July 14, 2024

Being a closeted atheist can still cost you –so I am coming out.

Lilandra is a username from a little known comic book character. In real life, I named my children after comic book characters, so my geek credentials cannot be questioned. My husband is a large biker, cyber-viking ape, that opines about religion, and knows his place in a cladogram.

About 7 years ago, in West Texas, the childhood home of G.W. Bush, I realized I didn’t believe in any god.  Even though I later married Aron Ra, a loud, proud and publicly known atheist, I have kept my atheism out of the public arena of ideas.  Six years ago, I learned that even posting an obvious joke anonymously online about (cue the black helicopters) the Evil Atheist Conspiracy would be taken seriously by credulous people.

Atheists are not very trusted in this country, and really have public relations issues.  Add to that stereotyping and atheist bashing by the Christian Right, and you can get about any ordinary person to believe that you aren’t joking about an Evil Atheist Conspiracy, no matter how ridiculously unfounded that is.

Anyways for the past six years I’ve been cautious about it out of family concerns and concerns for my job as a teacher.  Public atheist teachers like Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, and Grappling Ignorance of of YouTube, have actually had their job targeted by irate Christian parents for being out.  Even a small minority of irate, irrational parents can cause a teacher trouble, because the majority of satisfied parents aren’t as vocal.  Add to that an un-supportive or religiously sympathetic administrator and you have  a recipe for trouble.  I’ve actually had a few students tell me during a mock election that their parents told them that if Obama was elected, he would implant microchips in everybody.  So I know that I have a few of these types of parents every year.

Realistically, there is fear mongering used in the political arena and that has included mistrust of atheists also. The last thing you want is your co-workers, whose support you need, mistrusting or ostracizing you.  So I’ve sat there silently, stunned in large teacher gatherings paid for by taxpayers as the speaker felt it was his time to talk about the importance of his god beliefs. He got applauded by most everyone there for saying he didn’t care what anyone thought he was going to say, he was going to say it. Sure, it was irrelevant to the topic of increasing test scores, but what about the Constitution? Really, I don’t want these types of displays to result in the loss of someone’s job; I would just like them to stop using their authority as a pulpit to a captive audience. However, if you put the shoe on the other foot, cue the pitchforks and torches even on the suspicion you are an atheist.

To be clear, I am not offended if a Christian worker in a personal, social interaction offers to pray for me out of genuine concern, or says something in the context of their own culture.  But frankly, if you are sitting at a table, and your co-workers start bowing their heads to pray and you start eating it becomes an unintentional unmasking.  Never mind the prohibitions in the Bible about praying in public.  I don’t think most Christians understand that Jesus found public praying to be hypocritical.

Unfortunately, I’ve run across a few Christians, who are not well-intentioned nor innocently misguided in displaying their religious beliefs.  Discussing god at work is putting their feelers out to test your beliefs.  On telling one such person that my religious beliefs are private, that person kept pressing me that I could tell them.  There is really no way around a persistent Christian that would resolve the matter without triggering their belief that they are being persecuted. Additionally if you are outnumbered or unsupported in the situation, you risk ostracism or harassment by complaining.

The more vocal Christians are at work the more it may as well be marking their territory whether they intend to or not.  I don’t know how alone I am in this but I am at the point that I may as well be out, because remaining silent makes you a default atheist.  Top that off with a few untrustworthy family members who reveal private information, and for all intents and purposes you are out everywhere it really matters to be private. Especially if you have posted something even anonymously online. I came to the realization that it didn’t matter anymore if I kept my identity private outside of atheist communities.

So if I am outed, I may as well be judged for what I have actually said rather than stereotypes, and be a public atheist.  The first post I did here this summer at Aron’s blog felt like a relief after keeping silent for six years. Since then, I’ve decided this week to starting with posting my picture with my blogs and appearance on last Sunday’s “Magic Sandwich Show”.

In the past, in a video with Aron about the imagined War on Christmas, I actually tried to stay off camera. Someone I know personally once took offense to Aron comparing Moses to Osama bin Laden, and thought negatively about me for it when they saw it.  Moses, the guy who ordered men, women, children, cattle to be slaughtered, and the virgins to be kept as war trophies.  That is the way it works though.  You are the one being offensive for pointing that out; not that they are the ones who believe in a book full of atrocities.

My posts here have been well received, and Freethoughtblogs has been a supportive environment to express my opinions on things that matter to me and to other freethinkers. I can’t tell other closeted atheists what is right in their situation.  This is a good article by Dave Silverman, about deciding to come out of the atheist closet.  What I can say for sure is that for every atheist that comes out, an angel is definitely not getting its wings.  No seriously, the more atheists will be seen for what we really are -the good people, your neighbors, friends, family members, teachers, and coworkers.

