"Coming out" as an atheist can be a risky proposition.
Friends might be confused about why you don't believe in a deity. You might even lose some.
I know because I have.
But were they friends to begin with if they rejected who you really are? Maybe not.
Everyone knows an atheist, most everyone respects an atheist, but they are unaware that the person sitting next to them is an atheist.
Some people call themselves agnostic. But we're talking about belief here, and Gnosticism has to do with what we know.
Theism and atheism has to do with what we believe. If you call yourself an agnostic and don't pray, don't go to church except for the holiday culture experience, and don't tithe, then you are behaving as an atheist does.
You don't have to know there isn't a God to believe there isn't a God. If you don't believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, supernatural "mind" that can survive in a perfect vacuum and transcends space and time, then the word "atheist" accurately describes your position.
There comes a time when verbally inhibiting your beliefs becomes too much of a burden, and the reward of coming out outweighs the risk of being ostracized. I have been openly atheist for most of my adult life, and I have found the gains far outweigh the losses.
But if you are in this quagmire, then here are some reasons to help you complete your transition.
•Join local groups: By meeting others and asking how they came out, you can strengthen your position and learn many techniques to use in sensitive situations. By participating in social organizations, you will automatically be supporting the secular movement and self-educating yourself on important political and cultural issues.
Ramp it up: You can consider saying your are a "materialist" or "naturalist" instead of the "A" word. (Make sure to remember the definitions of these two words.)
Talk to People of Faith: Your friends, relatives, and (very carefully) to work mates. You'll be surprised that many of them are moderate believers and have often thought about discarding their faith.
Be Cautious: Consider your job position, if not the financial implications there might be.
Unless your boss says, "I did not promote him/her because he/she is an atheist," it may be difficult to prove discrimination.
"Belief" and "faith" are words to avoid: They do not belong in the arena of describing empirical works when talking to religionists. Use the words "confidence in science and the scientific method " instead.
Why come out?
Because it will be easier for the next generation of non believers to come out. We must follow the path of the gay movement to expand the world of reality and not a fantasy afterlife. It's easier for people of faith to accept an atheist if they know an atheist, and, better yet, are friendly with an atheist.
Come out, come out, wherever you are. Be yourself, let others know how you believe and make this a better world by promoting a rational, reason-based belief system.
BRUCE GLEASON is the founder of Backyard Skeptics, a local grass-roots group that promotes science, reason and critical thinking. He is also the director of the Freethought Alliance organization, which will hold a secular conference on May 19 and 20.