A New Year’s Resolution: Admit You are an Atheist

December 31, 2011

It’s only natural that many atheists have trouble admitting to themselves that they are atheists.

The way people categorize themselves is often tightly linked to the way we want others to see us. The negative social connotations attached to atheism are familiar to everyone. That’s why polls that ask “Are you an atheist” find few people willing to self-identify as an ‘atheist’, even to an anonymous pollster.

It’s a sad psychological condition -- the level of self-deception involved can cause people to resort to all sorts of silly defense mechanisms. For example, Sally Quinn, an atheist and a moderator at the Washington Post’s On Faith section, describes her struggle with the label of ‘atheist’ in “My Five Lessons from On Faith”. In this essay she announces that she really isn’t an atheist.

What turned Quinn around? Not a “come to Jesus” moment. Not an flash of inspiration from a sermon. Not a solid conclusion from a theological argument. Her colleague Jon Meacham had a big role, she says. But Meacham wasn’t trying to convert her to a religion, it seems -- he was just persuading her to abandon the label of ‘atheism’. As Quinn reports, he said to her, “You don’t want to define yourself negatively, and you know nothing about religion.”

Huh? That’s all it takes to stop being an atheist? Avoid ‘negative’ labels, and don’t avoid something unless you know all about it first? This is ridiculous and illogical. I assure you, Sally Quinn, that you are an atheist, and if you can’t admit it even to yourself, the sad anti-intellectualism and perverse social rhetoric that has infected so much discussion about religion has come to infected you.

Think about it. You know enough about religion by now, surely. What have been religion’s two main strategies against unbelief? First, proclaiming that religion has crucial knowledge so valuable that anyone and everyone must get intimately acquainted with it: read our scriptures, come to our worship places, try to follow the theological mazes – do whatever it takes to really, really, understand what’s so wonderful about what our religion is saying. Second, after all that, if you still won’t agree with us, then we will slander you with the nastiest, filthiest labels that gutter language has to offer. We will publicly humiliate and shame you until you cower in fear and never show your atheist face in public.

Religion is a master of instilling self-degradation and self-deception, and it can do that for nonbelievers, too. That’s why religion conveniently defines atheism as “Claiming to know there’s no God” so that religious people can seem much humbler by comparison. And that’s why religion shames atheism as “Having no morals or meaning to life” so that religious people can seem so ethical by comparison. Can’t you see how your mind has been infiltrated and distorted by these viral insinuations?

Being an atheist is simple: lack belief in God. If you honestly don’t think there is a God, you are an atheist. On the other hand, if you now suspect that there could be a God, tell us why you think that. We’d love to hear your thoughts on God.

But no, you don’t sound like you are admitting that God now looks plausible to you. You are as much an atheist as ever. Religion has labeled you as an atheist, and all the self-deception and public squirming can’t change that. Religion regards you as an atheist, and all of your kind words about nice religious people hasn’t changed that. Those religions really don’t respect you.

A New Year’s Resolution: Admit to yourself that you are an atheist. It’s not a matter of faith, but fact. In the long run, you’ll feel much better about yourself. And having confidence and pride in yourself is the only genuine way to receive respect from society around you.


#1 Kritikos on Saturday December 31, 2011 at 9:06am

It seems to me that the main circumstance that keeps many atheists—in the sense of that term advanced here, viz., “one without belief in any god”—from accepting the description of themselves as atheists is the fact that most people do not understand the term in that way. Rather, following the connotations of the suffix “-ism,” which often (though not in all cases) signifies a belief, they understand “atheist” to mean “one who believes that there is no god.” But not all people who lack the belief that there is a god have the belief that there is no god; many people have neither belief.

#2 downtown dave (Guest) on Saturday December 31, 2011 at 11:46am

Losing another one to the Truth? 

#3 downtown dave (Guest) on Saturday December 31, 2011 at 11:47am

Losing another one to the Truth?  atheistlegitimacy . blogspot . com

#4 Markwil71 (Guest) on Saturday December 31, 2011 at 1:15pm

@downtown dave:
comforting lies, not truth.

#5 Kathy Orlinsky on Sunday January 01, 2012 at 9:55pm

I wonder if more people will come out as atheists now that the term is in wider usage.  There was a time when I told people I was Jewish, not because I believed in god (I haven’t since I was a young child), but because I thought people were asking about my heritage, not my beliefs.  By the same token, I assumed that anyone who had a christmas tree was a christian. 

Today, I always say I’m an atheist because I don’t want any misunderstandings about what I do or don’t believe.

#6 EllenBeth Wachs (Guest) on Monday January 02, 2012 at 8:23am

Why is this so hard?

