Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Coming out of the closet

Posted by Trixter on December 20, 2007


No, I’m not gay. But I feel as if I can relate to the GLBT community because I subscribe to a belief system that usually changes how people treat me once they know it. I rarely open up to people about it for fear of being ostracized, and of ruining friendships or business relationships. Like being gay, my belief system is a personal choice and doesn’t hurt anyone, yet half of the people I open up to seem threatened by it and never treat me the same way afterwards.

I’m tired of hiding it so I’m going to get it off my chest and be done with the misplaced panic and frustration. My belief system is simply this: I don’t have a belief system. I’m an atheist.

Previously I would only tell people that I knew (from personal experience) were kind, forgiving, and open-minded. But even for such people (especially the devout religious), it’s harsh, so I sometimes soften the blow with a quick follow-up that I’m “really more of a skeptic”, and just haven’t been presented any credible proof that deities exist. If I’m lucky, they accept that and move on, probably with an internal understanding that “I’ll find my proof some day and join the rest of the population in believing in [insert personal deity here].” If I’m unlucky, I’ll have to field questions about the Bible. And then there are days where I have made a horrible calculation in judgment about a person, for which I am sent a barrage of “scientific” proof that $DEITY exists that I am expected to comment on. (These usually start with The Lost Day and quickly go downhill from there.)

Being an atheist is becoming easier in an increasingly modern world, but I can’t shake the feeling that society still has many years to go before athiests are treated fairly. Unlike similar issues of sexual and racial tolerance, there is no modern social identity of a “defense” for atheism. For example: If you discriminate against a minority race, you’re shunned by society as a racist. Same goes for discrimination against sexual orientation; you’re seen as a “gay basher” and similarly shunned. But tell people you’re an atheist, and it’s open season, no consequences. I have even had the pleasure of having my character questioned, I swear I am not making this up, by a gay, religious, African-American. The irony of the event was not lost on me, I assure you.

There are no feel-good Lifetime Original Movies for people who come out of the closet about being atheist. There are no moments over the Thanksgiving turkey where a family member proclaims, “I’m proud of you for being true to yourself.” Instead, it usually goes something like this:

“Why don’t you believe in [insert personal deity here]?” Because I haven’t been presented credible evidence that your deity exists. I’m a practical, scientific person; I usually require proof of something before I subscribe to it.

“What would it take for you to believe in [insert personal deity here]?” A giant flaming hand that lowers out of the sky and points directly at me, while a thunderous booming voice fills the heavens with a single “Believe in me!” (That’s not a joke answer — I’m being serious.)

“How would you know that such proof was ‘real’ and not faked?” In the case of a giant flaming hand coming out of the sky, would it matter? Either it would be true (ie. $DEITY exists), or it would be a truly phenomenal feat of engineering, optics, and science. Both explanations would warrant unconditional worship!

“What about the [insert religious text here]? Isn’t that proof that [insert religious text’s deity here] exists?” Nope. Text without verification is fiction. Can you prove that the events in the text actually happened?

Not coincidentally, this is the most common place for the conversation to break down. How they react to that question is a good barometer of how much longer I will be able to talk to this person; hopefully measured in decades, but sometimes only in days. When it goes bad, it goes in multiple directions, none of them salvageable:

“What do you tell your kids?” I tell them the truth: Some people believe in a single God (with optional messiah in human form). Others don’t, preferring instead to believe in multiple gods. Still others eschew deities entirely, choosing to hold belief systems in reincarnation, nature, crystals, inner Chi, the Force, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And some don’t believe in any of that. I trust my children to be intelligent individuals who will research any religion or belief system that interests them. It’s completely their choice; as long as they remain intellectually curious, I am satisfied.

“Christianity is the most popular religion in the world.” No, it’s the third most popular. Hindus and Muslims have you beat.

“You’re going to Hell for your heresy.” If I believed in Hell, I guess I’d be scared. Got any travel brochures?

“If you don’t believe in Heaven, aren’t you afraid of dying?” Yes, but my fear of dying is the inverse of a love of life. It is the most amazing and wonderful opportunity we will ever have, this existence, and I find at least one gift in every day. It saddens me to know not everyone can do the same.

So. I’m an atheist. I’m out of the closet.

I hope we can still be friends.

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14 Responses to “Coming out of the closet”

  1. DosFreak said

    “My belief system is simply this: I don’t have a belief system. I’m an atheist.”

    If your an atheist then that is a belief. You belive that there is no god. I never understood this belief system myself since if you think that there is no god then you must be all-knowing. There is no way to 100% believe that there is no god. (Well I guess if your crazy then there is)

    “it’s harsh, so I sometimes soften the blow with a quick follow-up that I’m “really more of a skeptic”

    Then your an agnostic. There may be a god. There may not be a god. Who the hell cares and what the hell does it have to do with your every day life? Nothing.

    If someone bothers asking me then I immediately say Methodist since that’s what my Parent’s dragged me to a couple of times when I was younger but for the more intelligent individuals I talk with I say Agnostic and most don’t have a problem with it.

    Like most things people do religion has always been confusing for me. The closest I could ever come to an understanding with it is that people need a crutch to get through life. An invisible man in the sky seems to help, so if they want to lie to themselves to get through life then that’s fine with me.

