Online "closet" atheists annoy me. Does that happen to you?

Yes they do. I don't hate them, but there is something in them that makes me feel sort of uneasy.


I have counted myself among those without religion for quite some time. I'm pretty open about it and I'm always eager to talk about it when the occasion is right (which isn't all the time, of course). So, as much as I'm open about it "in real life", I'm open about it online. I don't hide my name, nor my face and whoever wants to find me online can do it with a couple of clicks. When I can, I'm pretty active on Facebook and write on my bilingual blog. All that with my name and a link to "friend" me if the reader wants.


So I tend to get quite a lot invitations. The problem comes when I receive invitation from someone who has a nickname related to atheism, like "atheist archbishop". Sometimes they don't even have a display picture, just some random picture, or worse, something related to atheism or a religious cartoon.


In the beginning I didn't accept their invitation under suspition that they would be some kind of christian troll or someone who just wants my information to harm me. But as the time passed and I met more people involved in atheist activities, I noticed that they are legit accounts, not just trolls.


But then something else came to my mind. If I see someone with some sort of atheist name and atheist picture, I think that such person will only talk about atheism and nothing else. No matter how much the topic might interest me, a person like that is boring to me.


Moreover, to me it's kind of an act of cowardice to criticize religion but concealing one's name, pretending to be just a shadow that is there to be a nightmare to religion, some kind of "anonymous" that pretends to be a hero. Their points are usually good points, but the fact that there is no one to talk to, or argue with, throws much of it away.


A friend of mine who acts in facebook under a nickname and no pictures says it's because of safety. He says he can't disclose that because in real life, most of the people around him are christians and then he would have a hard time. Yet, online, he is very critic of religions, sometimes getting a little bit extreme.


I can understand the concern for safety, yet, I have another facebok friend who lives in Morocco (the first one lives in Mexico), has a blog that criticizes Islam, and has pictures of himself. He has received threatening calls, but keeps criticizing Islam. To me that's a correct correlation between one's position and one's action. My Mexican friend, on the other hand, criticizes religion online, but bows to it in real life.


That annoys me. Maybe not everyone has the "guts" to confront a religious society, but there are many who have. I don't think I'm being brave, just being who I am, and living according to my ideals, both online and in real life.


So, does that happen to you too? Am I being too hard on these online closet atheists? I would like to have some input on that.



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Comment by Diego on December 27, 2010 at 10:54pm

@Johan: I think I see your point. I often also just shrug down the references to God people around me do without thinking (like, thank God that such and such), but if there is a conversation about religion or someone wants to say something more, then I'll be glad to argue (in a friendly way, of course). I don't attend church, but my parents do. They are good people so I don't bother them. But if they ever want me to go with them or do something church related, they won't get an affirmative answer. Luckily, that hasn't happened.


@Prog Rock Girl: Sure, anonymity is one of the greatest features available online, I've many times registered on a forum or online community while anonymous and had nice and interesting debates. When I started writing my blog I considered using just a nickname, but after considering that my favorite atheist bloggers (PZ Myers and Hemant Mehta) disclose their information, I thought that I should do the same. I'm not ashamed of what I am and won't be just a shadow. Moreover, on facebook I think it's pretty childish to use a nickname (that's what myspace is for), since there you can actually choose who will see your profile. If you don't want to be "outed", then keep your settings private and don't allow in, except for the people close to you.


What annoys me are these atheist who add everyone, but have no name or display picture and talk just and only about atheism.


@Jabu: Sad situation that of yours, hopefully your online animosity against religion goes hand in hand with your way of living. Living with one's parents creates a lot of dependence and it would be on one's best interest to keep things nice. Yet I think that if one is old enough to have a formed opinion about religion and criticize it harshly, then one is able to cope with a tense family situation.


Cliff: Under that reasoning, I could also consider myself a Christian Freethinker, since I was raised catholic and there is still a paper with my name in their records. But I wasn't asked when they baptized me (I was 2 days old), so that doesn't count. I did choose not to be confirmed and so far I don't want to. So I don't think that I could call myself a "christian", since I don't believe in Christ more than I believe in Viracocha.