#7 Ellen Turner (Guest) on Monday January 02, 2012 at 8:49am

It is hard to come out as an atheist. Spirituality…is a general term for many unseen and seen symbolic signs of something to believe in. Buddhism is another. Buddhism, basically puts the center of your core as the base for belief. Native Americans believe in the nature of the universe and what surrounds them This I hold true to fact for myself. East, West, North and South are directions of the sun and moon and stars. The universe I believe in, what does that make me? The four seasons, I believe in for getting through the year…what does that make me. As far as organized religion, I have no faith in. I would like to investigate Judaism more and Gnosticism. It all is very interesting to me, but not to the point of believing in invisible people. I have always loved fairy tales, to this day, at the age of 63, I want to be rescued by the knight or knightess in shining armor. Down here in the Bible belt, one has to be very careful about coming out as an Atheist. It is far worse than coming out as a Lesbian. One can lose their job. Listen, I have to be very careful, but maybe not anymore, since I have no job, and it looks like their really won’t be any jobs for me down here, due to this horrific recession.

#8 Barbara Golde Nydick (Guest) on Monday January 02, 2012 at 9:32am

I am an atheist (don’t remember ever believing in a god), proud of it, and have always stated my non-belief when asked.  A while back, I was “laid off” because of this, although HR said otherwise. I recovered easily with another job.

#9 Archer (Guest) on Monday January 02, 2012 at 9:42am

It’s so sad that in america we are still talking about atheists “coming out”.  In europe they have already come out for decades, if not centuries.

#10 Jim (Guest) on Monday January 02, 2012 at 2:36pm

While I always am out as an atheist, I find it more positive to add that I am a naturalist. As a naturalist I know that nothing supernatural exists. Nature is enough.

#11 Thomas B (Guest) on Tuesday January 03, 2012 at 10:17am

I just read Sally Quinn’s “My Five Lessons From On Faith” and at the end she basically sums it up with this:  “What I have learned is this:  God is what you or I or anyone else says God is.”

It sounds to me like she’s hopelessly confused!  Which is probably what the religious people wanted in the first place. 

#12 Autolycus2 (Guest) on Wednesday January 04, 2012 at 11:19am

If people are going to come out as atheists, I just want them to be sure they really ARE atheists.  I’ve seen it time and time again… some Christian decides he’s fed up with what he calls “religion” or he suddenly discovers the Problem of Evil and he doesn’t like the idea of a loving God anymore, so he CALLS himself an “atheist”.  But sooner or later his underlying religious beliefs come bubbling to the surface again and we have another “atheist” converting to Christianity, except that he was really a Christian all along.

With all due respect to downtown dave with his blogspot, Paul was just wrong.  Real atheists don’t hate God and we don’t secretly believe in him.  There have been times in my life when I wished that God did exist, but I have to call it as I see it.  He just doesn’t.

#13 Eileen Regan (Guest) on Sunday January 08, 2012 at 9:15am

Being totally comfortable admitting what one doesn’t know doesn’t make a person an atheist or an agnostic.  I consider myself a Humanist, concentrating on the best I can do for the here and now.

#14 Cay Small (Guest) on Thursday January 12, 2012 at 5:10pm

I get so tired of religion. I think they all control people with theats fear and false promises. I believe in nature and science,and I feel good about it. I sure dont need the fantasy of an invisible man in the sky to live a good life.

#15 good2Bgood (Guest) on Monday January 16, 2012 at 9:04am

I live here in Florida, maybe not “bible belt” but close enough.  The reason I don’t freely admit that I am atheist to people I don’t know yet, is because most of the time, religious people are truly offended when someone says they’re atheist….as if just by saying I’m an atheist, that I’m bashing everything they believe.  It is not my intent to offend anyone, and that would not do anything to improve the image of atheists, so I usually just wait until they know me better, and see that I really am a good, moral person even though I don’t believe in their god.

#16 EllenBeth Wachs (Guest) on Monday January 16, 2012 at 9:36am

I live in Florida. I live in CENTRAL Florida. If someone is offended merely because I SAY I am an Atheist, too f’ing bad. Get over it.  That is THEIR ridiculous issue. Not mine.

#17 good2Bgood (Guest) on Monday January 16, 2012 at 12:00pm

I live in Central FL too. I totally with what you’re saying.They are the ones with the problem. It *shouldn’t* be this way but it is. When we just *say* that we are atheist, a religious person who doesn’t know us personally often takes that to mean that we are some evil, god hating person who is out to destroy all religions, because that is what they have been taught.  As stupid as that mindset is, I just don’t want them to look at atheists that way.  I think it’s better to let them get to know me first, and gradually show them through my actions and words that most atheists are not the evil people they think we are.  Atheists are just as intrinsically good as anyone else, we just don’t need to believe in the whole ridiculous fairy tale to make us good.

I do believe that if we are ever going to change the negative perception of atheists we have to be careful what we say to certain people.  When I am among other atheists however, I take great pleasure in bashing Christianity, LOL.

#18 good2Bgood (Guest) on Monday January 16, 2012 at 12:07pm

Sorry I forgot the word “agree” in the first sentence of my last post.

Another thing I have always found ironic, is how much more “Christlike” most atheists are than most so called Christians.

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