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RS105 - Greta Christina on Coming Out Atheist

Release date: April 6, 2014

Greta Christina Atheist activist and author Greta Christina appears on this episode of Rationally Speaking, to discuss her new book, "Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, And Why." A spirited debate ensues, in which Greta, Julia and Massimo disagree over the boundaries of the "atheist movement," and the role of social justice in it. Other topics include: The cognitive biases that can make it hard to get a clear picture of whether people regret "coming out" as atheists; Plus, Greta's argument for why atheist community-building shouldn't model itself after religious communities.

Greta's pick: "The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion-and Others Should Too"

References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (11)

If I came out as an atheist the only consequences would be negative. I was raised in a religious household and my dad is a pastor. Everyone in my extended family is highly religious. I went to a religious college, and then worked for that religious college for 20 years. When I left there I got a job for a financial firm that is owned by a very religious person and which is largely staffed by people who graduated from the same religious college I went to (we have prayer meetings during the work day led by the owner of the company). I have been there for 5 years. So my entire personal and professional life has been spent in a religious subculture and everyone in my social circle other than my wife is religious. It would be a slap in my mom's face if I came out as an atheist because she wouldn't understand it. I would needlessly offend everyone at work. I don't see the point in coming out as an atheist; it would most certainly do more harm than good, particularly to the emotional wellbeing of my family and friends who have convinced themselves that they are going to spend eternity with me in heaven. I strongly feel that the interviews cited in this podcast are highly skewed and do not take normal everyday "bible belt" atheists like me into account. I agree that unhappy activist athiests who want to be in everyone's face with their beliefs and don't mind deeply offending their family and friends are probably happier when they come out. I don't agree that they are in any way representative of atheists broadly defined. To be honest, as a progressive I find libertarianism to be more offensive than religion, and both the chrisitan community I am part of and the atheist community I observe from afar are filthy with libertarians. There's a reason that politics and religion are not polite topics of conversation; emotions on these issues run too hot and I don't find atheists to be any more or less rational about their beliefs than anyone else.

Greta said something like "religion does not provide anything other than a belief in the supernatural". (around 20:00). I think this is way off.

Later, her comeback to Massimo included the exact opposite for atheism - that it can't just be simply the lack of believe in God.

Kudos for her for mentioning cognitive biases a few times - I think many atheists display theirs when talking about religion.

an atheist

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersomeguy

Greta didn't really address Massimo's point about logical extensions of non-belief. Her counter was something along the lines of "by that way of thinking separation of church and state is not an atheistic issue", to which I say that separation of church and state is probably the only issue that is clearly a logical extension of atheism.

Furthermore her point about extending the atheist "movement" to cover social issues seems way off, she basically said: Then we can attract other sorts of people. But you also push away people with other points of view. Keeping the "movements" issues to an absolute minimum should avoid push people needlessly away.

PS I am from a largely non-religious country so I have no real experience with this type of debate. The concept of an atheist "movement" is foreign to me.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRok

Extending the atheist movement to make it feminist, Communist, vegan, nudist for good measure, will attract everyone to it!
Also, "You know the best part about being half black and half white? When I grow up, I'll be accepted by everybody!"

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Several people have pointed out that by being all-inclusive, the atheist movement will drive some people away. You're probably right, but there clearly should be an optimal amount of inclusiveness that will maximize the political power of the movement. We probably haven't reached that amount yet.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres

@normal american atheist:

" I don't see the point in coming out as an atheist;"

You describe a good one in your post: you're intimidated by everyone in your life, and you end up being less than you are because of that. Get a new job and then take a stand. Make people worry about your approval, rather than you worrying about theirs.

Let me also point out that you have a very negative, and mistaken, view of atheists and how they behave in general. Your attitude is like a closet gay who despises gays. You're likely surrounded by other closet atheists, even though they won't use that term, and they'll open up to you once you become known.

