I walk slowly through the streets, carefully watching the reactions of others. One mis-step could be devastating. I must blend in. They will not harm me if I am one of them. Just keep up the same conversations, normal conversations, that no one will find suspicious. I will be safe as long as I limit my interactions with them. Wait. Someone is glaring at me from across the parking lot. I think they know about my rouse. I can hide. I can blend. It will be fine. They will never know the truth as long as I keep my calm and keep moving…
The tension felt from reading a good story is the same tension that some atheists still feel in their everyday lives. Atheists fear that being discovered could result in the loss of friends, family, and even their jobs. This would not be the case if atheism itself was not seen as such a terrible thing to be. The negative attitudes toward holding this position, keep many atheists in hiding. The feeling can be a hard thing to express to those that haven’t experienced it.
Conversations can lead toward religion, and it is assumed that you are of course a member of the majority religion. This is not only a problem for atheists, but also for people who practice different religions. The assumptions seem innocent at first. People will say they will pray for you or bless you. However, there are unfortunately times where these conversations reveal a distrust for other religions and the non-religious. At this point, it can appear to be a bad idea to reveal their true position on religion. People that are honest about their views could be shunned in their community or even receive threats and violence.
To give better insight into this situation, I will provide some examples of stories involving daily interactions with other members of the community.
While visiting a library for discount books, I was approached by a man that asked some odd questions. I had picked up a book about angels and he asked me what I thought about it. I said that I liked reading stories about mythology. He responded that he also enjoyed reading such books and then said that he liked books that others may not consider appropriate ‘around here’. I then realized that we were speaking in code. I agreed with him and added that I understand how it is in this area. He said that he didn’t expect someone like me to be living in the area. I told him that maybe there are more people like that around here than you think. After this brief conversation, he went back to browsing some books on another shelf.
It was so weird. The moment when you realize that you are the odd one out and that others like you have to drop subtle hints to imply that they share your views. This isn’t the case in every community, but there are still many communities were atheists hide for fear of being labeled as evil, satanist, or even being threatened by community members for not sharing their views.
Another example is a situation that recently occurred at work. While vaping outside I was approached by a man that decided to tell me that smoking is bad. I responded that we all make our own choices, good or bad. This resulted in a long conversation about how humans are imperfect and do bad things, and that we needed the sacrifice of another person (jesus) to our God to save us. I politely listened until he left.
I spoke with a coworker about the occurrence, who also smokes cigarettes. I was thinking that she would understand that some things are not so easy to quit. After telling her the story of the man telling me about how I should ask Jesus for help to quit smoking, she responded with: “well thats silly…why do people assume you don’t know Jesus?”. I would have face palmed right there, but that would have probably started a conversation that I did not want to begin.
Coming out as an atheist among the majority of Christians is not a preferable thing to do. I was frustrated that her primary assumption was that everyone must be Christian, so why would you preach to them? It is day to day interactions like this, that show that some Christians do not consider that alternative religions and atheists are among them. It is not to say that all Christians think this way. The vast majority of my interactions with Christians have been like this, however. It makes you wonder how many people there are like you that are scared to tell the truth because of harassment from their community.
These are just a few examples of what it is like to feel like a foreigner in your own community. Having to hide, and blatantly lie about your lack of belief, is safe. It prevents the threats, the hatred, the potential of having your job or livelihood stripped away. My intention in talking about these occurrences is to show that we are like everyone else. We just want to eventually be able to be open about who we are without it being a huge risk to our well being. But when someone lies about their beliefs, is that really better? Does that mean that they are a different person morally? Or does it only serve to make others more comfortable with not having to acknowledge their differences from the majority?
People continue to live moral lives without religion. However, the idea that only religion will allow someone to be able to be a kind person in life, is still upheld in some communities. Changing this idea will take time. The next step is to show that atheists are among them, and that we are not all that different. Perhaps by showing others that different religions and non-religious people are not something to be feared, we can finally feel like religious association matters little. Perhaps one day religious associations will be treated with the same importance as your favorite food or color. Until then, atheists and minority religions stay quiet. We sit waiting for a time that is appropriate to be honest about our views without negative repercussions.
Lying about religious views may make others feel more comfortable with a person, but is it really better to have people lying to you to reduce conflict? Atheists trying to avoid violence by lying about their religious views may seem like an exaggeration, but in some communities it is a real risk. Atheist may be attacked for simply stating a lack of belief. The spread of these occurrences by the community, lead other atheists to hide among the population and just go through the motions of nodding, smiling, and lying to others concerning their true position.