The importance of coming out atheist—Greta Christina, blogger and activist


Greta Christina MemeGreta Christina is an influential thought leader and speaker in the atheist community, a regular atheist correspondent for AlterNet, Free Inquiry, and The Humanist, and author of books including Why Are You Atheists So Angry? and the forthcoming Coming Out Atheist. She also blogs at the wildly popular Greta Christina’s Blog at Freethought Blogs. Liz Moody asked Greta a few questions about the importance of coming out atheist, the focus of Greta’s most recent book and her presentation at the Humanism at Work conference this weekend in Chicago.

What does the coming out process for atheists entail? Is there a right way or better way to come out? Are there any pitfalls to avoid?

That’s a large question! I wrote an entire book about it! 🙂 Seriously: That’s a large question. I wrote an entire book about it, there’s really no one short answer. I can definitely say that there isn’t one right way to come out: people have different circumstances, and different personalities, and it can also be different for different relationships (how you come out to a friend-of-a-friend at a party will likely be different from how to come out to your mother).

There are a handful of basic guidelines that seem to apply to most atheists who are coming out. A few of those: Be patient, and be the bigger person; at the same time, set limits, expect fairness, and don’t apologize; don’t get sucked into arguments about whether God exists; get your financial and practical ducks in a row first as much as you can; be prepared to do some Atheist Mythbusting 101. But there are as many ways to come out as an atheist as there are atheists. The book isn’t intended to be a set of directions. It’s more like a map of the territory, with ideas on picking your own path.

How does coming out as an atheist affect other atheists?

Coming out is one of the best, most positive things we can do for other atheists. It lets them know they’re not alone; it puts a dent in anti-atheist bigotry, which makes their lives better; it makes it possible to build atheist communities, to help replace the ones people often lose when they leave religion; it helps make us into a political force. Coming out is probably the single most powerful thing we can do for each other.

How does coming out as an atheist affect believers?

Again, there’s no one answer to that question. It varies a lot, and it can change a lot over time. But in general, the main effect that coming out atheist has on believers is to change their minds about atheists. There’s a lot of anti-atheist stigma, and there are a lot of myths about us; but when people see that their neighbor, their co-worker, their friend, their sister, their child, is an atheist, it commonly changes their minds. There’s sometimes an initial period of shock or upset, but over time, knowing that they have atheists in their lives tends to make people think more positively about us. And often, that shock or upset is less than we think it’s going to be—in fact, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. (And sometimes, the effect that coming out atheist has on believers is to get them to reconsider religion!)

What advice do you have for atheists who want to help but aren’t activist types?

Activism takes a lot of different forms. Don’t assume you’re not an activist just because you don’t like marching in the street. Activism can include community building (in the flesh or online), donating money, supporting visibility campaigns, participating in support networks, writing to elected officials, voting. Do whatever form of activism you enjoy doing—that way, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. And coming out is probably the single most important form of activism we can do. If you can’t do any other form of activism, but you can come out, it makes a huge difference.