The stigma of being an atheist in the US

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By Aleem Maqbool

 

Atheists in the US are rallying together, launching a new TV programme and providing support for those who go public with their beliefs.

“Sometimes things need to be said, and fights need to be fought even if they are unpopular. To the closeted atheists, you are not alone, and you deserve equality.”

So goes the rousing speech from the American Atheists president, David Silverman, in the opening moments of the first US television broadcaster dedicated to those who do not believe in God, Atheist TV.

A series of testimonies from prominent atheists then follows.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life and I completely advocate people ‘coming out’,” says Mark Hatcher, from Black Atheists of America.

“Coming out” is how many atheists in the USA describe what remains, for many, a very difficult admission to make publicly.

At one of the biggest gatherings of atheist students in the country, in Columbus, Ohio, Jamila Bey from the Secular Student Alliance said there were many attendees who were nervous about being interviewed and had indicated so by what they were wearing around their neck.

“Red lanyards mean ‘You may not talk to me’,” says Bey. “A number of the students we have aren’t ‘out’. Their parents may not know that they are atheist or questioning their religion.”

She said many were worried about being ostracised or were even scared of violence if they revealed they did not believe in God.

Lasan Dancay-Bangura, 22, is happy to talk to us. He is, after all, head of his university’s atheist student group. He lets out a deep, sad sigh as he recalls the moment he told his mother he was an atheist.

“Things were really not good to begin with. She was so angry,” he says.

“After a while I think she just accepted it. We still don’t talk about it. It looks like she’s not going to kick me out.”

Dancay-Bangura admits that he still has not told his father.

“I don’t want our relationship to be destroyed because of that,” he says. “You hear it all the time.”

“And you hear about people being kicked out, and sent to bible camps where they’re forced to be religious. I don’t want to lose my father to that.”

The parents of Katelyn Campbell, 19, from West Virginia, have been very supportive of her stance as an atheist. Her problem has been other members of the community. “In high school, when I walked down the hallway it would be completely silent, or I would be spat on,” Katelyn says.

Two years ago, she protested against the inclusion of religion and abstinence in her school sex education classes. She is still feeling the impact.

“Often times I’m really uncomfortable being out in public spaces in my community at home because people often bring that discussion to my face, which is a discussion of values that are very personal and very private,” she says.

12 COMMENTS

  1. She said many were worried about being ostracised or were even scared of violence if they revealed they did not believe in God.

    “God” with a capital “G”, is still old YAHWEH – the Canaanite god of war, discrimination, genocide, and prejudice, in many places!

  2. Atheists in the US are rallying together, launching a new TV programme and providing support for those who go public with their beliefs.

    This is a poorly worded thesis statement. Atheism is not a belief, it’s a lack of it. It requires no belief whatsoever.

    • Katie Aug 5, 2014 at 10:34 am

      This is a poorly worded thesis statement. Atheism is not a belief, it’s a lack of it. It requires no belief whatsoever.

      It is an understanding of the lack of evidence for ANY gods, and usually an understanding of the lack of evidence for anything supernatural (with the exception of a few atheist Buddhists).

      @OP – the first US television broadcaster dedicated to those who do not believe in God, Atheist TV.

      The reporter, – Aleem Maqbool does not get it, that atheism is not “a belief” in no God or denial of, “god” – with a capital “G”!
      I think her preconceptions of some default god are showing!

      • It is an understanding of the lack of evidence for ANY gods, and usually an understanding of the lack of evidence for anything supernatural (with the exception of a few atheist Buddhists).

        Yes. Nicely stated.

        I think her preconceptions of some default god are showing!

        Possibly. Or just poor communication and noun habits and a misunderstanding of the word ‘belief’.

        atheism is not “a belief” in no God or denial of, “god” – with a capital “G”!

        Yes. Well stated here as well.

  3. One has to admire the courage of those young people, risking everything not only for the betterment of their lives but also for the progress of religious freedom and society as a whole. What they are doing will in the long run be beneficial even for the people who hate them and treat them like garbage.

    It’s pretty ironic that people who claim to believe in Jesus (parents and family) are so little inclined to emulate his alleged deeds, even towards their own children. Then, they have the unmitigated audacity to claim that a world without faith would unfailingly foster widespread immoral behavior.

    Reminds me of a snippet of dialogue between detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart in the TV series “True Detective” (paraphrasing here):

    Marty: Society needs religion, what do you think people would do without religion?

    Rust: Same thing they’re doing now except out in the open.

    • be responsible for their own actions and life instead of giving credit to make believe people in the sky or blaming the devil (snicker) when things go bad or they themselves do something wrong, man up take responsibility

  4. The state of atheism today reminds me of the state of gay lib in the mid 70s. A few people have come out.
    It is still a novelty. It still gets people very excited and even violent, but most atheists are still in the closet. Given a few more decades it will be no big deal. You won’t get any rise at all by “coming out”.

    And happily for me, my part of the world, BC Canada, is well ahead of the pack.

    The more people come out, the safer it becomes for others to come out, and the more ordinary and unthreatening it becomes to the general public. It is a virtuous circle.

    Gay lib had no intentions of changing anyone other than getting them off our backs. Atheism is much more threatening. Many of us are attempting to dynamite Christian delusions.

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