Friday, September 3, 2010

Thoughts on Coming Out Atheist in Mississippi

atheismI want to follow up PK's post with some thoughts about atheists in Mississippi choosing to remain closeted. Concealing one's atheism can be a lonely experience indeed, and it can be expected to take a toll on one's emotional well-being. Having said that, I agree completely with what PK said about how disclosing one's atheism should be made in consideration of how it might affect one's ability to earn a living. I think this holds true for many regions, but it strikes me as especially good advice here in Mississippi.

Even though I work in a university setting where somewhat greater tolerance of different belief systems is expected, I have little doubt that indiscriminately disclosing my atheism the way my Christian co-workers disclose their Christian beliefs (something the do at least every couple days) would lead to unpleasant consequences. I have heard enough anti-atheist bigotry at work to be cautious. In the minds of many people, there is a world of difference between "not being a religious type" and being an atheist. I can get away with the former without too much difficulty, but the later is a different animal entirely.

And yet, I recognize just how lucky I am to work in such a setting. I have heard plenty of horror stories about what others have faced in assorted work environments here in Mississippi - not for being atheists but simply for not attending church on a regular basis or for practicing a religion other than Christianity. In fact, some of the comments I have heard directed at Catholics make me think that even being Christian and going to church is not sufficient for some Mississippians.

The decision to remain in the closet or to come out is a personal decision that should be made carefully and with deliberation. It is also the sort of decision that is probably best thought of as a process rather than a one-time event. For example, since I have been in Mississippi, I have progressed gradually from "No thanks, I'd rather not attend church with you" to "No thanks, I am not interested in church" or even "No thanks, I don't have a particularly high opinion of religion." I'm to the point where I respond in the affirmative to people I know who ask me directly whether I was an atheist, but I'm not careless in my disclosure. My family knows, and my close friends know. For now, that is enough. I'm not hiding it, and I'm not broadcasting it.

Subscribe to Mississippi Atheists