Changing the World Behind Closed Doors

This past week, I spent a night at my sister’s house. Her husband is a Lutheran pastor, and I don’t know if it’s just a pastor thing, but he always reads books on Christianity for fun. Books on worship, doctrine, Martin Luther, bible study guides, bible commentaries, Lutheran service practices, the Reformation, you name it, he reads it. Every time I see him, he has a new book. His Lutheran books line the walls of his office in the church.

Lutheran pastors reading Lutheran books isn’t all that strange. Of course, in addition to reading his books, he also spends his weeks preparing sermons for Sunday morning. Similarly, my mother loves to spend her free time reading Christian fiction and women’s devotionals. As an organist, she spends her Saturdays practicing her hymns for Sunday morning. She wears a cross necklace around her neck and sips coffee from mugs with bible verses scrawled on them.

I often think about how they probably don’t even think twice about their freedom to read, write, wear, and rehearse their beliefs. I know it’s petty, but every time that I see another Christian book in our shared Amazon order history, I can’t help but feel jealous. Being in the closet means keeping a meticulously close eye on every detail that could get your atheism on your family’s radar. For example, I can’t look at atheist books on Amazon because my family will see, so I have to use a different site. While my pastor-in-law’s office is lined with his books, my atheist books are hidden away at my boyfriend’s house. As my sister gives her husband privacy and quiet as he sits to prepare his sermons, I get no similar courtesy for writing my blog posts. I understand that it’s his job, and no one knows I’m writing these posts, but if they knew, they would most likely go out of their way to keep me from writing such blasphemy. When I’m with family, finding the time and privacy to write can mean locking myself in the guest room while the rest of them play board games or staying up to write after everyone’s gone to sleep.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be open about your religious views, no less impose them on others. Not only can my mother believe openly, read her devotionals, and practice her organ hymns, but she can drag me along to her church every Sunday and punish me for not living by her god’s rules. Imagine if my family of Christians had to hide their faith while I constantly publish new blog posts about why their beliefs are wrong, read Dawkins and Hitchens in front of them, and tell them they ought to live by my set of moral values and not their own. It seems so twisted, but if turned around, it’s a reality that I’ve lived with so long that it’s not even weird.

Even when I’m not with my Lutheran family or at my Christian college (e.g. when I’m at work), it seems as though no one is outwardly atheist. The majority of people give no indication of their religious views, but if they do, they’re Christian. I’ve only ever seen one person with atheist bumper stickers in my life. I read The God Delusion on a plane once, and I was paranoid that I would get dirty looks the whole time. It’s not that all the atheists out there are in the closet like I am, but it’s not common to see someone with an atheist t-shirt, necklace, bumper sticker, or even book.

A thought occurred to me this week: what is my goal with this blog? What’s the point of The Closet Atheist? I’ve touched on it before, that I want to set an example for all atheists, that we have morals and that we’re in fact kind and thoughtful, not angry or hateful. But my goal is this:

I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I don’t really care if I make anyone an atheist or if I make you doubt your belief in God. Instead, I’m here to change the way that the world sees atheism, but more importantly, how the world sees atheists. Of course, I can’t speak for all of us, so I speak for myself. I tell my stories about my pastor-in-law and my crazy mom and my whacky new pastor because they’re my experiences as an atheist. I talk about why I was or wasn’t convinced by Francis Collins’ arguments for God and I give reasons why I don’t believe because maybe things like this will help people understand where I’m coming from. So even if you don’t know any other atheists, at least now you know one.

Of course it will take a lot more than one blog from one girl whose family doesn’t know shes an atheist to change how we’re viewed, but this is all the difference that I can make right now. The more that atheism can be seen as normal and not an abomination is the sooner that people won’t have to be afraid to openly say, “I’m an atheist, and I’m proud of that.”

28 Replies to “Changing the World Behind Closed Doors”

  1. “I get no similar courtesy for writing my blog posts. I understand that it’s his job, and no one knows I’m writing these posts, but if they knew, they would most likely go out of their way to keep me from writing such blasphemy. When I’m with family, finding the time and privacy to write can mean locking myself in the guest room while the rest of them play board games or staying up to write after everyone’s gone to sleep.”
    -I do understand how that is- Since my view on things is so staggeringly different from my Father’s, I can’t help but hiding in paranoa. But don’t stop writing, or thinking for that matter. Don’t let them rip away what you deem as good. And this is good.

