Teen atheist asks Dawkins advice on how to come out

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Friday night, at the talk given by Richard Dawkins and D.J. Grothe at University of Southern California, there was a portion for audience member questions. One person, whom I believe said he was 14 years old and from the SoCal area, asked how he could come out as an atheist. Dr. Dawkins paused and appeared to be in thought on how to respond to this in the short time and limited information he knew about him. He asked the young man if his parents knew about his atheism and were okay with it, to which he said yes. Dawkins said that it was a good start for him and that he was in a much better position to live life out as a nonbeliever compared to many others.

I agree with Dawkins’ assessment, as the advice for one person would be much different from someone in a different situation, whether it be living in a religious part of the country or being part of a family where this sort of thing could result in a nonbeliever being shunned.

I have some additional thoughts on this as well. You can make a big announcement if you want, but since not everyone feels comfortable doing this, here are some things that worked for me, which I would mention to a young person in a similar situation to his.

Mention it in the classroom. You are at a time when discussions are likely a regular part of certain classes. If a teacher mentions something about how we are a nation of many religions, you might raise your hand and add that we’re also a nation of the nonreligious, including yourself. In Philosophy class, if you are learning about many of the great thinkers but the syllabus doesn’t include any free thinkers, you might find a way to mention those like Bertrand Russell or Daniel Dennett. These are just examples. Feel free to do it in a way that best suits you.

Disclose it to your peers. This doesn’t have to be a special phone call or announcement, it can just be mentioned when it comes up naturally in conversation. When a classmate asks in December which holiday you celebrate, you could reply with something like, “I celebrate Christmas, but it’s for cultural reasons, as I don’t believe in a god,” “My family celebrates Hanukah, but I am a secular Jew,” “I celebrate the Winter Solstice, since that’s the reason for the season,” “I don’t celebrate any religious holidays since I do not believe in any of them,” or whatever answer fits your customs and beliefs. Your answer may end up leading to a bigger conversation and get more in-depth. If they’re curious about what you do or don’t celebrate and brought it up to you in the first place, they may be interested to learn more about you.

Share your atheism on social networking sites. If you are allowed to be online and have profiles, you can mention your views on your bios. On facebook, you can choose atheism, secular humanism, and the like as your religious view.

Display symbols related to atheism. There’s the option of incorporating atheist symbols or the logos of organizations related to that. Not everyone wants to do this, but if you find it appealing, you could wear a necklace, put badges on your backpack, wear a shirt related to free thought, put stickers on your binders, or display magnets on your locker. Something as simple as wearing the Scarlet Asymbol on a shirt or necklace can start a discussion. Those who know what it means will know you’re an atheist. Those who don’t may end up asking what the A stands for. There’s also the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the atomic whirlInvisible Pink Unicorn, and other symbols, as well as shirts that have messages and images. Wearing any of these can not only help you express yourself, but can also encourage others to come out as well.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has the Out Campaign website, which is a good resource for additional information.

Written By: CherryTeresa.com
continue to source article at cherryteresa.com

42 COMMENTS

  1. Display symbols related to atheism.

    There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

    Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with you when they find out you’ve gotten your bad self ‘inked’.

    If the tattoo parlor turns you away because you’re underage there’s always this. Happy body mutilation, young atheists, and welcome to the movement.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed,

      Gaak! A tattoo is for life. It will deteriorate over the years and sag. Tattooing is a fad. It will be the equivalent of bell bottoms you can’t remove. How about a Tee shirt? embroidery? embossing?

      I came out as atheist in high school 50 years ago in West Vancouver Canada. There was no drama at all. I was very curious about why people could believe such religious nonsense, and asked to be taken to various churches and to interview people. Nobody had the tiniest clue what they believed or why. It was just something that they had always done. They could not even define what they meant by god, much less why they believed it existed. I was quite unimpressed.

      On the other paw, I had repeated encounters with a kindly “god” named Giant (hard G), that appeared to actually shift reality around on request. I dropped the relationship when I discovered my friends could not see it.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Display symbols related to atheism.

      There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

      Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with…

      They could write it backwards on their foreheads so they can remind themselves exactly where they stand every morning in the mirror.

      • In reply to #4 by Reckless Monkey:

        In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

        Display symbols related to atheism.

