there are some risks to be had but you can mitigate them to some extent.

I haven't read all of the posts here, but I though I'd share some of my experiences in work and family. To start, I'm basically agnostic and tolerant of most religions, as long as they keep to themselves.

First, work. I guess you could say I live in the Bible belt. My company is very conservative, and makes little effort to hide it. My boss for my first tenure at the company, let's call him Joe, was a very conservative Southern Baptist, and he let everyone know about it. When we would travel for work, he would wear a "Jesus Saves" baseball cap (at a minimum), leave prayer cards when he paid for a meal or gave a tip to someone, and overall generated an air that you were out of line if to didn't agree with his beliefs. I have heard him use the word "fornicator" to describe a co-worker of mine that was living with his fiancee. During one of our trips out of the office, he asked about my religious background and I answered that I was "raised Catholic" or omething to that effect.

Anyhow, I decided it was time to leave that job, turned in my notice and whatnot. On day I was leaving, Joe asks to escort me out of the building. This is a little against company protocol (HR usually escorts the employee out on their last day), but I figured it was no big deal, so I came back to Joe's office after completing my exit interview and all the associated paperwork. Joe walks me out to my car, tells me he'll miss having me around, etc. Then he brings up this comment I made months ago, about me being raised Catholic. He says he's worried about my soul, but didn't want to say anything while I was working for him. He offers to pray for me, invites me to his church, says I can call him anytime to talk about Jesus and so on. I was trying to humor him at the same time I was putting my stuff in the car and trying to get out of there. Though he didn't directly express it while I was working for him, my beliefs (though not explicitly expressed to him), obviously colored his opinion of me. Had I not left, I feel my advancememt opportunities would have been limited based on his opinion of me and my beliefs.

Second, at home. I was raised in a Catholic family, and attended Catholic private school from grades 3-12. My parents expected me to follow in their footsteps and grow to be a member of the Catholic community. When I was a junior in high school, it came time for Confirmation. To the non-Catholics out there, Confirmation is a ritual that confirms your beliefs in the Catholic doctrine, and designates you as a full, adult member of the church. This is supposed to be a voluntary process; it's the time when you decide you are ready to commit to the faith, as an adult. I couldn't, in good conscience, go through with this process. I didn't believe in the same way they wanted me to believe. I told my parents this, and they were angry. They forced me to attend confirmation classes, and I believe they would have forced me to get confirmed had our parish priest not called them and told them that this was something they shouldn't force me into.

In summary, I feel that fully revealing my beliefs could potentially jeopardize my career, and could also jeopardize my family life (although they have had a lot more time to get comfortable with my position). I still work for a very conservative company in the Bible Belt, and feel that my opportunities could be limited if my beliefs (or lack thereof) were made public, based on past experience. I also feel that family relations could be strained if I made things more well known to my family. Especially now that I have a daughter, I want to avoid strife in my personal and professional lives, so that I can continue to provide for her and assure that she has a good relation with her grandparents and aunts and uncles. Therefore, I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to religious matters, at home and at the office.

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