I've been an atheist pretty much since about age 12, maybe sooner. I am now 22. In all those years, through middle school, high school, and college, I have never met anyone who I know is a real atheist. Back in high school there were some wannabe rebel "fuck god" kinda people but that's about it. I have no atheist friends. Thankfully my parents and friends aren't all that religious. The extent of their religiousness is the occassional "things happen for a reason", "they'll get what they deserve" (which is more karma than god), "they've gone to a better place" when someone dies, and sometimes getting dragged to church with their families. Never gets talked about, is no big part of their life even though I know they do believe in God.
I've never talked to someone about atheism, I've never talked to an atheist except on the net, and I don't think I've ever even told anyone I was an atheist except maybe one friend, but maybe some friends can tell. I'm pretty sure my friends wouldn't care, but on the chance they do, I guess I don't want to make an issue of it. I wouldn't deny it or anything, but I guess it just never comes up, which is ok with me. I think my mom figures but I haven't told her anything explicitly. I think my boyfriend kinda knows now but we haven't talked about it or anything he just knows I want to go to an freethought/atheist convention in Austin next month.
I think it's not telling those close people that scares me, but that it would possibly travel from there. Maybe their parents would find out, other friends, other family members, my possibly future in laws... and I live in a big hispanic community where everyone is Catholic and everyone's parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles have a strong faith. Very judgemental in this regard. I'm a good person and it is sad that I might get looked at different just for that. I do plan to be much more open tho. I'm getting more involved in atheism and reading and researching and listening to atheist podcasts, etc and I see how important it is to be open and for the world to see me, to see us, because I bet there are many of us out there who are protecting themselves and their interests by keeping their thoughts to themselves. Which is fine, but when other people want to trample on our rights, it's important for the world to see us and know its not acceptable like they have with gays, Jews, racial minorities, even women. They wouldn't dream of treating those groups like they treat us. And also the public image of atheists is horrible. People need to see and understand we're just like everyone else. And that we are everywhere and they run across us everyday without incident. We're the good samaritans, the good parents, the honor roll students, the friendly co-workers, the humanitarians, the moral and just people and everything else. We're good, and of course some are not so good, just like everyone else. We just have no promise of heaven or threat of hell that makes us kind and compassionate and moral.
Well let me get to my point.... a place like this is great because there's no fear element. No dodging subjects, no hiding. Everyone knows our "little secret". I know that even if no one reads this, I don't have to worry about being judged or chastized for my beliefs. Knowing about others and having even the idea of support and doing things like reading and listening to shows has given me the inspiration and the courage to be more open and to not be so afraid anymore. I'm not alone and it seems to me that it'll only get better for us. I feel our situation is much like what gay people have and are going through. What once was fatally taboo is now socially acceptable and it is now more taboo for people to judge and discriminate gays. I think that is our future also. The more we're seen the more we will be accepted and we can have the power of organizations like GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League to watch our backs and help protect our rights.
This site is a great place not only to talk to people of a like mind, but may also help people like myself find support and get inspiration to step up and help bring awareness and acceptance that'll help our public image and make us harder to ignore and step on. With all the seperation of church and state issues out there, I know I will do my part to stand up and be heard and counted.