    “I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I don’t really care if I make anyone an atheist or if I make you doubt your belief in God. Instead, I’m here to change the way that the world sees atheism, but more importantly, how the world sees atheists. Of course, I can’t speak for all of us, so I speak for myself. I tell my stories about my pastor-in-law and my crazy mom and my whacky new pastor because they’re my experiences as an atheist. I talk about why I was or wasn’t convinced by Francis Collins’ arguments for God and I give reasons why I don’t believe because maybe things like this will help people understand where I’m coming from. So even if you don’t know any other atheists, at least now you know one.”
    -Dulce et decorum est; I commend you for fighting for what you see as True, as admirable. Keep it up, please. I do enjoy your perspective on Life and Reality in general.
    -As a side note, The review of Francis Collins was intriguing, thanks for that.
    -I hope to see many great posts in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Everthing in its time. I was a closeted deist for 4 years before coming out. Use this time to inquire and probe deep into their belief so when your atheism is revealed you can tell them you come from a position of knowledge while they don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This was the second thing that reminded me this week of how lucky I am to be able to live as a ‘out’ atheist. The other was this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9IUWIbOC_A
    I enjoy your posts but I am not sure that ‘changing the way the world sees atheists’ is the most important thing your blog does. Showing other atheists who live in similar circumstances that they are not alone is at least as important. There is also the fact that you need an outlet for your thoughts and feelings to keep up your strength and sanity, without which the other reasons would not be possible.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. And I agree, anyone who immerses themselves in that much religious reading, prayer, endless discussion, there’s something wrong there. Fear, doubt. Shout loud enough, and people can overcome that fear that maybe it IS a strawman.

    If you put their activities in a different context–say, miniature railroad train building–obsessing about the tracks, the landscaping, the miniaturization of everything to scale, toothpicks for fences and painted pebbles for boulders, books and literature on trains, and symposiums, you might call them a bit unbalanced…why should this obsession with religious rites, pasttimes, books, be any less obsessive?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Have you ever thought that perhaps your family don’t believe as strongly as it appears? Maybe the reason they immerse themselves so fully in their religion is to try and drown out their sub-conscious doubts. And maybe the reason they would be so upset to hear that you don’t believe is that it would feed their own doubts. Could it be that they desperately want to believe, but that to stop their belief turning to dust they need to shout out anything that questions it, whether that’s Richard Dawkins, you, or their own sub-conscious minds?
    Just a thought. ;¬]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They may or may not have doubts, but I don’t think that, for example, my mother or her parents have ever once paused to question. Once I asked her if she knew who Richard Dawkins was, and she doesn’t even know who he is. Just knowing of famous atheists is probably questionable to them. One of my sisters learned about evolution as a science major at a secular university, and both she and my mom were upset. Your theory really makes sense when you think of how much they shun anything that disagrees with them. Meanwhile I try to do the opposite and be as open-minded as possible, as I’m reading things and meeting people with all different points of view. If you’re confident enough with what you believe, then that shouldn’t shake you.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. You definitely have my support. I am truly impressed with your vision, with your goals as an atheist, as one who personally stands against the status quo.

    I read a blog a few months ago that complained of Christians being harassed by non-believers and how they, poor Christians, were being persecuted in the schools, in the streets, in the public sphere! I read that and was astounded. I’ve never, not once in my life, heard or seen anyone speak out against a Christian in public. On the other hand, I’ve heard Christians speak out against non-believers, agnostics, atheists, and every other religion on earth.

    I have seen a few movies where modern day Christians are hounded, but those movies were typical Hollywood b.s. The problem is that most Americans are informed via Hollywood. Hence, atheists are portrayed as people with orange hair, body piercings, tattoos, so on and so forth. Because of that portrayal, millions of Americans see non-Christians as a threat not just to a religious belief-system, but also to a cultural norm set by the media. It’s a scary world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I understand how people can say that culture itself is becoming secular and more liberal, but it certainly isn’t atheistic. If anything, it’s either Christian or neutral, but it seems as though neutral = Christians being persecuted because it isn’t always appropriate to shout your faith from the rooftops.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Closet Atheist,

    When it comes to the goal of your blog, in my case, you have succeeded — you’ve changed the way I look at atheists for the better.

