I owe my thanks to my mother for introducing me to Richard Dawkins. Okay, that’s not entirely true. She didn’t really introduce me to him or his works, but she furthered it. I read an excerpt from his book The shortly after its release, and added the book to my Christmas “wish list.” My mom, reading the title but not the subtitle, thought the book had something to do with the Barnum & Bailey circus. I don’t know if that’s really what she thought, but when I opened my present on Christmas day that’s what she told me. But that’s my mom, the Catholic, trying to make sense of why she would buy her son a book about evolution, written by one of today’s most prominent and outspoken atheists.
The truth is, had she not gotten me that book, I probably would have forgotten about it and carried on with my life with little knowledge of the “New Atheist” movement that’s taken place this past decade. I may have remained inside my little shell of atheism, alone and discriminated against but not bothering to speak up about it. Around this time I purchased and read The End of Faith by Sam Harris. The next year for Christmas I bought my wife The God Delusion (and then read it before she had a chance to), and the year after that her father bought her The Portable Atheist by Christopher Hitchens. Until I started reading the atheist literature, I was timid (insofar as my atheism was concerned) and wouldn’t dare “come out” for fear of being berated for my [lack of] beliefs. I don’t always agree with what Dawkins says, but I owe him my gratitude for convincing me that being open about my atheism is not something to be afraid of.
Along with the New Atheism movement (actually, the guiding force behind it) came the harsh criticism of religion. Until the last few years I was a closet atheist. I didn’t think much about religion or gods and their nonexistence. I was (and still am, for the most part) a “live and let live” kind of guy. But once other people started speaking out against religion I began to think about how religiosity really does affect my life and the life of my wife (also an atheist) on an almost day-to-day basis. It was time for me to start fighting back. Unfortunately I have neither the means nor the time to fight back on a large scale – I can’t attend rallies or protests, I can’t afford to travel to hear someone speak, it isn’t worth risking my well-being to actively speak out in my God-fearing community. So I go online, I play the Facebook game, I write in a blog, and now and then I’ll participate in some good old-fashioned forum banter.
I get along fine with religious people on a daily basis – I have to, since I live smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. “Coming out” is a delicate thing. I still worry every now and then that this one factor of my life – my atheism – will lead to my being judged by people who otherwise find me quite pleasant. But it’s important. I want people to know I am atheist. I want to get that “dirty little secret” of mine out in the open. If somebody’s going to judge me, let it be done early on. Let’s get it out of the way. As a matter of fact, just the other day I came out to somebody only to be met with the response “Really? Me too!” That, my friend, was a genuinely heartwarming moment. So here’s my message to you: don’t be afraid. Be true to yourself and honest with those around you. You’ll never know if others will be comfortable with who you are until you are comfortable with who you are.
Here’s a link to the RDF’s “Out Campaign,” where you are encouraged to admit to yourself and others how you feel about religion. You may also click the “Scarlet A” on the right side of this blog at any time and from any page to access the Out Campaign’s website.
- Christopher Hitchens to Receive Richard Dawkins Award (friendlyatheist.com)
- Richard Dawkins: World Atheist Convention (milkandcookies.com)
- Further Reading (atheistdave.wordpress.com)