July 2, 2007

Anonymity: Shield of the Atheist Blogger

Atheists commonly assert that our situation will improve as more and more of us "come out" and reveal our atheism to the world. I do not disagree, for the parallels to the GLBT movement are obvious. So how can I continue to write this blog anonymously? This is a question with which I periodically struggle, but I remain convinced that the benefits of continued anonymity outweigh the costs. I have a variety of reasons for remaining anonymous, some obvious and some probably less so.

This post was prompted by Hemant at Friendly Atheist who recently leveled some subtle criticism of anonymous atheist bloggers. After acknowledging that his opposition to anonymity as "caused some friction with some people I know," Hemant asks why we anonymous atheist bloggers maintain our anonymity when doing so makes it "that much harder to make atheism more acceptable in society."

This is a fair question. I cannot pretend to answer on behalf of all anonymous atheist bloggers, but I will attempt to do so for myself. My family knows I am an atheist, but they live far away. Those with whom I interact on a daily basis have little idea. Why?
  1. Living in the the heart of the American South in a fairly small town, I am literally surrounded by fundamentalist Christians. They fill my neighborhood, my workplace, local stores, community groups, etc. There is nothing approximating a local group of non-believers.
  2. Based on what I have heard from my few non-fundamentalist (but still religious) friends and co-workers, I am convinced that concerns over increased prejudice, vandalism, and even assault are quite realistic.
  3. I believe that my ability to do my job would be jeopardized in many ways by professing my atheism. I would not be fired, but it would become much more difficult to do my job well. I would face increased alienation, a loss of credibility, greater hostility, etc. Because most of my co-workers and many more of my students are Southern Baptists who take their religion very seriously, I simply cannot expect that they would be tolerant of atheism.
  4. I do not like the idea of my students and co-workers reading this blog and knowing that this was how I felt about their religion. There are enough sources of conflict in the workplace without adding this to the mix. Not having to worry about this makes me more effective here.
  5. Giving up anonymity would change the way I write this blog. Maybe it wouldn't be a major change, but it would be a change. I would find myself tempted to hold back.
I'm comfortable with my anonymity. I am sure I will question it again, and I may even decide at some point to drop it. But I see no reason to apologize or to conclude that I am somehow less of an atheist or less of a blogger for preferring to remain anonymous here.