Tearing Down Sterotypes

Pave the way for atheism… in less than 3 minutes.

I love my job. It’s part professional atheist and part defender of Jefferson’s wall of separation between state and church. As an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, I spend most days writing letters and filing lawsuits on unconstitutional religious intrusions into our government. But occasionally, I go the halls of government to lobby for the secular movement.

On a recent trip, I visited a nameless southern state legislator’s office. My FFRF colleague Sam Grover and I sat down with a legislative correspondent. She was on her way out of the office, 'I can give you three minutes,' she said.

Can you make any positive impact in three minutes? Yes. You can have a polite conversation. Then, after you’ve shown that you’re a nice, normal American, you come out of the closet.

I was wearing my scarlet letter, the Atheist 'A' pin on my tie. 'You must be a ‘Bama fan,' she said, pointing at the pin, mistaking the scarlet letter of Dawkins’ ‘Out’ campaign for the University of Alabama logo.

'No, it’s worse than that, I’m an atheist.' I said it proudly, with a smile and watched her head explode. Hyperbole aside, her eyes betrayed the preconceived notions and stereotypes demolished by those three words, 'I’m an atheist.' Clearly, she had never met an out atheist, and certainly not on Capitol Hill. Yet, here was one—in her office!—happy and gracious.

Pete’s Manual is correct, we can’t win with only facts. But we can learn from facts and the LGBT movement. For instance, why do people change their minds on gay marriage? In 2013, more than 28% of people who supported same-sex marriage were previously opposed to gay marriage. Of that 28%, 32% changed their minds simply because they know someone who is LGBT. That’s it. Knowing someone who happens to be gay is enough to change more than 13 million minds on something as divisive and emotional as gay marriage.

Obviously I didn’t convince that staffer to become an atheist. But I did shatter her belief in the evil atheist monster. I was a living example that refuted everything her religion had ever told her about atheists—a kind face on a once faceless fear. And if her preachers were wrong about me, what else might they be wrong about?

People will never choose to become something they’ve been taught to loathe. Even if you’ll never be able to talk people into becoming an atheist, you can pave the way for others. Come out of the closet and shatter people’s misconceptions of the immoral atheist. Live your life well, live your life without God(s), and have the courage to be proud of your atheism. —Andrew Seidel