At first I would call myself an agnostic, given that I don't deny the existence of a God (yet I act as if there were none, making me an atheist in practice). But to explain to others took too long and in the end I still didn't believe in God. So, what the fuck, I'm an atheist. That might antagonize more people and make the "transition" harder, but I think I can take it.


@psmitheist: Yes! Yes! That's what I'm trying to say! As I said, a closet atheist might just be looking for an online community to share experiences. But to actually be so criticizing without giving one's face is like throwing a rock and then hiding the hand. I don't see what you might have said to apologize, but whatever, everyone was a newbie sometime.



Comment by Jabu M on December 27, 2010 at 3:41pm

I use a fake name on Facebook solely to keep my family in the dark about my beliefs. Call me coward, chicken or whatever, but I simply do not want a confrontation while I'm still living in my parents' house. Doing so would undoubtedly create a lot of tension between us, maybe even hurt them to see me all godless while under their roof and my life would become simply unbearable. So it's really out of consideration for all parties involved.


In my circle of friends, however, it's a different story. I am quite open with them, and quite regularly engage them in debate when issues of religion and morality come up.

Comment by Prog Rock Girl on December 27, 2010 at 9:12am

With every controversial aspect of my life (not just atheist but also bisexual, polyamorous, and I'm sure I could think of others) I am somewhat open; don't shout it out all the time (I don't want to be known for being solely these things) but if it comes up I usually tell people. I don't have my name and photo on my avatar, but if you get to know me you will know these things.


People can still be harassed even if they don't give out their name or face, but it depends on what kind of arguments they get into. I'm not that much of an arguer. The anonymity is not restricted to atheists. Lots of people don't want to give out their real name or face and I thought it was mostly due to nosy employers.


People of controversial groups have sometimes been anonymous in the beginning of their movements. Mostly I'm thinking of the Mattachine Society (an anonymous gay rights group from the 1950s). I don't think atheists are in the same situation, but whether a person shows their name/face or not, they still are talking about it.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on December 27, 2010 at 1:14am
I am "out" in real life to everyone, but my family members over 70.  I had a hard time telling them I thought Rush Limbaugh was a nutcase,  but it just sort of slipped out.  Then they busted out laughing, so it turned out okay.  I am vocal about my issues to my elected representatives.  I'm out to my friends.  Just not online or to certain family members.  If I am going to speak out, I want it to really count.  I was very vocal about my local VA replacing medical pamphlets in the clinic waiting rooms with religious material.  I threw a royal fit when (under Bush Jr) they did a faith evaluation with every appointment and all the TVs played the 700 Club.  I feel like if I am going to speak out, I want to make it really count.  I want change.
Comment by Diego on December 26, 2010 at 11:19pm

@Grace I kind of share your feeling about your elder family members finding out about your lack of beliefs. My father's family is also very conservative and religious and I think they haven't found out about my lack of belief yet (they are not very knowledgeable computer-wise). But if they googled my name, they would find out how involved I am in atheist stuff. That might hurt them, I know, and while I appreciate them, I don't think I love them more than I love myself, at least not enough to live trying to hide what I am. My parents also had a hard time when I "came out of the closet", but after a time, they have realized that I'm still a good person.


I also share your point in which not everyone need to know everything about me. I do state that I am an atheist in my facebook profile, but I also state many other things. If someone wants to focus on something like that, it's their problem, not mine, regardless if they are family or not. My facebook profile has me standing with Richard Dawkins, but to most people, that's just me with an old guy with a weird smile.


@Sicile: I see that you now regard such feelings towards the "unsaved" as absurd. I think at some point I did the same, fearing that coming out would hurt my loved ones. Yet, that also came with the knowledge that I was giving in to a sentimental blackmail. And as much as I love them, as I was telling Grace, I couldn't just do that. To me it seems that withhold my own pleasure by surrendering to the others' fears and misconception is pretty much like atheists in general being silent and accepting a conservative christian society in which so many rights are dismissed. It just doesn't seem right. If I try to do something about it (which I do), it just seems logical to live my own life in the same way.


