December 22, 2006

Trapped: An Atheist in Hiding

I feel trapped by an inner conflict with which I have been struggling lately. This conflict is nothing new, but it has been occupying my thoughts more than usual for some reason. The conflict concerns my decision to write this blog, Atheist Revolution, under a handle rather than my real name.

I would like to be able to replace my handle with my real name and perhaps even add a photo of myself. Why? Among the more trivial reasons are things like enhancing my credibility, gaining a greater sense of ownership over my writings here, and serving as a better model for other atheists seeking to be more open about their views. These reasons are not trivial in any absolute sense; I only label them this way in comparison to what I perceive as a more important reason. Posting under a handle is starting to limit me from doing things I would like to be able to do. I'd like to be able to write more book reviews here and to assist authors with developing their materials. Working more closely with publishers requires an identity. I'd like to be able contribute to mainstream media on the topics on which I post. Anonymity is rarely an option here.

If I am going to be perfectly honest with myself here, I suppose I should confess that there is another reason to "come out" in the way I have described. I feel like I'm hiding, and that is unpleasant. This makes me feel like a bit of a hypocrite. I mean, who am I to call for increased atheist activism when I can't even use my real name here? That makes me feel like a fraud.

What stops me from unmasking myself here? I have four primary concerns. First, I live in the heart of the Christian extremist America, have virtually no local support in the form of fellow non-believers, and am scared to death by the prospect of the local citizenry learning of my views. Unfortunately, I am quite convinced that fears of increased alienation, vandalism, and even assault are not unrealistic.

Second, I fear that my job would be jeopardized. It isn't so much that I think I would be fired (although I suppose it is possible, given the climate of my workplace) as much as I think that I would be thoroughly alienated and that it would become much harder to do my job effectively. Most of my co-workers are Southern Baptists who take their religion very seriously, and the same is true for the vast majority of the students I teach. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly likely (although still relatively unlikely) that I may need to occasionally work with high-ranking political officials (including Congressional representatives). Thus, I see a rather large potential for identifying myself here to cause problems at work. I'd have to say that this is my primary deterrent.

Third, I am not exactly thrilled with the idea of my family and non-work friends learning of and reading this blog. It isn't really that I think they'd be terribly surprised. They all know that I am an atheist, and I think most are aware that I have the views I express here. It is more about having to discuss that I write here with them, answer their questions, and have to deal with their reactions to the depth of the feelings I express here. This isn't a major reason, but it is one deterrent.

Fourth, and probably a close second to #2 above, is that I worry that revealing myself here might actually change the manner in which I write this blog. If I knew that friends, family, co-workers, students, bosses, etc. were (or even could be) reading this blog and knowing that it was mine, I think I'd be tempted to hold back. I think I'd rather quit blogging than feel like I was intentionally watering down what I write here. Holding back through self-censorship would leave me with a blog about which I could no longer feel passionate.

The struggle continues. This atheist must continue to hide for the foreseeable future. I have taken more steps toward announcing my atheism this year than I did the previous year. I also expect that I will continue this trend. Eventually, some of the deterrents may evaporate or the trap will become worse than the alternative. At least, this is the thought with which I shall console myself.

(This post was inspired by a recent conversation with atheist writer John Bice)

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