    Ironically, your post reminded me of a quote by Mother Theresa:

    “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

    ~Tim

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Interesting post!! I always felt the opposite since my high school and hometown friends were mostly agnostic. I was shy about my faith and often felt extremely misunderstood by friends. Never did it occur to me that there are pockets of the world where atheists feel the same thing; thanks for that perspective. I also do acknowledge that Christians can easily find a church to talk about their beliefs at but that maybe isn’t as common or easy for someone who is atheist. Anyway, enlightening read as always! I hope your family and friends can someday let you be your real self with them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think it’s interesting that this situation could happen to anyone. As I’ve said, I’m an atheist and my mom makes me go to church, but I’ve met people on here who were Christians but whose parent wouldn’t let them go to church. It’s good that we’re starting to see that this could happen to anyone, and Christians and atheists aren’t as different as we think.

      Like

  9. I hope that as you begin to build your own life apart from your parents, you’ll have a chance to go to some secular gatherings. There’s lots of good ones, from Skepticon, NECSS, and CSIcon to simple Secular Student Alliance meetings and secular meetup groups. Every week religious people have the chance to gather with like-minded people at their churches and speak without reservation about what they think. It’s so much a regular part of their lives that they don’t even consider it all that special. But for atheists, our chances to gather like that are often few and far between. I treasure every opportunity to be at that kind of gathering. It’s so refreshing to be able to be with a group where I don’t have to hide who I am or what I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t think you should expect things to be fair when it comes to being a member of a cultural minority.
    People are going to resent you for not being a ‘team player’ no matter the source of your difference.
    I think the best you can do is to come to see the whole religious game for the quaint pastime that it is.
    Then you can begin to let go. All the strident evangelism and solemn pronouncement becomes faintly ridiculous, and you can get past it to the more important issues – with the people who allow it.
    For the rest, patience becomes a bit easier, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was listening to Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist, in one of his talks he mentions how it’s important when your children get to a certain age that they explore, and learn about life outside the ‘nest’. He says, as a parent, you should be worried if they don’t start forming their own opinions and reaching out.
    If you know the story of The Buddha? His father was told by a seer that his son would take one of two paths. He’d either be a great and powerful ruler and follow in the footsteps of his father or he’d become a world renowned spiritual leader. When his father heard this he began shielding his son from the world. He wanted him to be a great ruler. He gave his son every earthly delight and met all his needs. He gave him no reason to explore beyond the castle walls. This worked for a while, but then Gautama got curious, as young people will. And the rest is history.
    If your family is so involved and believe so strongly then you’d think they would want their daughter to explore new beliefs and religions. They might even accompany you to another service just to show you what’s out there. You’d think they would want to discuss any concerns you might have and discuss it with open and friendly conversation. When you attempt to ‘wall’ people in, it never works. Their first instinct is to break down the wall, as Buddha did, just to experience something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a college assignment where we had to visit a church service of a different denomination or even religion than our own, and write a summary of our experience. So even my college is more encouraging of that exploration than my family is.

      I often think it’s odd because my older two sisters turned out very religious like my mom (although one is more contemporary), I’m an atheist, and I think my younger sister is a closeted deist or something. We were all raised the same, but all turned out with different religious views.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “If religion were true, its followers would not try to bludgeon their young into an artificial conformity; but would merely insist on their unbending quest for truth, irrespective of artificial backgrounds or practical consequences.” – H. P. Lovecraft

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Just so you know, the guy with the tent and the umbrella, in our latest blog, did actually survive escaping his abusers. Although we must be accepting of the beliefs of others, it will always be wrong for those same beliefs, to be forced upon us. When we look to escape the limiting beliefs of others, our questioning, frightens them. It puts into further doubt, that, which they’re unsure of themselves.

    Many people are waking to the real reasons for religious beliefs: control over many, by parasitic, hypocritical and cowardly religious leaders and the elite few, who in turn, control them. The few living the easy life at our expense. Religion becomes redundant, when we understand, sound moral values are secured, through the process of learning empathy in childhood. We, at the Freedman College, empathise with you. Be well, and good luck with a fantastic blog.

    Liked by 2 people

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