December 13, 2012

Atheism and Nonconformity

Nonconformist jpg

Are atheists living in the U.S., where atheism entails a certain willingness to go against the grain, any more likely to be nonconformist in other aspects of their lives than Christians? I find this an intriguing question. While it makes sense to me that this would be the case and while my limited personal experience lends support to the idea, I do not have any empirical basis for suggesting that such a claim is likely to be true. What do you think - are atheists more likely than Christians to be nonconformist in other areas of their lives?

I will admit that I am interested in this question for reasons other than pure intellectual curiosity. I have been in a few situations where I have listened to atheist youth discuss their experiences with discrimination and bigotry at the hands of the Christian majority. And while I have every reason to believe that many atheists do indeed face this because of their atheism, there have been times - not many but a few - where I have wanted to ask a different sort of question.

Is it possible that at least some of what you have faced is more due to your tattoos, piercings, unusual attire, and blue hair as it is to your atheism?

Based on my own experiences, the experiences other atheists have shared with me over the years, and scientific data I have reviewed on the attitudes the public holds toward atheists in the U.S., I do not question the reality of anti-atheist bigotry and discrimination. Adolescents are kicked out of their parents' homes for being atheists. Employees are fired for being atheists. People are physically assaulted for expressing atheism. This is all too real. And while I realize that nobody's nonconventional appearance or attire warrants this sort of hatred, I do wonder if some particular instances of discrimination, bigotry, harassment, and so on might be prompted by outward signs of nonconformity instead of atheism.

I find this topic a bit of a challenge to discuss because I worry that people will misunderstand my musings and accuse me of promoting conformity. Conformity is about the last thing (after perhaps religion) I'd want to promote. I detest it, and while I personally choose not to promote it through my appearance or attire, I've always respected those who do.

It was not long ago that I was listening to a particular atheist woman with blue hair, tattoos, and piercings share how difficult it was for her to initiate and maintain friendships here in the South. She attributed this to her atheism. Having had the experience of losing friends as soon as I disclosed my atheism a few times, I could relate quite well. But over a few interactions, I noticed that she was loud, domineering, self-centered, and rude in conversations with others. She also had rather objectionable body odor (something I didn't really understand about not wanting to go along with the conventional expectations surrounding hygiene). In any case, I found myself not wanting to be around her any more than I had to, and I am fairly confident that this was not because of her atheism.