We ain't half got it easy in Britain.

While perusing this 'ere site I've seen many posts and blogs discussing 'coming out' as an atheist. Initially I was a tad miffed by this. I knew that the situation in other parts of the world was much worse than it is here but I don't think I realised quite how ghastly it actually is.

I saw references to coming out as atheist and thought, 'You what? Coming out as gay was a big step, and came after much stalling, self-doubt and soul searching. It was a very big, and hard, step to take. How dare you lot talk about telling people your atheist in the same terms?'

It turns out that many of you have had pretty much exactly the same turmoil before coming out as atheist as I had coming out as gay. This really is staggering.

A few years back Douglas Adams was interviewed for an American atheist radio station and was asked if being an atheist had ever been an impediment to getting a job. He replied no, that was silly as it really isn't an issue here. When I read that I didn't realise the extent to which it is an issue elsewhere.

Coming out as atheist just isn't something the majority of us think about here, no more than coming out as liking coffee or preferring dogs to cats. No doubt it's an issue for people from very religious families but it isn't something one would consider hiding from anybody in day to day life.

We ain't half got it easy in Britain.

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Comment by Anne Halligan on July 13, 2009 at 1:06pm
I posted something along these lines a couple of weeks ago. It is astonishing that religion is such a big deal in the states. However, and please don't jump down my throat folks, when it comes to religious persecution, it is hard to consider the states in the same vein as say Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban or any of the Communist states. While I don't negate the stress American atheists are under I can't imagine it compares to them.

As to us having it easy in Britain, I don't see it that way. I just think we're a little bit more accommodating of other people on the whole. There is some Islam bashing going on but that's political rather than religious I think and to be condemned in a country where multi-culturalism is the norm - certainly where I live. Not that I am condoning Islam or any other religion, but I do defend the right of people to follow their own beliefs without being vilified or persecuted for it.
Comment by Dave P on July 13, 2009 at 12:28pm
@ Rooker: "That is how we "dare" to call it "coming out". So how about you don't accuse of us having it easy and we won't accuse you, in a country whose official church is expected to die out in the next 15 years, of the same? Deal?"

I dion'tknow if that was aimed at Carver, Cliff or myself but saying you haven't got it easy was the whole point of the blog.

"It turns out that many of you have had pretty much exactly the same turmoil before coming out as atheist as I had coming out as gay. This really is staggering."

Thanks for the responses. It's all a bit disheartening.
Comment by vjack on July 13, 2009 at 7:34am
It is good to hear that atheism is no big deal in the U.K. In some of the more civilized parts of the U.S., we are slowly getting there. Unfortunately, it is still extremely difficult to come out as an atheist in many parts of the U.S. People are fired from their jobs, disowned by their families, ostracized by their "friends," and so on. Atheist equality feels like it is quite a ways off for many of us.
Comment by Richard Healy on July 13, 2009 at 7:10am
I think England (and by rights America) ought to have fairly neutered religion owing to our history. It's interesting to note the exceptions.

For example, if you look back to Henry VIII ceding from Rome and then the English Civil War, Cromwell and Regicide (a form of deicide in fact since The King was god-appointed)
All the way through his 'trial' Charles is convinced the rebels won't actually execute him, he refuses to recognise the right of men to try him and on the other side the model army and the parliamentarians are convinced Charles is an agent of the anti-christ and they are doing god's work (something Cromwall vexed terribly about).

The point I'm trying to make is England over the last 400 or so years, vacillating as it did between Catholic and Protestant rulers has developed a constitutional truce with religion where the church is not so much rival to the state (think of all those power deals with Popes in the middle ages) as an institution within it - where the head of the church - is the monarch! Democratically indefensible, but rather like an inoculation against measles, I speculate that the trials and tribulations it took to reach that point gave us a settled religiosity.

I said America by rights should have something similar it is after all founded by a clutch of rationalists, scientists etc. in direct opposition to the standing armies and religious persecutions that plagued Europe for centuries. Famously it's primary documents go to some lengths to emphasise that the state and the church are and can not be the same.

Since which time there has been a steady drive to both cognicise that principle as well as a determiend effort to undermine it.

You might say religion had to get creative, entrepreneurial even, and out of that comes that strikingly resolute Protestant fundamentalism with the heavy geographical divide: the legacy of (yet another) civil war.

I'm not pleading any special insight here but I suspect the 'ease' about which is spoken is a modern phenomenon occasioned by a great many historical antecedents.

Under the blasphemy law of the period up until, I think, the 19th century, it was still possible to be executed for being an atheist, at least the law that named the punishment was not reformed until then although it may have transmogrified into a fine or a period of imprisonment.

Which by a happy coincidence brings us back full circle, now that Ireland has it's own blasphemy laws.
Comment by Rooker on July 13, 2009 at 6:45am
Well, not that this is some sort of contest, but it is actually that bad here and not hyperbole.

Atheists in the US are the least trusted and most hated group of people in the country, even more so than the gay population.

If it doesn't look so bad as all that from where you look, it's because you're viewing it through a regional bias. I'm in the Southeast. This is where the Baptists - the flat out craziest of the religious in America - have their headquarters. This is religious center of the most devoutly religious industrial nation in the world.

This is where they used to lynch black people a few decades ago, just because they didn't like the color of their skin. About thirty years ago, Army Rangers on weekend pass beat a gay man to death with their bare hands. A jury in one of the most liberal cities in the South let them get away with that because the gay man made a pass at them (so they claimed).

What do you imagine they think of people who say God doesn't exist? What do you imagine they do when one of their children says that?

If you're still confused, feel free to watch these two videos to get a demonstration. The second is a little lengthy, but at least watch the first one. That probably is a relatively mild reaction to one of us 'coming out' to our family.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8Aq00yJSxo [0:46]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTRDRP2n4Sk [9:29]

The gay population here has had 40 years to build a community and look after each other. We don't have that community yet and are largely isolated from one another. It's only since the late 80's or early 90's that atheists here have started to realize that others existed.

That is how we "dare" to call it "coming out". So how about you don't accuse of us having it easy and we won't accuse you, in a country whose official church is expected to die out in the next 15 years, of the same? Deal?
Comment by Jim DePaulo on July 11, 2009 at 3:50pm
I agree. Being known as an atheist has never impacted my life in way of which I'm aware . It could create problems for those from very religious families or communities. However, any comparison to coming out as a gay or lesbian to coming out as an atheist is just hyperbole.



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