The Humanist Dilemma: Speaking Out about (Non) Beliefs

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Dear Readers,

I’d like to turn the tables and ask you a question: What has been your experience when you’ve spoken out about your humanist beliefs or your religious nonbelief?

Many secular leaders advocate standing up for our ideals and policies, and being explicit in expressing doubts or rejection of gods and religion. I agree that coming out or just being out is an excellent way to demonstrate that just about everyone knows, and perhaps likes or loves, a nonbeliever—even, or particularly, if they didn’t hitherto realize that person was a nonbeliever.

But I’m also aware of how painful coming out can be for some, whether they are ostracized and rejected by friends and family, or subtly shunned or discriminated against emotionally, socially, or in the workplace. Certainly, reactions vary from place to place and situation to situation. In some countries, atheist bloggers have been murdered and others are running for their lives. And even in the most progressive places, nonbelief may be seen as something people should keep to themselves.

On the flip side, some who expected to be spurned or worse have been pleasantly surprised when they revealed themselves as nonreligious and were embraced or just met with indifference. Or, better still, they discovered that the people they were so afraid to tell were nonbelievers themselves.

I invite you to share your personal stories about coming out—or being out—as a nonbeliever, or how people around you responded if you openly rejected the religion you once followed or the religion that they still do follow. Was it as bad as or worse than expected? No big deal? A mixed bag that perhaps evolved over time?

Looking forward to your stories in the comments section below.