I took the Midwest Secular Survey today. The questions were pretty standard, asking your secular persuasion (agnostic, atheist, etc), how comfortable you felt about sharing your secular views with various groups of people, and how being secular affects different aspects of your life.
What I learned from answering these questions is that I do feel very reluctant to share my atheistic views with people who I have to relate to in day to day life, such as co-workers, neighbors and family.
Very few, in fact only two I believe, of my co-workers know that I hold secular beliefs and I don’t think the actually know that I’m an atheist. It is not something I would want widely known at my work. While I have never seen or heard of anyone being discriminated against because of their religious (or non-religious) beliefs, I do live in one of the reddest states and from overhearing conversations of my co-workers, many, if not most, attend some kind of church regularly. In fact, I block people from work who are on my friends list on Face Book from seeing my status posts because I just don’t want them knowing my beliefs. I’m not ashamed, but I do fear that it could cause problems for me if the wrong person at work finds out.
None of my family knows, at least if they do, they have kept quiet about it. This isn’t surprising since they aren’t really “my” family per se, but my first wife’s family, whom I keep in touch with because of my kids. They are all Armenian and the Armenian Church is a very big part of their Armenian identity. When I was married and living back there in Massachusetts I was the one who took the kids to Church every Sunday. I even taught Sunday school for a year. The church is so intertwined with the Armenian identity that it is almost impossible to imagine an Armenian who doesn’t profess belief in God. After all, Armenia was the first Christian nation,a fact of which the Armenians are very proud.
Most of my friends know I’m an atheist. In one case, this has come between myself and a very dear friend who is a devout Christian. We still chat occasionally, but there is a palpable strain in the relationship that wasn’t there before I let it be known that I was an atheist. This was very difficult and discouraging for me. Her and I had a real attraction for each other and we got along so incredibly well. Once she was divorced from her husband and I separated from my wife and was in the process of getting divorced, I was hoping to pursue a closer relationship with her, but now that is out of the question. Also, it seems that our relationship has lost the depth of emotion that it once had. This is completely due to her reaction to my writings and comments about Christianity. As I said, we still talk occasionally, but we never talk about anything too personal anymore and I mourn the lose of that very much.
All of these things came back to me as I read the questions on the survey and contemplated my answers. I didn’t realize just how vulnerable I feel about being an atheist outside of the skeptical/atheist community. I’ve tended to limit my personal relationships to people who share my beliefs. I know that this one of the most common things that people do; keep to their own, but I didn’t realize that I was actually fearful of revealing my beliefs to others outside of these groups. Considering I hope to work in critical thinking and skeptical outreach, I think that it is something I will have to come to terms with.
Socrates was certainly onto something with his method of instruction. Asking questions is one of the most powerful ways to get us to really think about an issue and brings to light our underlying feelings about it that we may never have realized we had.