coming out atheist? better keep it off Facebook
A Google search brought someone to the blog today:
how many friends will I lose if I come out as an atheist on Facebook?
“Hopefully none!” was my first reaction because I certainly have some atheist-leaning friends and I didn’t really understand how not believing in God could be considered an unfriendable offense. I only unfriend people who…well, I think the only people I’ve actually unfriended on Facebook have been actual robots.
So I did a bit of research and talked with a few of my self-identified a-theist friends to try and get a sense of what it must be like to have my religious unbelief seen as a crime, as a reason to break off friendship entirely.
I heard some pretty scary stories from them. I heard stories of cars being keyed for their little Darwin Christian fish, and I heard stories of kids kicked out of religious homes for coming out (as either gay or atheist, sometimes both).
I was pointed to studies like this one, which observe that packages marked with “atheist” tape are lost in the mail about 10X more often than those left otherwise unmarked. I was further baffled to learn that atheists are sometimes even seen as less trustworthy than rapists. (This evidence all points to the fact that we all too often assume those who don’t practice our religion are horrible, horrible people.)
“ryan,” a Muslim friend recently remarked to me, echoing similar tensions, “you really don’t understand how lucky you are to be of the majority religion in the country you live in.”
I’ve heard similar stories from individuals who were afraid to come out to their friends and family as nonreligious. I got one such comment from a reader a couple of weeks ago:
I’m a missionary kid who grew up to be an atheist [ouch, that must have been rough :(]. Congrats on your curiosity about atheists *as people.* My family was awesome when I “came out” as an atheist [I am so happy to hear this!], but almost all of the people outside the family that I’ve told have drifted away, usually after some token efforts to reconvert me [This is very similar to my own experience leaving evangelical fundamentalism. The messages and conversations of "concern" slowly end once they begin to consider you truly "fallen away"]. Deconverting was the most painful experience of my life and not something I wanted at all, though now I’m glad I faced my fears and questions head-on [This was true of my experience as well. so few people ever get this far, but we really are the better for it]. I don’t know if I’m a paragon of humanist virtue now, but I do know I’m a lot more able to be the kind and loving person I always wanted to be now than I was as a fundamentalist. It’s been cool to get to know people from so many different backgrounds and beliefs and be like, “Phew, they don’t bite!”
I praise God for stories like hers.
They remind me that intellectual honesty and emotional satisfaction are not extemporaneous to an authentic faith – they are absolutely central to it.
Stories like hers are why I have no problem believing that sometimes you have to leave “religion” in order to finally catch a glimpse of the Spirit of God. This girl’s journey of forsaking fundamentalism to find a more fully realized humanity perhaps helps explain the discomfiting truth that sometimes the most Christlike people are those who have no religion at all.
Religious or non, we must each remember that it is downright irresponsible to act as though our ideas about God can ever be specifically, objectively proven. It is harmful to callously belittle or dismiss the religious (or non-religious) beliefs of others.
In other words, none of us can “prove” any of this.
I am a professing Christian, but I admit that nobody knows for sure.
So stop it.
Stop un-friending people for their doubt or unbelief. Stop acting like atheists need to believe in God in order to be good, moral, loving people. We who believe need to stop keying cars and losing packages in the mail and looking down on those without God. We mustn’t forget that any half-decent “Christ-ianity” must be held in proper tension with a healthy dose of “a-theism.”
* * * * * * *
I’d like to close with an apology and a challenge to the young woman or man who found my blog today by that search:
I apologize for the way those of us who follow organized religion have often treated you.
I apologize for my desire to talk to you about why you need to join my religion before I ever listened to a word of your story.
I apologize for refusing to hear your voice, and for those of us who unfriend the unfaithful.
As a Christian, I challenge you: I pray that you would have the courage to come out as an atheist on Facebook. And I challenge your Christian friends to have the human decency not to “unfriend” you because of it. Not in a delayed ploy to convert you at some point in the future. But to love you and serve you and to come alongside you in this journey from faith to doubt, and death to life.