It’s a kind of atheist dream to look forward to a society where atheism is not controversial or stigmatizing.  What about an atheist president?  What would it take for Obama to come out of the atheist closet? At least I never talked the god talk as an atheist to get along.  I’ve taken a break from teaching to address my family’s needs. However, if I were in the situation of someone sharing their beliefs innocently or no in the future, I would have to politely share that I am an atheist, and I don’t have religious beliefs, and ask them to please pass the salt.









39 thoughts on “Being a closeted atheist can still cost you –so I am coming out.

  1. If Obama IS a closet atheist, he does a bang-up job of hiding it.

    Mr. Ra is very lucky to have such an intelligent and courageous partner. Welcome to outland!

  2. Join the cheering throng.

    A little quote from Dan Dennett: “We atheists are a happy lot. We are deeply moral but don’t have a mountain of artificial guilt.We do feel guilty about our misdeeds, but don’t consider them sins.”

  3. Actually I have used the “I’m a Xtian” ploy. I find that if I say I’m an atheist they just go batshit crazy at denying everything I point out…Like the Moses thing…or give dumb ass excuses. But say that I’m a xtian and then still pointing out the BS and that Jesus says…..

    Makes then stutter and they don’t know what to say. Eventually if they have a germ of a thought they will say that I’m not a real xtian like they are. So really you can never win.

  4. Yay Lilandra!

    Welcome to the godless horde!

    Also, it’s very good to have you posting on AoC. Should whittle down those loooong pauses between postings considerably.

  5. I feel for you. Being Australian, religion or otherwise really doesn’t matter much unless you get involved with particular people or groups. Even then, a group of committed Catholic friends treated my statement of no belief at all as more of a curiosity than anything else. One just made a joke that being brought up Protestant obviously had unfortunate consequences.

    I remember being shocked to the core when I found out that Indonesian identity papers must include your religion – and there is no option for ‘none of the above’. The concept of atheism is just too much for them. I’m starting to feel that parts of the USA are waaaay too much like Indonesia.

  6. I don’t know how alone I am in this but I am at the point that I may as well be out, because remaining silent makes you a default atheist.”

    Excellent post, Lilandra. My sincere thanks.

    I of course support your decision, and I wish I could join you, but I’m afraid I’m going to move in exactly the opposite direction at my (next) place of employment, for precisely the reason you give in your sentence I quoted above.

    I will remain an active atheist in my mind and outside of work, to the extent possible, but the minute I punch the clock I will metaphorically drink the blood of Christ, and be very sympathetic to the mainstream religious views of my colleagues. I just cannot afford to lose my next job. My need for funds at this juncture simply outweighs my desire to be completely forthright and honest about my atheism. Even if my own boss is an atheist, I won’t even gamble on the security of his/her position, because he/she could be a target him/herself. I just don’t trust very many people at work anymore, sadly.

    I’ve decided I’ll instead make a journalistic adventure out of it, and agree to attend bible studies or whatever religious services and/or events arise in my future place of work. I’ll bow my head reverently when invited for dinner to a colleague’s home, and I might even wear a rosary around my neck and kiss it from time to time.

    Just kidding about that last part. But not about the rest.

    It’s definitely a price… but not a very large price, to pay, for increased job security in these wacky fiscal-fucking-cliff days we’ve been saddled with (by ignorant Christians, I’ll further maintain). And it may even be kinda fun, if I can one day write about it and laugh.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post. Aron, you’re obviously a lucky dog.

  7. As an atheist whose employer is the Catholic Church, I can sympathize with the need to take little precautions, such as the use of a pleasant pseudonym on line. Working in liberal San Francisco, I feel safe enough to admit that “I don’t do that religion thing” if the subject comes up. Since I personally hate being involved in discussing religion (or the Easter Bunny, for that matter), I have been disinclined to volunteer that I am an atheist.

  8. Being a European, I wouldn’t really be able to understand you if not for two things:

    1) Back a year and a half ago when I met Aron in Ireland, he told me about exactly that problem. I had, of course, heard it quite often on the Internet, but it’s just that much different if someone tells you in person.

    2) A few months later, my aunt from America came over to visit and we got talking about completely unrelated things. Suddenly, she popped THE question: “Do you believe in God?”

    I could hardly lie, nor did I see a reason to, so I said “Nope”. Damn, did she ever get batshit crazy after that.