Oh, and by the way, please don't take it as if I'm insulting every closet atheist. My point in the original text was that my annoyance is produced by atheists who are very vocal and aggressive while online, but can't even give out their own name. I understand that there are many who just don't want to be bothered with the issue, but want to share experiences and have a community with similar interests. They have their right to do so and I find nothing against that. But to go all "atheist knight" online without even being able to come out is something that bothers me a little.

Comment by Sicile on December 26, 2010 at 10:57pm

I am one of those "closet" Atheists.  I am here, in this closet, because I was once a Christian and I remember all to well the hurt, sorrow, and pain it caused me to think that someone I loved was not a Christian, and I would never see them again after they died, and they would suffer forever.  Saying that now sounds so completely absurd to me, but back then it was very real.  Sort of like Santa Claus.  At one time in my develpoment I so honestly believed that, now it seems ridiculous to even think I ever did.  I say all this because I have two parents who, right or wrong, are still in that place in their lives.  They believe with all their heart that atheists will perish in hell forever.  They are simple people, I acknowledge that, and I accept it.  It would be wonderful to come out of this dark closet that I am in, but it would be at a price too high for me to pay.  They would believe with all their hearts that they would never see me again after they die (which I know to be true, but I don't think they can handle that), and that I would be tormented for eternity. You see,  I would be easing my own burden at their expense.  I can't do that, for even though we disagree, I do love them dearly and I do try to understand why they are where they are in their journey through this life.  It wasn't long ago I was there too. 

I live by the principle that I should not gain pleasure at the expense of another living thing.  Although nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be completely open and honest about my beliefs and to leave this dark, damp closet, it would hurt them to much.  Does that make me a coward?  I hope not.

Comment by Grace Fitzpatrick on December 26, 2010 at 10:49pm

If I had a common name, I would be "out of the closet" online as well as IRL.  I am out of the closet to everyone but my elderly family members IRL.   My other family members and I have conspired to keep my elderly relatives in the dark.  I am a one of a kind name wise.  I can't find another single soul with my name online.  If I came out, some nosy person would find it their duty to tell my older relatives and they would be really hurt.  I don't want to hurt my family. 


  I just don't talk to them about religion.   I just try to avoid the subject entirely.  They already know I'm a Democrat which they think is pretty terrible.  I don't cut down their church in front of them out of respect for them not their church (Catholic).  


Besides not everyone I know needs to know everything about me.  There are some things I choose to keep to myself until I decide I am ready to talk to people about it.  This is one of those things. 


Comment by Diego on December 26, 2010 at 9:56pm

I know, yes, that to be an "out" atheist won't make us win a popularity contest. Yet, it's an opportunity to show others that we atheists are not amoral monsters that eat babies. I think we all know that our position is based in our rationality and there is little to be ashamed about it.


It's certainly sad that someone has to conceal their lack of belief in order to support his or her family, and to some point, I can understand that. But what annoys me is the animosity against religion taken online, so fierce, so brave, so strong, yet, in real life that is lost leaving only a docile submission towards the very thing that was criticized before. That's what annoys me, an "alterego" that needs to put on a mask to criticize religion, but without that mask little of that attitude is left.


Please, don't take it personally. This opinion has been formed after dealing in a social network such as facebook in which the idea is to get to know others. So, since I disclose a certain amount of information about myself, I think I can demand the same thing about the other person, not just a funny nickname and a picture with an atheist symbol.



Comment by Jas Brimstone on December 26, 2010 at 9:12pm

Did it ever occur to you that perhaps these people who do not share their "real life" names and faces in connection with their atheism have other reasons?  Perhaps it is an "act of cowardice" as you put it, but the harsh reality is that we are among the least trusted demographic in America.  We are also a minority, and while it may technically be illegal to discriminate against us based on our lack of religion, the reality is that it can and does happen. 

So if one, for example, worked for a particularly religious boss, or company, or yes (sad to say) even in a governmental job at almost any level (especially including public education), one might not want just anyone to be able to track them down in relation to being an Atheist.

So if it's an "act of cowardice" to worry about keeping my job and being able to support my family... I'll gladly be counted among the rest of the yellow-bellies and chickens, thankyouverymuch.





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