I will begin the process of getting this published very soon, with the target being large newspapers in the southeast where I live. Feedback?
The liberation of social believers
Humans feel a strong need to be accepted by whatever group is around to do the accepting. And this need is so strong that it can, and often does, trump other needs.
In the case of sexuality, for gays and lesbians, passing as heterosexual was a matter of social survival here in the Bible Belt until recently in some communities. It still is in many others, especially small towns.
The same holds true for atheists and other non-believers. Just as there are and have been many, many “social heterosexuals,” there are many, many “social believers.”
My own awakening as an atheist was a slow process over many years. I am certain that if I had been asked when I was in my teens or twenties if I believed in god I would have said “yes.”
But the fact is that I realize now I never believed. I fooled myself because it was the socially accepted position and there were no compelling needs to reflect on or challenge this position.
In the course of ongoing sociological research, I conducted an open online survey for people who identify themselves as atheists. Of the 8,200 responses I received, more than half said their views developed over many months or, in some cases, years.
A social believer is a person who either does not acknowledge their true inner identity or belief, or intentionally suppresses it to remain accepted by their social circles, whether they be religious, racial, political … the list goes on. How many are social believers are there? We really have no way of knowing, for at least two reasons.
First, we are quite capable of lying to ourselves. Indeed, we may not know ourselves what is deep in our own minds. Such is the power of culture and the need for social acceptance, and of the mind's ability to self-deceive.
Second, even if someone is aware of and honest about his unbelief, he might still lie to survey takers just like he lies to his parents, spouse, children – even his pastor. I suspect the official numbers of believers within all faiths is heavily inflated by large numbers of people who simply fib on religious affiliation surveys.
We all do this, to an extent. We play the script that is handed to us by our social class, gender, age or race. Many of us secretly rebel against these scripts, but publically go along just for the sake of getting along.
Could it be that the very same kind of “self-lie” happens regarding a belief in god? As a sociologist I can only guess that for every 10 people who say they believe in god there are as many as 3 who are lying to themselves or others.
Just as when homosexuality began to lose some of its stigma in popular culture and many people “came out of the closet,” I predict the same will happen with non-believers. As atheism loses its stigma, more and more people will admit to themselves – and others – that they really do not believe in life after death.
If in reading this piece you saw yourself – a social believer – consider freeing yourself from the lie that you have been living. Come out of the closet.