Truth to Power

Imagine no religion tough to do

What It’s Like To Be an Atheist in the Bible Belt

At the Lake Hypatia Advance, a social gathering hosted by the Alabama Freethought Association, a frequent metaphor was “coming out” as an atheist. “I am out to my parents.” “A few people are still in the closet.” “We had several people in our community come out to us.” One man said he came out to his parents twice, first as a non-Christian, years later as an atheist. (“Not in my house!” his mother said.) One woman told of an argument with her evangelical family in which “I outed my dad.”

In much of the American South and Midwest church membership and religious faith are assumed. (In my hometown of San Francisco, as in Manhattan, faith is more apt to evoke surprise.) People have often never met an admitted atheist. “Literally people think that we do have horns, or that we’re mean, or that we do not have kids,” said a Kansan. Even in a city like Atlanta, some people feel religious pressure. Ed Buckner, president of American Atheists, said the Atlanta Freethought Association has members who “never saw any need [to gather with others] until they came to Atlanta – and people behind you in line in the grocery store say ‘Do you know Jesus?’ And your boss asks what church you attend.”</em>


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