November 14, 2019

It Is About Reducing Isolation

isolation

I've got news for the Christians who are upset about atheist billboards, bus advertisements, greeting cards, and the like. It is not about trying to take "Christ" out of Christmas. In fact, none of this is even about you and your jealous god. It is about letting millions of other atheists know that they are not alone. Nobody likes feeling alienated from the culture in which they live, and the constant reminders (by you) that we are outsiders get old. These billboards, ads, and other campaigns are about normalizing atheism and letting atheists know that there are many others like them.

If the idea of atheists feeling free to be themselves threatens you for some reason, that's too bad. We have been silent for far too long, and many of us are no longer willing to do so. We are here to stay, and we are not willing to keep our opinions to ourselves any more than you are. If you are going to talk about your religion in public, we are going to comment on it. Atheists are slowly becoming more visible, and this is likely to continue. You can expect to hear more from us.

Many atheists live fulfilled, ethical, and often joyful lives without any need for monsters, ghosts, or gods. It is unfortunate that you haven't been able to do this yet. We have not given up on you and hope that you will someday be able to set aside your belief in gods. We also understand how you feel about us and why you feel that way. Many of us are ex-Christians or former religious believers in other traditions. We are familiar with much of what you have been taught about us. This allows some of us to empathize with you and even experience compassion for your struggle. But we will not apologize for our existence, and we will not stop working to promote education, reason, and skepticism. Nor will we exempt your religious beliefs from criticism.

Sadly, there are still places (even here in Western democracies) where being an atheist means a much higher likelihood of being lonely and experiencing negative social consequences at the hands of the religious majority. We are offered conditional acceptance: believe as we do, and you can be part of this. The reality is that most of us could not believe in your gods even if we wanted to. As long as we are going to be rejected on this basis, you will see us doing what we can to reduce the resulting isolation and promote social connectedness among atheists. Sharing the simple message with atheists that they are not alone is part of this.

Atheists, you are not alone. I know this can be hard to believe at times. Depending on where you live, you may not know any other atheists or feel comfortable letting anyone else know that you are an atheist. It shouldn't be that way, but this is reality for some of us. I suspect there are other atheists around you who are going through the same thing. You don't know they are atheists because, like you, they worry about the negative repercussions they'd face for being open about it. It may not be a sufficient substitute, but going online and connecting with other atheists there may help get you through some dark times. We are easy to find there, especially on social media platforms like Twitter.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2019 because there is still much work that needs to be done around this issue.