        There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

        Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with…

        They could write it backwards on their foreheads so they can remind themselves exactly where they stand every morning in the mirror.

        Reminds me of the bit in Bill Bailey’s Love Song which goes

        “Oh, he’s so sensitive, he’s got a tattoo.”

        Yeah, carving your name with a compass in my forehead was not enough for you!

        • In reply to #9 by Katy Cordeth:

          Bill Bailey’s Love Song

          Perfect in every beautifully observed detail.

          Whilst I’m here, if my daughter is also reading this thread, can I just say, NO! My “liking” of comment #1 does not mean its OK. OK? That is not how it works here.

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Display symbols related to atheism.

      There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

      Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with…

      No, that will not work. Tattoos are like hair cuts these days, everyone has one. The really tough, cool kids go plain, no marks. That’s a rebel in this day and age.

      • In reply to #10 by aquilacane:

        In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

        No, that will not work. Tattoos are like hair cuts these days, everyone has one. The really tough, cool kids go plain, no marks. That’s a rebel in this day and age.

        Indeed. The ubiquitousness of these things is depressing. Number 23 on this list is very telling I think (although nos.5 and 21 are my favorite):

        If Tattoos Actually Told the Truth

        At least we know one of the UK’s foremost female role models, Cheryl Cole, believes in evolution, as she’s spent an awful lot of time getting her bottom to resemble those of certain estrous monkeys.

        Way to go Cheryl. Subliminal teaching kicks bright red ass!

    • In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

      Display symbols related to atheism.

      There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

      Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with…

      I assume you are being facetious, because, like me, you find the idea of displaying “symbols related to atheism” (whatever the hell they may be) utterly preposterous……

  2. Even considering this a problem shows how much of a hold religion has in the USA. I’m British, and, when I was 14, telling people I was an atheist was as traumatic as telling them I Iiked Pink Floyd. That is, not a problem, most people I knew were atheist anyway, and it was a cool thing to be.

    • In reply to #5 by Mal58:

      Even considering this a problem shows how much of a hold religion has in the USA. I’m British, and, when I was 14, telling people I was an atheist was as traumatic as telling them I Iiked Pink Floyd. That is, not a problem, most people I knew were atheist anyway, and it was a cool thing to be.

      I agree,in fact nobody i know ever “came out “,when i was younger,it was just not important enough to even mention.Even today,i only know one person who goes to church,and that only for xmas,weddings,etc.

    • In reply to #6 by rzzz:

      You don’t have to say “I’m an atheist” – just say “I don’t believe in Deity X”. Leave it at that.

      I suggest, simply, “I am not a person of faith.” It is general, does not insult, and is in the language that religious people understand.

  3. Not sure it is necessary to “come out” in such a bold fashion. Why not keep it to yourself, unless and until the question arises. I worry that some who get the news about your lack of belief will turn against you, if you make a big deal about it. If you feel the risk is small, go for it, but I am concerned there are some whose family background/upbringing will cause them to take action against you, and it may be unpleasant. I’m just being cautious. This may not be an issue in countries other than the USA.

  4. Yes I agree with Rod, there is no real need to “come out” as such or to make a show because for we modern atheists in everyday life religion is not usually a significant threat or activity that we would have to escape from or need to attack. Colleagues who preach can be countered by questioning if you are practised and this is a good way to build debating skill and confidence. Really atheism is no big deal and it is the default setting for previous and surely all modern humans at least until indoctrination and restrictive cultural practices intervene. Relax and enjoy your new found wisdom or whatever has caused you to ask the question if you are reading here. The so called miltant atheists and activists have a good arsenal of “weapons” and many have a friendly environment to exist in. There is room for us all but we need to spread the word at the appropriate time given it is safe to do so. Do not endanger your livelihood for the sake of your beliefs unless you have alternative means of support – the world in your head will assist and world view is so far still personal.

