Review: Coming Out Atheist

Coming Out Atheist cover 400Coming Out Atheist is a new book of guidance and stories that show the challenges of being atheist in America. Our challenges are not nearly those of gays in the 1970s or African Americans in the 1940s, or of atheists today in Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, or elsewhere around the world. We are, however, like those communities, struggling for civil equality and cultural acceptance. Greta Christina has written Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.

A young Hospital Corpsman in the Navy tells of a training instructor grilling him in front of a class: “I was asked to explain why we were here if there was no god, and on, and on. The longer the questioning went on the more mocking her tone and the more confrontational she became.” The story continues to show how his courage in the face of harassment inspired others.

Greta Christina is fond of saying “don’t talk about us without us.” She is normally talking about the queer community which is sometimes misrepresented. But she followed her own advice with this book when talking about the military community. She reached out to many atheists in foxholes to fill a section dedicated to the special challenges facing military personnel. She reached out to MAAF for questions and reviewed our atheists in foxholes list. She came out with a good understanding of the situation:

“Your commanding officers have a lot more leeway than an average boss would to enforce that discipline. You do have a lot of legal protection—but you may have to fight hard to actually benefit from it. And if you do fight that fight, you’ll be doing it in a culture that really does not want people to rock the boat… come out anyway. It’ll make it easier for yourself, and it’ll make it easier for others.”

Coming Out Atheist follows in the recent tradition of empowering books for atheists, including Hemant Mehta’s Young Atheist’s Survival Guide and David Niose’s Nonbeliever Nation. Ancient Greeks valued reason in the same way humanists do today and modern Ethical Culture and Humanism arose at the end of the 19th Century. Less than 10 years ago, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens gave atheists a voice. Since that time, nontheists have grown as a diversity community and become more successful not just having a voice to be heard but moving towards demographic and cultural acceptance in America. But many of today’s atheists and humanists need mentorship to come out. As individual Americans see atheism in the national dialogue, they need to be reminded that atheists are all around them and the only way to do that is for atheists to stand up to be recognized as co-workers, family members, military team members, friends, and neighbors.

Greta Christina also recommends the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as well as local groups of the MAAF network including Military Atheists & Secular Humanists groups. By pointing at these supportive organizations, she expands support from the book to the real world. She by no means limits herself to the military. She starts with why to come out atheist (improving your life, helping others, and improving the world), tells the stories of other 20 other groups (students, clergy, parents, etc), and how to help others come out. These other stories will also help military personnel to understand their situation and to find not just the courage but the best practices to come out.

7 Responses to Review: Coming Out Atheist

  1. As a 19 yrs. old newbie airborne ranger I was asked my religious preference for my dog tags. Without hesitation I claimed “Pagan.” My platoon Sgt. was irate, made me do 100 pushups before he gave in. Easiest 100 (not) pushups I ever done. Case closed. Who the fvck knows snot about the gods..

  2. John McCready

    The FIRST RULE of “coming out” (be it atheist, gay, etc.) is to figure out if the people you “come out” to CAN HANDLE IT! The second rule is to realize that you do NOT HAVE TO if you DO NOT WANT TO! Assuming that you are in an intolerant enviornment (family, job, community, etc.), it might be a good position to “STFU” about your “alternative” identity label (again, be it atheist, gay, etc.). There should be ZERO PRESSURE on the person with the “alternative” identity TO “come out”, OR to remain “closeted”. The decision to “come out” or not is intensely personal, and can have a LOT of unforseen ramifications (ask any teen that has been excommunicated by their parents/family for being gay, atheist, etc.). I would recommend what I call a “yellow light” approach-a YELLOW traffic light means, “proceed with caution”. GOOD LUCK-whether you “stay in” or “come out”

    • I agree with John. I’m very selective to whom I speak freely about my atheism. If my Momma knew, it would break that 77 year old woman’s heart. Let her go to her death thinking I will join her in heaven. As a LtCol’s wife, I understand the political game at the top, I do not want to hurt my husband’s career by something I am or might say. When he’s out of the Corps, that ‘s a different story. When my mother has passed from this life, all bets are off. I will never go back in the proverbial closet. The gods willing, Inshallah or Thor bless it.

      • John McCready

        It is probably becoming “easier” in the military to be an atheist (after all, if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed for gays, why not for atheists as well?). However, since an officer’s spouse gets “evaluated” as much as the officer does, I certainly understand (and SUPPORT!) the need to “watch the P’s and Q’s”!

        • Thanks John. Like you stated earlier, being vocal is very personal. I don’t care enough about my husband’s peers to discuss the topic. I’m not there to make a statement. Both my husband and I are vocal about being socially liberal. Which is scandalous enough. At our table during the Commandant’s Ball in 2012, there were a couple of One-Stars, Colonels and the like, when my husband proposed a toast to the Commander in Chief, the only glasses raised were ours. Appalling.

    • All those cautions are very clear in the book. It’s really important that those who think atheists have to “STFU”, especially non-atheists, make efforts to ‘come out’ in support of equality for atheists. Because in the end, the oppressed group is not the problem, and only when members of the non-oppressed group start ‘coming out’ for equality will culture change such that coming out as different is no longer the dangerous struggle that it is now.

      • John McCready

        If anything, those DEMANDING that atheists remain quiet, ought to be the CATALYST FOR “coming out”! I still think a “cautious” approach is best-until someone tells me that I CANNOT be open about this part of my identity, while others can. This has been the basis of what the LGBTers have been screaming about for DECADES NOW!

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