Surrounded by Christians and Scared for the First Time in Years

Hi, all...  So I've been pretty much fully out about my atheism for a number of years now.  Moreover, I've been relatively "loud and proud" about it at times.  I haven't felt like I've had anything to fear from revealing my identity to friends, coworkers, and acquaintances for quite some time, because I've had rather good experiences with acceptance from others.

Well, I just recently moved back to the area where I graduated from high school, and am now working as a paraprofessional in the Special Education department of one of the local high schools.  This area is a lot more saturated with Fundamentalist Christians and ultra-conservative types.  I'm surrounded by Christians and biblical literalists of all stripes as both colleagues and students.  In such a situation back where I was living, I would have taken the opportunity to improve the education of both my colleagues and students, not by actively promoting atheism, but by at the very least revealing myself as an atheist and exposing them to a cultural element that isn't what they've been spoon-fed since birth (there really is not much diversity to speak of in the area, either... it's a pretty small school district).

Thing of it is, for the first time in a very long time, I'm feeling genuine fear about revealing my atheism,, especially with my colleagues.  It seems to me on a basic level that by this point they should know me well enough and have gotten enough of a feel for me as a person that they would be able to still accept me as the same person they've come to know and respect regardless of my religious views... but I am also deeply familiar with the way some people in this area can act and have acted in reaction to me in years past, and that was just when I was simply questioning... not outright stating my atheist views.

So I guess I'm looking for advice.  I know that the district isn't going to fire me for being an atheist... it's a public school, so they can't.  I'm just more worried about the social repercussions of such a revelation than I have been since I first started coming out to my friends about 8 years ago...





Tags: Advice, Christians, coming, out

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I'd be worried too. A lot of people feel you are some sort of agent of Satan if you say you are an atheist publically. I don't have my finger on the pulse of your community of course, so hopefully I am wrong.
I don't really have my finger fully on the pulse yet, either, since I've only been back down here for about 2 months. What I do know from back when I used to live here, though, is that one of the big moneymakers for the area is Christianity. Branson has been described as Vegas for the Religious Right. There's a theater on the strip here called "God and Country." The high school I attended back in the day was still saying public prayer before sporting events in 2000 (and it got challenged and defeated on that issue that same year).

As for the specific pulse of the community of coworkers, there have been a couple of staff-only workdays (no students around) that have been catered by a local church, and at each of them a prayer was said before the meal. I did my usual atheist looking around the room to see if anyone else was "on my team" and every single person in the cafeteria other than me had their head bowed and eyes closed. Moreover, one of my fellow paraprofessionals works for the local uber-Christian fundamentalist summer camp (Kanakuk). Another went to the local private "Non-Denominational" Christian College (College of the Ozarks), and while talking it up to another staff member, mentioned how much she liked that they "weave Christian morals and views into the standard curriculum."

The teacher I'm working with regularly is a Glenn Beck fan, has quoted Christian comedians (specifically mentioning that they are Christian comedians, not just comedians), and called the current President of the United States "a liar" during an unguarded moment IN THE MIDDLE OF A LESSON!

So, yeah...
Yikes O' Rama!

But I bet there are lots of people all around you that really don't believe in God but they would never admit it to anyone and would not think it appropriate to admit it.

You sound like you have died and gone straight to hell LOL (sorry I know it's not funny).

I have worked with a few annoying Christians and that's for sure (drove me crazy - I never confronted them). I have had people at work come straight out and ask me about my religion (which I thought was kind of rude under the circumstances). I live in the Atlanta area. But nothing like what you are describing.

In the near future you may want to try starting a discussion under "Family and Community" and you will probably get a lot more responses.
I feel your pain. I was raised in a small rural town where, plainly put, it wasn't safe or smart to be an "out" atheist. A lot of hatred there. Then I went to college and gradschool where it was completely safe to be out in the open about my beliefs. And then... I moved to Ohio. Haha.

I kept it to myself until one day at work I couldn't anymore. I was talking to this one coworker at lunchtime and he just starts going off about how his pastor says that Atheists are satan worshippers and are the root of all evil yadda yadda and just love killing cats and raping kids etc... and he wished everyone could be as faithful as him and how he felt safe talking about this with me because I was obviously a good person and blessed in my life and therefore obviously as god fearing as him.

Ahem.

I couldnt help myself.