    From what I can see from this side of the great pond, it takes a lot of courage to come out as an atheist, more so than being gay and double that when living in Texas.

    Good thing you’ve got Aron by his side, having a 6foot something Tank as backup surely makes things easier. And good thing Aron has you by his side, having an intelligent (especially for Sapiosexual Aron) and loving woman to rely on and share ideas with… bliss.

    Congratz Lilandra, congratz to your family. Keep those posts rolling.

  9. You have the solace of having knowledgeable and ardent supporter in you husband. I on the other had was a dumb airman who had no idea that it was out of the norm to tell your coworkers that your an atheist when the topic of religion comes up. I was not prepared. I blame it on being raised secular. “You mean people actually believe that stuff I read about in a mythology book?” :: Weapons grade facepalm:: Internet(with a thank you to AronRa) and a secular meetup group and thirty(ish) books later that is no longer the case.

  10. Very proud of you. Aron’s lucky to have a wife that has joined him in his public stance. Mine did not and we have divorced. Long live the Shi’ar Empire! My best to both of you. ~ Troy

  11. And yet again I show that my brain is mainly good for providing Jeopardy trivia answers and other similar useless tidbits of fact by going “Lilandra? Isn’t that Professor X’s girlfriend, the queen of the Shi’ar empire?”

  12. I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to keep your head down because of workplace pressure. Mine was just the opposite with an atheist boss who told me that as long as I held to my Christian beliefs, I’d received the last promotion that I would ever get as long as he was my boss. Being in a strong union is the only thing that kept him from finding a reason to fire me. Nevertheless, it’s never fun and I’m sorry that you live in a culture like that. If atheists would only admit that they live in a Christian country you could blame it on that 🙂

    I feel even worse for those above who feel that living a life of hypocrisy is necessary for financial survival. Your courage and determination, Lilandra is far more laudable.

    Good luck on your journey.

    1. Mine was just the opposite with an atheist boss who told me that as long as I held to my Christian beliefs, I’d received the last promotion that I would ever get as long as he was my boss.”

      Excuse me, dearest kimberly, but if this actually happened, something I strongly doubt — because your entire post is snarky and incoherent, your boss’s statement was clearly against the law. As a Christian, were you too wrapped-up in your delusional ignorance to understand that you didn’t need your “union” to help you with this matter? Any competent lawyer, even one employed by your boss’s company, would have helped you put his dumb ass in a sling.

      If atheists would only admit that they live in a Christian country you could blame it on that

      I feel even worse for those above who feel that living a life of hypocrisy is necessary for financial survival.”

      (Once again, I’ll assume that you’re not just some attention-starved dorky dweeb-a-zoid who’s trying to get a reaction.)

      Read the Treaty of Tripoli, and then get back to me on your first ridiculous claim.

      Second, going “undercover” in the manner I suggested above isn’t hypocrisy, you stupid twit, because I’m still an atheist. You might as well claim that undercover policemen are hypocritical for infiltrating gangs and mafia organizations.

      Take your “sympathy” and your Jesus and kindly shove them both up your ass. [Insert smiley-face here]

    2. If atheists would only admit that they live in a Christian country you could blame it on that 🙂

      What do you mean “christian country”? You mean one whose population has always been overwhelming christian? Sure. We all agree. Or do you mean a nation whose constitution, laws, and culture are that of a theocratic state? Because the evidence is many and clearly against you. From the founders until today, though less strongly today with some of our legislatures, it has always clearly been a non-christian form of government.

      Or do you claim that morality comes from the christian tradition? Because I would argue that our sense of morality comes moreso from the European Enlightenment. Free speech, free belief, equal rights of women, equal rights of other races, all of the good things we can largely attribute to the secular European Enlightenment. The faiths were brought along kicking and screaming, which they continue to do to this day such as for the right to family planning, birth control, and sexual orientation. Religion has only been there to hinder moral advancement. Remember that when our country was founded, most of Europe was still under kings who claimed that they had a divine right to rule, and were supported by their local churches. The idea of a secular government was revolutionary.

    3. Kimberly, you are doing the same thing your boss it’s doing, and not just that, you are saying that minorities do not have the right to express what they are becouse they should respect most of the people think like you, i am atheist and i respect everyone’s thinkings, i don’t think people should discriminate someone beacouse of that

  13. Good for you, Lilandra! Especially in Texas, this has to be a really tough decision.

    Being from SC I can sympathize a little, but not being in a public service job, like teaching, I didn’t have the same kinds of pressure that you are subject to. While I was never one to preach about my lack of belief, I have never been hesitant about admitting to it. I’m sure that I failed to be hired by one employer because of it, but no one else seemed to care that much. In my last job I felt quite free to question those who would question me. And I had some very interesting, and peaceful, arguments with coworkers about religion and faith.

