Today on Facebook, I made this statement:
So today is Openly Secular Day (http://www.openlysecularday.org/), an event that is primarily focused on atheists/non-believers opening up to other people about their life experience. I could spend some time saying I’m “openly secular,” but this description also applies to any religious person who supports the principles of secular government and other secular institutions, which is most people in my experience. Instead, I’ll take a different route.
I am an atheist, but I’m also a videographer and editor, a webpage creator, an uncle, a son, a content developer, a huge sci-fi/fantasy geek, a grandson, a moderate libertarian, a book lover, a nephew, a cousin, a travel enthusiast, an asthmatic, a Chronie (Crohn’s Disease), and an American.
For me, “atheist” is just one part of who I am, and there are millions of people all across the country and the world who can can say the same.
Though I’ve never exactly hidden it, I’d say I’ve been openly quiet about the matter of my lack of belief, though it’s no doubt been blindly obvious to anybody who’s ever followed along with what I discuss. Yes, I am an atheist, but as I pointed out on Facebook, it’s only a small part of what makes me, well, me! I do other things, I talk about other things, and overall I’d say the issue of belief or disbelief is a rather minuscule part of the profile of my life.
So brave, isn’t it, to declare I’m an atheist in the Northeast, where nobody cares one way or another? After all, I do live in Connecticut, where almost nobody has trouble because they don’t go to church or don’t fall in line with Christian beliefs.
So why say this now? Well, far apart from it being Openly Secular Day, I do find the issue important. Atheists are one of the most negatively-viewed groups in America, according to a Pew poll taken last year; only Muslims are viewed more negatively. Also, 53% of Americans (down from 61% in 2007!) say they’d be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who’s an atheist. To put it into stark contrast, even gays and lesbians now have a much better chance, as only 27% of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a person of that group. So there is work to do where perceptions are considered, and I’m hoping that by being more openly active than I have been, I can contribute to that cause.
I don’t want to make it seem like I’m all, “Oh, please cry rivers of tears for the plight of American atheists!” I don’t delude myself into thinking that the struggles of American atheists match those of gays and lesbians or, indeed, black Americans. That’s not to say there are not American atheists who haven’t struggled. Many have faced time on the streets and the prospect of being disowned for daring to come out to their parents. Others have faced ostracism, the end of their marriage, the loss of their jobs, and the prospect not being able to participate in the political arena if they are open. For those who fight for secularism in government, some have even received death threats.
However, in this country, none have been killed for it and none have been thrown in jail for it. In the grand scheme of things, we have it good.
This isn’t the case everywhere. In some countries, it is a crime to be an atheist. Last year, Saudi Arabia passed a law defining atheism as terrorism. As of 2014, 23 countries made apostasy, the act of leaving a religion, a crime. In some of those countries, it is punishable by death. Right now in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is slaughtering religious minorities, as well as non-believers, and those Muslim sects they consider heretical.
We atheists have a perception problem here in the U.S., but the situation is much worse elsewhere. That said, I’ve never accepted the notion that just because a problem is worse elsewhere that there are no legitimate grievances in one’s own backyard. I hope to stand in a sort of solidarity with all atheists, at home and abroad, but frankly, I’m just not sure how much I can do about the problems facing atheists elsewhere, especially in countries where it’s illegal to be one. I’m more confident about having an impact here at home. I’ll do what I can here now while trying to figure out the international situation.