  5. I think at 14, teenagers are just beginning their ‘journey’ into the realities of the world….. It may not be that helpful to announce to everyone that you are an atheist ! – but I would discuss it with understanding and non judgemental people especially atheists…..although I’m atheist and have been since childhood ….I didn’t label myself as any one kind of person…. I didn’t like the word atheist and I truly didn’t know enough about science to quote real facts when debating with religious people…I knew I didn’t believe in god and I had a growing disrespect for religion, but I had to arm myself with knowledge….I told people I didn’t believe but I also didn’t know the answers to the big questions back then….like human origins, universe, big bang etc….so some people suggested that I was on a spiritual quest….I let them think whatever they wanted…as long as I could continue freethinking unhindered…. blogging on this site is a good way to understand Atheist issues and being anonymous has its advantages…but when it comes to the crunch I always declare myself as Atheist if officially asked….

  6. Let’s face it, this kid has it a lot easier than someone the same age will elsewhere. In Southern California, it will be met by a load of shrugs. Try it in Oklahoma or (Big Juju Forbid) Texas or Mississippi and it’s different.

    • In reply to #13 by Daryl:

      Let’s face it, this kid has it a lot easier than someone the same age will elsewhere. In Southern California, it will be met by a load of shrugs. Try it in Oklahoma or (Big Juju Forbid) Texas or Mississippi and it’s different.

      In Northern California its it’s almost to the point where being an atheist is trendy. Which is causing me to rethink my outlook ;-) Oh well, it’s definitely a step up from the Goth and Vampire trends.

  7. If you do go with a tattoo, get one on your neck. This way you’ll never be hired as a kindergarten teacher or a pilot. Either that or go full Mike Tyson and get the atheist A on your face. Then arguing a case in court might be an issue; and certainly no presidency for you!

    • In reply to #16 by crookedshoes:

      If you do go with a tattoo, get one on your neck. This way you’ll never be hired as a kindergarten teacher or a pilot. Either that or go full Mike Tyson and get the atheist A on your face. Then arguing a case in court might be an issue; and certainly no presidency for you!

      One Anthony Charles Lynton Blair got a ‘W’ tattoo on his forehead during his time as Prime Minister, as a symbol of obeisance to his then master. Or perhaps it was a brand.

  8. Can anyone in the UK imagine a teenager having to ask this question here? As a teacher of teenagers, atheism is undoubtedly the default position. The Christian Union kids have to be quite brave at my gaff, which is probably not ideal either,but certainly makes the contrast between the UK and the US.

  9. I used to have the analogous debate with closeted gay people who wanted to stay in the closet. I argued they were part of the problem by fooling the general population into thinking gays were a rare fringe that should be bullied.

    You don’t have to be in-your-face, but you should not pretend to be straight. It is a form of lying.

      • In reply to #21 by RSingh:

        In reply to #19 by Roedy:
        “but you should not pretend to be straight. It is a form of lying.” what if one is in a situation where the audience is not brave+wise enough to hear the truth!

        Discretion is the better part of valour. You don’t have to announce everywhere all the time. That would be counter productive and dangerous. But you should not actively be deceiving the people you interact with daily. Some of the most powerful lessons you can teach a bigot are when they don’t know you are gay/atheist but everyone else does. They shoot their mouth off carelessly and rudely then feel embarrassed.

        People kid themselves they are acting out of prudence when actually they just want to avoid an awkward confrontation. It is very important that someone tell these bigots their behaviour is not acceptable. They are like bullies. Nobody ever tells them no.

  10. The answer should have been “Ahh, you just did…?!”

    Must be because of the pervasiveness of religion in the USA, that people feel they have to announce their beliefs or lack of.

    It’s easy to be an atheist, just be!

  11. I suggest saying you’re “not religious” may be an easier option for many people than saying you’re “atheist”. It sounds softer, disinterested and less confrontational. You shouldn’t have to choose your words like that, but sometimes you may have to be pragmatic.

  12. Message to Phil’s daughter. My liking of your dad’s comment #17 cancels out his like of my comment #1, which means you now have your pop’s blessing to get inked. That is how it works here.

    • In reply to #24 by Katy Cordeth:

      Message to Phil’s daughter. My liking of your dad’s comment #17 cancels out his like of my comment #1, which means you now have your pop’s blessing to get inked. That is how it works here.

      My plan B if your evil plan prevails is to get inked just before she does, rendering the whole process uncool and yucky. The pix will go viral as spectacular fails. Keep an eye on my gravatar…

    • In reply to #27 by Nitya:

      Alternative Carpark #26. Of course Katy’s being facetious! ( I’m right, am I not?) who would get atheist symbols tattooed on their skin?

