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The A-Word

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Hello, my name is Alice and I’m an atheist.

Those words are hard to write. No, not to write. To share. I’ve been a closeted atheist for years. Though close friends and family members know I hold no spiritual beliefs, I don’t think I have ever publicly stated my atheism until now. I do so with a pounding heart. Will people feel alienated by a label they might be offended by? Will they write me off as bitter and arrogant? If I hope to make it easier for someone else to share their non-belief, it is time for me to share mine.

I left Christianity nearly 12 years ago and I have not found comfort in spirituality since. My atheism does not mean I think you’re stupid if you believe in something. It does not mean I am closed-minded to the possibility of there being a designer-creator(s). To me, my atheism is quite literal: a (without) theism (belief in the existence of god or gods).

There is something so illicit about the a-word. Something terribly bold, almost scary. I am not immune to the negative associations of a label I myself once was once threatened by. Why don’t I use the other a-word, the friendlier-sounding alternative? Agnostic just doesn’t quite fit for me. My MacBook’s dictionary says an agnostic is, “... a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”

I claim a disbelief in God. I do not know if he, she, they, or it is real. I do know that I don’t believe so. The broader definition of an agnostic—“A person who believes nothing is known or can be known”—is also applicable to my stance. Yet I find that outside the dictionary, in the colloquial world of my peers, I have more in common with secular-reasoning atheists than I do spiritually-inclined agnostics.

This is not for lack of trying. After I could no longer believe in Christianity, I felt desperate for anything to replace the purpose-giving framework I lost. I wanted to be one of those people who are spiritual but not religious. I wanted a reason for life. For suffering. For existence itself. From Buddhism to Taoism to vague New Age spiritualism (the kind that experiments with crystal pendulums, past-life therapy, and astrology), if it has required belief, I've never been able to convince my mind to trust it. I have found much more inner peace and self-love in accepting my atheism than I ever did trying to believe in something.

I have decided after giving it much thought to come out of the closet. To put another female face in the male-dominated bracket of disbelief. Men more than double the number of women who identify as atheists. There is ongoing research over why this is. Children of openly atheist women may be more likely to be bullied at school. Women tend to be more involved in church communities than men. The atheist movement also has a long history of not being particularly welcoming to women.

“How is it possible,” an 1806 issue of a London magazine asks, “to conceive that a female can be an Atheist? What shall sustain this reed if religion does not support her frailty? For the sake of her beauty alone, women ought to be pious.” (Courtesy of Salon)

Women report continued misogyny in the atheist movement today.

I am coming out as an atheist because I would like to help end the stigma attached to open non-believers. Less than 1% of American women identify as atheists. [Click to Tweet] The dangers of being an atheist, man or woman, range from social ostracism to outright murder. One study showed atheists are distrusted more than rapists. The long-held assumption of one’s morality being tied to one’s spirituality lingers in our cultural consciousness, and will only stop when the absence of belief in the supernatural is no longer perceived as threatening. [Click to Tweet] I am ready to do my part in making it less so.

If you’re a closeted atheist, what keeps you from coming out? If you’re an out-atheist, how do people tend to respond when you tell them?

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Jordan Maddox
Jordan Maddox
Aug 29, 2023

Why shouldn't I use the other a-word, which sounds friendlier?

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Replying to

It is of course up to you which word you use. Alice said "I am coming out as an atheist because I would like to help end the stigma attached to open non-believers." If that's not your cup of tea, then it might not be worth it to you to use the word atheist, especially if your relationships with your family and close friends would be affected. I personally use the word atheist because I want to set an example of an atheist who is nice and thoughtful for those who may not know such a thing exists. As long as I am polite about it, I find that people, even super religious people, are polite back to me…

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