Elitist. Fedoras and neckbeards. Arrogant. Immature. Without morals. Satanist baby-eaters. These are just a few stereotypes that come to some people’s minds when they think of atheists. I'm from Texas, so I know firsthand how people can get when they discuss atheists. A lot of people claim that atheism doesn’t exist, and they say people claim to be atheists because they’re angry at something, but deep down they know God is real. Others just can’t understand why people would be so ignorant as to not believe that a guy in the sky created them and is watching their every move. But for the most part, people have an extreme anger towards atheists and really hate them. This is why I firmly believe that the first step in the secular movement should always be to humanize atheists in the minds of fundamentalists.
In high school, I didn’t really come out as an atheist until my senior year, and when people found out, they were shocked. At my school, anyone who wasn’t a straight, conservative Christian was known for what they were. One other guy at my school was an outspoken atheist and he was known as The Atheist. By the time I graduated high school, I was known as The Second Atheist, simply because I was open about my beliefs and willing to talk about them. However, when people found out, I got a lot of “But” comments.
“But you’re so nice!”
“But you’re so quiet!”
“But I thought you were smart???”
And so on. The people I told (who even knew what atheism was, because a surprising amount had no idea) had all these negative preconceived notions of what an atheist should be like. When I didn’t fit that mold, people weren’t sure how to react. For a lot of people at my high school, I was the first real life open atheist they had met, and it confused them.
However, once people found out, they were surprisingly receptive of my beliefs and what I had to say about why I am an atheist. They realized that maybe the atheist stereotype was wrong. My hope is that when the people I’ve talked to about my atheism have conversations about atheists with others, they’ll remember me and remember that at least one person they know doesn’t fit the stereotype.
Humanizing atheists is the first step in convincing people to try and understand our beliefs and respect them, which is the key to un-blurring the line between church and state. For this reason, I love the ads that the Freedom From Religion Foundation have put out that put a face to secularism. It’s crucial for secular people to be open about our beliefs (if it’s safe to do so) and talk to others about it so that they can reform their own ideas about what an atheist looks like. A surprising amount of people, especially in the South, have never met an atheist, and they only know what they see portrayed by others, on the news, in the media, and online, which can seriously damage atheists’ reputation. By being completely open about what I believe (for the most part, I’m still not quite willing to discuss my beliefs with my close family in Texas), I hope that others will see that maybe atheists aren’t all arrogant, immoral, baby-eaters.
Hopefully one day, people of all religions can talk about atheists and the secular movement without discrimination or blowing us off as egotistical assholes. Hopefully, atheists as a whole can be seen as people too.