    It wasn’t until I began finding things online about atheism, though, that I began to understand the problems that others might run into with coming out. So congratulations on your decision, and here’s hoping that there won’t be any really bad consequences. But, it IS Texas!

  14. I’m fortunate enough to work in a situation where both of my immediate coworkers are also atheists. I’m pretty sure that some of the faculty aren’t. but as part of the custodial staff I don’t deal with them regularly. I also work for the city, and the city government around here isn’t notably infested with Jesus, so I’m sitting pretty on that score. Best wishes, though.

  15. That society you dream of exists. You can go there right now. There are instances all over the world, many of them are English speaking nations. Pretty much all of northern Europe is like that. It’s just sad that the US has yet to emerge into the civilised world.

  16. Lilandra,

    I hope your decision works for you. As a fellow teacher (of science, no less) in the great state to your north, I face many of the same concerns. Only one person at my workplace knows my religious stand. Five or six THINK they know.

    Of course, since I teach evil-lution, many of my students automatically think I am an atheist. I drop enough comments here and there, actually quoting the bible and qur’an when it suits my lesson, that some have other ideas. I don’t think, given my current administration, that I would face repercussions, but I have seen three different principals, vice-principals, school board members, and two different superintendents. Things could change.

    Met Aron Ra at a conference this summer and I have to say it was HUGE not having to think about what I said that weekend and the freedom was amazing, so I very much understand why you came out.

    Good Luck!

    1. I give mad props to OKies (if that is the state you are referring to), because that is a tough state to be a nonbeliever in. Whenever, Aron and I go to conventions there, there are a lot of great people. I think he’ll be at the next FreeOK.

      People really can’t understand the pressure on teachers mostly in the South to be a Christian. In my case, I think it would have been more acceptable to be an out Muslim, than a private atheist. Then I could have said “God willing” or “Praise God” in response to the god talk.

      The Friendly Atheist is a teacher in Chicago, but even though an Illinois family group gave him a hard time, I think he might be fine even if he loses a sympathetic administration. In my opinion, he is safer being a well known atheist, because people know if they mess with him a lot of people will know about it. He is also well connected with atheist legal groups. Of course, the only danger is a sneaky administrator, who won’t admit it is for religious reasons, and harasses him.

      Anyhow, word of caution if you don’t want to be out, if there are family members who know your username or that you post anonymously, it becomes petty ammunition to out you. Even a well meaning but gossipy family member may spill the beans to the wrong person. You may already know this or may have totally awesome family members, but if not word to the wise.

  17. Yay Lilandra! 😀

    I’m from the UK and I’ve always been a de facto Atheist (as in when I was young and never thought about it I was an “apatheist”, to borrow Bill Maher’s phrase, and have grown to full Atheism since) so I never had, or have, even close to the problems you guys have over the pond. But I get the impression it takes a lot of courage to come out over there, especially in Texas. So congratulations 🙂

  18. Lilandra,

    You have my hearty congratulations. I’ve been a longtime reader at dispatches and pharyngula prior to adding AoC to my rolls.

    As a teacher in AZ, I can attest to the difficulty in “coming out” as an atheist. I know if my lack of faith were well known, my chances of promotion would be nil. As it is, charges of atheism are quite common whenever a religious parent has had a problem with content in a number of classes. Very common in biology and some of the other sciences, slightly less so, but present in gov./poli sci., a few times in history. About eight years ago we had a parent try recording a teacher in an effort to get them fired as an atheist because they wouldn’t let their kid present creationist responses to the lessons involving evolution.

  19. Greetngs,

    Lilandra – and Aron – why don’t you and other atheists in America simply call yourselves “Humanist” when asked THE question?

    Saying you’re an atheist doesn’t tell people anything about your moral/ethical frame-of-reference – Humanism, on the other hand, has at least two and a half thousand years of ethics behind it. And, dare I say, that it is the default position for non-theists, so there’s no reason to avoid saying so.

    More, so many Americans are terrified of being labelled atheist that they’re afraid to “come out” – if both of you and others called themselves humanist, then there’d be a massive “revelation” of non-theists coming forward as humanists also.

    I’ve never understood the “shock value” of using the term atheist – particularly in America – when it can materially affect your prospects and happiness to do so.

    Kindest regards,


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