      Wasn’t talking about tattoos. The very notion of displaying “symbols related to atheism” (Arrrgh) makes me cringe.

  13. I agree with the general consensus. There isn’t any reason to announce that you are an atheist. This is an entirely private matter. Take comfort in your decision. Being an atheist is not something you have to announce. It is not some type of prize to be had or a podium to speak on. As well, being silent on the matter should have little to say about religions hold on us (though it may for some). We keep it as a private matter. Reason will eventually make Religion untenable, and this can be done without any label attached. Take solace in your honesty to yourself and tread carefully when tempted to make it a podium to speak upon. Do not defend atheism, but defend reason. Atheism is not a worldview, but itt is a settlement on the issue of Gods existence. This is an honest conclusion. The
    problem of announcing that your an atheist, is that is doesn’t Solve any issues and only opens up oneself to attack. A continuous bickering’s and entanglement. Not that these discussions are not important, but one should first ask “Well then, what is my answer to lifes meaningful questions”. One should not decide I’m an atheist and end it there, or religion will not stop being relevant.. Your worldview needs to have a meaningful point for you, not simply hat you do not believe in god.

  14. From the RDFRS Store I got my “It took 13.7 billion years to make something this perfect” t-shirt, and I wear it often.

    It’s a subtle sign of my philosophy, and isn’t blatantly offensive to the mind-dulled out among the public. I’ve had a couple of folk ask me what it means, and they weren’t upset when I briefly explained…. Mac.

      • In reply to #36 by bluebird:

        In reply to #29 by CdnMacAtheist:

        From the RDFRS Store – “It took 13.7 billion years to make something this perfect” t-shirt

        I like the infant/baby/toddler one piece, but don’t show it to other mothers, we’re a jealous lot!!

        I needed an XL size (green + gold words) but I’m just as perfect (note, not peer-reviewed)…. 8-) Mac.

  15. In reply to #30 by Alternative Carpark:

    In reply to #27 by Nitya:

    Alternative Carpark #26. Of course Katy’s being facetious! ( I’m right, am I not?) who would get atheist symbols tattooed on their skin?

    Wasn’t talking about tattoos. The very notion of displaying “symbols related to atheism” (Arrrgh) makes my cringe.

    Oh yes, I agree. I hope I’m not completely wrong here, as I’ll feel very silly if I am, but is assume this comment was made in jest. I think it’s a funny idea….going overboard with the lack- of -religiion symbolism.

  16. Come out as an Atheist, by singing the following death metal song to your peers or in a local
    talent show! Suicide Silence – Unanswered

    Lyrics for Unanswered,

    How much must I curse your name;
    And put your beliefs to shame;
    Before you prove yourself;
    And end this life?

    End this life

    And I’ll say a fucking prayer;
    Because I know it;
    won’t be answered;

    Where is your god? [2x];
    Where is your fucking god?

    And even though I
    don’t believe in you;
    I pray for the day [2x]
    That you end this life;

    So please
    Take Me
    Away

    I want the hand of god;
    To come and strike me down [2x];

    Where is your god? [2x];
    Where is your fucking god?;

    For all the prayers that go
    unanswered [2x];
    Why do you think that is?;
    For the families that
    waste their time;
    Open your eyes;

    And all your prayers will go
    Unanswered;
    Why do you think that is?;
    For the families that
    waste their time
    Open your fucking eyes ;

    • In reply to #35 by Terra Watt:

      Come out as an Atheist, by singing the following death metal song to your peers or in a local
      talent show! Suicide Silence – Unanswered

      Lyrics for Unanswered,

      Actually, I think those aren’t very good lyrics. (I’m sure the music is quite subtle and lyrical though so that probably makes up for it ;) But saying “How much must I curse your name;” implies there is a God but the singer is just pissed off at Him and the song also implies that without God people may as well commit suicide.

      One of my favorite atheist songs is I Walk Alone from Green Day. I like it because its ambiguous, it’s not clear is he talking about not being involved with a human partner or living life without a belief in God or both? I think it’s both and the fact that you have to think about it, well the fact that you can actually give some thought to any song lyric these days makes it stand out.

