Atheism Might Not Be the Only Reason Some People Are Alienated

Nonconformist jpg

Are atheists living in the United States, 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 or other religious believers? I find this an intriguing question. It makes sense to me that this would be the case and my limited personal experience lends support to the idea, but 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.e., outside of religion)?

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 still kicked out of their parents' homes for being atheists. Employees are still fired for being atheists. People are still 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. While I do not usually promote nonconformity through my appearance or attire these days, I've always respected those who do.

It was not long ago that I found myself listening intently to an 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. After having a few more interactions with her, I noticed that she was loud, domineering, self-centered, and rude in conversations with others. She also had rather objectionable body odor, justified with 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. I am as confident as I can be that this was not because of her atheism.

What's the point? While anti-atheist bigotry is all-too real, I'm not sure it is necessarily the first place we should look when trying to understand why others might not want to spend time with us. There might be other reasons. In some cases, atheism might not even be among the most important of them.