BTW, I live in the Bible Belt, too, and I don't hide my views on religion, although I almost never am the first one to broach the subject. The main reason for that is that most believers have nothing interesting to say regarding religion. But when someone else breaks the ice, I'm not bashful about expressing my views. For the most part, I don't think most people really care that much.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Esres
Re: someguy: You are misunderstanding Greta's point about religion. Here is what she actually says (around 20:30):

"I don't actually think that religion per se provides anything for people other than a belief in the supernatural - God, souls, the afterlife, and so on. Everything else that religion provides - community and social support, economic support, ritual tradition, continuity, and so on - all of that is something that can be provided secularly."

So Greta is not denying that there are social structures around religion that provide benefits to people. She just wants to be clear that these benefits do not flow directly from the dogmas of religion. This is relevant to Greta's next point, which is to challenge the atheist community to not confine its services to those traditionally offered by religious organizations, but rather to ask more broadly "what do people need that we can provide". As an example of this, she talks about the Godless Perverts club she is involved in, which provides an open, non-stigmatized discussion of sexuality etc from an atheist perspective.
September 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertyle
Massimo and commenter Rick argue that separation of church and state is a logical consequence of atheism, but that LGBT/reproductive rights are not.

This seems wrong to me. Greta points out, correctly, that on a narrow view *neither* of these things is a logical consequence of atheism. Indeed, it certainly isn't a logical contradiction for an atheist to believe that the government should be involved in religion.

Now, on a broader view of what it means for an issue to be a consequence of atheism, I would argue that *both* separation of church and state and reproductive/LGBT rights are consequences of atheism. In particular, these are both issues whose opponents are primarily (although not exclusively) religiously motivated.

For example, perhaps the main reason that people oppose the separation of church and state is that they want their own religion to be privileged. If you reject religion, you should reject these grounds for opposition to the separation of church and state as well. If these are the main grounds for opposition to separation of church and state, then while atheism won't guarantee that you accept separation of church and state, it will make it much more likely. So we could call separation of church and state a consequence of atheism in our new, broader sense.

The same goes for for LGBT and reproductive rights. These are also a consequence of atheism in the sense that the main opposition to these rights is religious. I consider this a historical fact, but even if this were rejected, it is also an empirical fact that strong majorities of the religiously unaffiliated support these rights. So if we accept separation of church and state as a consequence of the atheist movement in the sense that the main opposition to it is religious, then we can accept LGBT rights and reproductive rights on these same grounds.

The above is Greta's argument, which she makes during the podcast (although not as pedantically as I have). Massimo and commenters have not responded to this argument. Perhaps there is some other sense of what it means to be a consequence of atheism that includes separation of church and state but not LGBT and reproductive rights. If so, let's hear it.

(Of course, this does not itself settle the question of whether taking on these issues is a good idea. That probably has more to do with the instrumental type questions that Greta raised, and that others like Rick and Greg Esres in the comments have raised. I'm just responding to those like Rick and Massimo who have stated that separation of church and state counts as a consequence of atheism while LGBT/reproductive rights do not. I think that they have failed to defend this point of view from Greta's comments, and moreover I think that they are mistaken.)
September 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commentertyle
The arrogance of Social Justice Warriors is simply astounding.

Why should their political views be any more relevent to Athiests than those of Communists or Donald Trump voters ?

Please go and save the world somewhere else Greta and let Athiests be Athiests and Skeptics be Skeptics
November 30, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNichoals Wade
Listening back episodes now. After listening to this realized that no wonder the AHA became the cesspool it is now. What's really maddening is to watch all this bullcrap unfold after what happened to the atheism movement and its religious wing atheism+.
May 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterThe Mike
See RSPC 198 with Timur Kuran about social momentum. This may explain why people need to meet other nonbelievers before they abandon religion.

Online discussions with random anonymous people about sensitive subjects such as racism, gender, and religion do usually end in massive discord.
December 31, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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