      Another song about God that i’ve always loved, although it’s not so much definitely saying there is no God but that if there is he’s kind of a sick dude is Blasphemous Rumors from Depeche Mode:

      Girl of sixteen, whole life ahead of her
      Slashed her wrists, bored with life
      Didn’t succeed, thank the Lord
      For small mercies

      Fighting back the tears, mother reads the note again
      Sixteen candles burn in her mind
      She takes the blame, it’s always the same
      She goes down on her knees and prays

      I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
      But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
      And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

      I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
      But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
      And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

      Girl of eighteen, fell in love with everything
      Found new life in Jesus Christ
      Hit by a car, ended up
      On a life support machine

      Summer’s day, as she passed away
      Birds were singing in the summer sky
      Then came the rain, and once again
      A tear fell from her mother’s eye

      I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours
      But I think that God’s got a sick sense of humor
      And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

      • In reply to #37 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #35 by Terra Watt:

        Actually, I think those aren’t very good lyrics. (I’m sure the music is quite subtle and lyrical though so that probably makes up for it ;) But saying “How much must I curse your name;” implies there is a God but the singer is just pissed off at Him and the song also implies that without God people may as well commit suicide.

        I think he’s referring to the believer, otherwise it would say, “How much must I curse “his” name; And put your beliefs to shame; …”.
        As for suicide, the song is again addressing the believer, and essentially telling them to literally go kill themselves because
        their belief is obsolete. Yeah… that’s not very nice, but this song is meant to be very antagonizing and full of impact.
        Anyway I invite you to have a listen, even if you’ve never heard of this genre of music, or find the genre to be shocking.
        Make sure to at least endure until the part where he sings/shouts, “I want the hand of god to come and strike me down.”
        A great song particularly for an angsty teen who feels anger at the religious believer and their threats of hell of fire.

        I haven’t heard of Depeche mode before but just had a listen to Blasphemous Rumors on youtube,
        and I’ve got to say I definitely like it. Its got a sick instrumental track, ofcourse in a good way! lol.

  17. In reply to #26 by Alternative Carpark:

    In reply to #1 by Katy Cordeth:

    Display symbols related to atheism.

    There’s also the… Invisible Pink Unicorn

    Excellent advice to give to young non-believers who wish to make their atheism known: get tattooed, kids! Even if your classmates are discomforted by your lack of belief in a personal deity, none of them will mess with…

    I assume you are being facetious, because, like me, you find the idea of displaying “symbols related to atheism” (whatever the hell they may be) utterly preposterous……

    I was being facetious, but I don’t have a problem with people displaying symbols related to atheism if they so desire. I came across this bumper sticker on Cafe Press a few days ago and thought it quite funny. Can’t say I was tempted to buy one though. They also sell some Hitchslapped tee-shirts, which I hadn’t seen before. Wasn’t it this site that started all that business? You would think they’d be for sale in the RDFRS store.

    I had a slight beef with this article because it was about offering advice to younglings on how to make their atheism known, and linked to a a tattoo site. It was a dumb thing for the author to do: children are impressionable and many, either because it seems to be trendy nowadays or because they have genuine psychological issues, already engage in body mortification, be it ‘cutting’, or inserting bits of metal through body parts which have no business getting bits of metal inserted through them.

    Closeted atheist kids or those grappling with the faith they’ve had forced upon them are likely to be pretty alienated already and perhaps more predisposed to this sort of activity. They don’t need some fool to come along and say “Hey kids, look at all these wicked atheism tattoos. Aren’t they awesome!”

    I am that modern rarity: a young (-ish) woman who doesn’t have any body art, not even the ubiquitous tramp stamp. If it took 13.7 billion years (and a fair amount of gym work) to create a bod this perfect, I’m not going to deface it with graffiti.

    It strikes me as pretty silly anyway to go to so much effort and endure a fair amount of pain to get something which announces your lack of belief in God to the world. Are there people who have a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny tattoo with a big cross through it?

    Anyway, sorry for the ambiguousness of my original post.

  18. Moderators’ message

    We’ve heard enough about tattoos now, thanks. If anyone has any comments on how a teenager might come out as atheist, please post them. Off topic comments will be removed.

    The mods

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