  2. spoulson said

    Like me, you are probably agnostic, not athiest. Is there a God? I don’t know. Time for some coffee.

  3. holograph said

    So whereas you have such a hard time being an atheist in a country that’s founded on principles of pluralism and (among other things) religious freedom, in Israel (which was founded as a “home for Jews”) it’s completely socially acceptable?

    I hope I’m not the only one seeing the irony in this.

  4. GODLESS HELL CREATURE!

  5. Matt Hite said

    Nothing a few weeks at Jesus Camp won’t solve:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486358/

    Just kidding…

  6. Ben said

    Lol God Bless the US of A and their religious zealotry. This is not even an issue in most other western nations. Certainly not something you would hide, deny or ‘be in the closet’ over.

  7. Good for you. I was brought up as a Christian myself (and even used to read from the bible every day) but I think I have become less and less religious over the years. At university I described myself as an agnostic but now (having read more of Richard Dawkins’ writings) I think the term atheist is more appropriate (the difference being that an atheist knows what Occam’s razor is and why it is important and useful).

  8. Trixter said

    Atheist is indeed more appropriate (at least for me) in that I don’t harbor the notion of any god whatsoever. Agnostics see the glass half full, as it were :)

  9. Anony.Mous said

    I think that one thing that atheists really need to do is clean up their public image. While most atheists are normal people it seems like there is some ~5% minority of atheists who are incredibly vocal and hostile to the point where they give atheism a bad name.

    When some angsty 15 year old atheist on Digg/Slashdot/wherever is acting obnoxious with comments like “have fun with your imaginary friend” and other unwarranted insults, maybe it would make sense for a wiser more experienced atheist to step in and explain to him why he is hurting the cause. Atheists need to learn to take the moral high ground.

    The same thing has been happening for a log time in the Christian world. A vocal minority of idiots and bigots who claim to represent Christianity have been giving Christianity a really bad name. Everytime I see George Bush start talking about God I cringe.

  10. Mel said

    “And then there are days where I have made a horrible calculation in judgment about a person,”

    Okay, I’m officially appointing myself as editor of your blog! In the above, you mean “miscalculation”

    Reading this blog is reminding me of why I love you so much. :-)

  11. Kneebiter said

    Liberating, eh?

    I too have to take a shot at the following, “I don’t have a belief system. I’m an atheist.”

    A lot of the hesitancy I see about atheism is due to its unstructured, non-dogmatic existence as a philosophy. Saying that you believe in God encapsulates the beliefs that murder, theft, adultery, etc. are amoral. Saying that you do not believe in God, too many assume that you lack the same, or even similar, ethical and moral standards. Indeed, more moderate Christians need endure the charge of being “smörgåsbord Christians” when their views are not firmly in tow with Evangelical notions.

    From what I remember of you, I’d assume your ethics and morals to be more akin to secular humanism (with, of course, a minimalist aesthetic) than either existentialism or hedonism. You have a belief system despite your claim to the contrary and, perhaps, in spite of it having no particular name.

    DosFreak:
    “if you think that there is no god then you must be all-knowing.”

    This is a logical fallacy, as you’re well aware. There are lots of examples in mathematics where you can prove the existence of something without having an example. You can also disprove that the existence of some object by creating a contradiction. As applied to religion, the canonical example is “Can an omnipotent God create a rock he cannot move?” It’s also been a silly exercise to me and yet I’ve watched people rationalize faith with logic. I prefer to believe Søren Kierkegaard, who said, “…faith begins precisely where thought stops.”

  12. Trixter said

    Okay then, let’s clarify a few things about me:

    – No sufficient evidence to prove that one or more gods exist has been presented to me, therefore I don’t subscribe to any religion

    – I am not amoral (ie. I believe killing is wrong, etc.)

    With those basic properties, how would you describe me, if “atheist” is not appropriate?

  13. Kneebiter said

    Atheist is appropriate.

    I’m just challenging the paradox that “My belief system is simply this: I don’t have a belief system.” You do, and you’re a better man for it.

    Coming out of the closet in the queer sense can be a brutal process. I’ve seen people excommunicated from their churches (usually Mormon or Jehovah’s Witnesses) upon coming out. What happened to too many of these people is that having lost God as the sole core and foundation of their belief systems, they did indeed lose their belief systems. Many indulged hedonism, which as gay men is extremely dangerous. They failed to appreciate that religion, even in the absence of any god, filled a purpose in their lives. Being forcibly removed from it, they just couldn’t cope.

    You, however, do have those things in your life — a moral core, an appreciation of ethics in your various duties, a community of family and friends to support and encourage you and a returned devotion to those same people. And you don’t need faith in a god to stabilize all that, but I feel that as atheists we need to recognize the roles (good and bad) religion plays in the lives of people who subscribe to one.

    Someone else already mentioned Dawkins, but is your coming out related to his campaign (http://outcampaign.org/) or just coincidence?

    (And, btw, hi. ltns.)

  14. Trixter said

    I certainly recognize that religion can be positive and benefit people. I just don’t subscribe to any one religion.

    I considered myself atheist around age 14, so my post had nothing to do with Dawkins’ movement (in fact, I wasn’t aware of the movement until your post).

    (btw, hi back :-) Talk to Jackie recently and was wondering what happened to ya)

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