Now I didn't get upset or angry because I saw the opportunity to really change his perception. I said, "Now surely not every Atheist is a bad person?"
"My pastor says they are because anyone without God in their heart and who worships satan like atheists do has to be because they got no reason to be good."
"Well... you know Atheists don't really worship satan."
"Sure they do. They got to worship something, and if it's not God it's Satan"
"No, they just don't believe in God. And they don't believein Satan either, we're not gonna worship something we don't believe in."
"WE?!"
"Yes, I'm a dirty atheist."
"... But you're a good person... you don't believe in God?"
"Nope. No God."
"But you don't believe in Satan neither though right?"
"No Satan."
"You're a good person. I know you... you're a good person..."

"I'm gonna have to pray on this. I think my pastor might be wrong about Atheists."

And you know while he doesn't ever talk religion with me, he still talks to me. And for someone like him, that says a lot. He doesn't treat me any different than he did before.

After 5 years, I'm pretty much out at work. A few people still don't know, but most do. In the process I actually found 2 other atheists. Trust me, I'm the only one who knows they're atheists. One claims to be buddhist, just to say hes something, but it's just a cover story. The other one is a new hire and just very quietly told me... he wasn't ready to run around screaming about it, but felt safe telling me.

My advice is to lay low until you can get a read on people. Chances are if you let people get to know you first and then later they find out about that part of you, on average they'll be more accepting. A few won't, but they will be tempered by those who do accept and by peer pressure in general. If you really don't feel safe then you might look for some atheist meet up groups in your area just so you have some like minded people to talk to.

Overall I've found it's best to wait for the right moment. Wait for a moment when you can really challenge their held belief that Atheists are bad.
That's a very encouraging story, primarily because I think (or at least hope...) that there could be a similar reaction from the people I work with.

Now, as far as waiting for the right moment goes, we just got this survey at work from the Counselor's Office that's part of something called the "Happiness Committee" (sounds Orwellian, is not Orwellian) that is responsible for planning fun activities for faculty and staff to participate in as well as neat things to add to Professional Development days.

One of the questions is "What is something that nobody knows about you, that makes you interesting?" The survey is going to be submitted directly to the Counselor's Office, so it wouldn't be like broadwaving it to the whole school at the top of my lungs. I haven't turned it in yet, but I'm seriously considering revealing my atheism on this survey.

Thoughts?
I enjoy watching documentaries on cults and there are a few in your area. Be careful. I have been in your area and have seen some of that College of the Ozarks. I thought they were a cult, too.
Yikes, that's tough. It's always a battle in the workplace since ultimately the job is the important thing, but to have to stand by and listen to teachers talk about purposely subverting the curriculum to their own agenda is something I probably couldn't deal with. You might suggest that she be careful about doing it since an athiest might be in the class and report her?? If she asks who that might be, tell her "me!" hahaha
"I know that the district isn't going to fire me for being an atheist"

Perhaps not, but they can make it nearly impossible for you not to want to resign...

As others have said, i dont know your situation, but i would consider this to be a problem that is too big to crack for now, especially if you think you are doing it by yourself ...

M.
It's a dilemma. I don't come out and brag about it because I worry about my job, mostly. No, they can't fire you for being an atheist, but they can make your life miserable until you leave. I'm still in the don't ask dont tell stage of my atheism when it comes to work.
I teach in a small rural school where being a member of the Presbyterian Church tends to give you carte blanche to do or say whatever you wish (at least that's the way it seems). I'm not militant, but I don't hide my atheism in the slightest. I don't say the "under god" part of the pledge, and I refused to put up a "One Nation Under God" poster that every classroom got from an "anonymous donor" after 9/11. I haven't had any social repercussions that I've noticed.
One of the questions is "What is something that nobody knows about you, that makes you interesting?" The survey is going to be submitted directly to the Counselor's Office, so it wouldn't be like broadwaving it to the whole school at the top of my lungs. I haven't turned it in yet, but I'm seriously considering revealing my atheism on this survey.

I don't know about that. On the negative side - you could be setting yourself up for some really big headaches. On the positive side, you are a pioneer paving the way for others to stand-up for what they believe in (or don't believe in lol). If you decide to do it and it results in some headaches for you, you can always come here to vent and get support.
When I was employed by a state social service agency here in Northern Illinois, i was working alongside of three clergyman who were also state employees. Those types can never keep their damn mouths shut. I kept quiet about my own non-theism not out of fear but because you cant win an argument with professional believers. And they love to argue. Christianity is the little person`s fanaticism. I am truly sorry that some of my fellow rationalists are fearful to express their non-belief but at age 58, I`m too old to be afraid .Anyone who doesnt like my non-theism can fuck off.

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