It is not hard to see or understand why Atheists become closet Atheists. A research study in 2005 revealed that Atheists are the most distrusted minority group, even above Muslims. I do not know exactly where this kind of misled hatred comes from, as you never hear about Atheists in the news, except when they are involved in a lawsuit or are being discriminated against.
In an interview on Fox News in 2006, a panel reviewed a case in which an Atheist family was claiming discrimination when their daughter has kicked off the basketball team for not participating in the group prayer before the game. The panel did not have one kind word or even one representative of the Atheist perspective. There were so many complaint letters, they actually had to do a follow-up panel and actually included an Atheist on the panel. There were still no kind words to be found, or sympathy for the family, even though there was ample evidence that the family was indeed being discriminated against.
One panel member actually said that “Atheists should just shut up because this is God’s country and they are lucky to be here.” This is the mentality of people who are both intolerant but also have lingering fundamentalism that only applies to Atheists, but not people of other religions. It is a double standard and hypocrisy, yet it still happens and has happened all throughout history. It is this kind of mentality, injustice, intolerance, and behavior that leads to closet atheism.
From a personal perspective as an Atheist in the closet and as someone who knows many atheists in the same predicament, there are other reasons as well more specific, such as where you live in the US and personal experiences. For example, I personally have been met with hatred, insults, yelling, screaming, outrage and even on one occasion violence, when people found out that I was an atheist. Now, I could have kept fighting and stayed out in the open, but constantly being met with this kind of abuse really wears on you after a while and it becomes easier just to go in the closet about your beliefs. I also personally heard a threat from a person one time, that if he ever met an atheist he’d probably kill him. I wish I was exaggerating on this, but I live in the south where intolerance and ignorance still prevail.
Why other Atheists do not disclose their beliefs to anyone?
One such person was a former co-worker who was fired from her job because her boss found out she was an Atheist. Most people judge and say this was a story or likely excuse for poor performance. However, as usual, the evidence and reality tell the true story. Our boss was a Mormon and upon finding out, pulled her aside and tried to get her to go to church with him and asked her on several other occasions in front of other workers. He also left religious cards on her desk and sent her e-mails with scriptures. Before he found out, her performance reviews were “above-average”. The first performance review after he found out was “needs improvement” and dropped to “below-average” on the last review, which coincided with when she told him to not to bother her with religion anymore. She was let go after that and could have sued as she had more than ample evidence. However, she chose to move on and just be a little more careful about disclosing her beliefs in the future. I have read hundreds of similar stories and brushed off most of them until I witnessed this kind of ridiculous behavior first hand.
Many reasons why Atheists go into the closet
Many do this out of fear for losing their jobs, losing their life, being met with violence or hatred, being kicked off a sports team, losing friends, losing family and other such reasons. Most I find, however, that they just do not want any more drama in their lives than they already have on a daily basis. Now I would say that about 70% of the reactions to my Atheism were questioning my beliefs, engaging in a personal debate and basically all of them requiring me to defend my position. It gets tiring getting asked the same questions over and over again. It also gets tiring hearing the same misconceptions, bigotry, and ignorance.
At one point in a debate after being met with much spite, I challenged a Christian to think about how he treats people of different beliefs. I challenged him to proclaim he is an Atheist for a day to his friends, to strangers, and to his family. I wanted him to see how Atheists are treated and how it feels. I doubt he did this, after all, it is so much easier to judge from a distance to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. Well, I have walked a mile as a Christian and a mile as an Atheist and it amazes me that a faith that proclaims to be all about love and understanding, can inspire such hate and intolerance.