Coming Out Atheist, pgs 237-238

Jul 26, 2016

“And there are parts of the world where simply being an atheist and defying religion can result in your family beating you, personally imprisoning you, or worse – as atheist activist Amina discovered, when she posted a topless photo of herself with the slogan “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” and “fuck your morals,” and was kidnapped by her family, denied contact with friends and supportive organizations, beaten, taken to a psychiatrist, drugged, forced to read the Koran and take to imams, and given an invasive “virginity test.”
Elsewhere in this book, I’ve advised atheists to build a safety net before they come out, as much as they can: to find an atheist community in case they lose their religious one, and to build some savings and get their resumes in order if coming out could mean losing their job.
For you, that safety net should probably include a plan to get out of the country. Make sure your passport is in order. Make contact with people in other countries. If you possibly can, acquire job skills that you can take with you anywhere. And of course, for you, the whole “be careful who you tell, as soon as you start telling people the dam could burst, don’t tell anyone you don’t profoundly trust unless you’re willing for everyone to know” thing is a whole lot more important. It could be a matter of life or death.”

–Greta Christina, Coming Out Atheist, pgs 237-238


45 comments on “Coming Out Atheist, pgs 237-238

  • It could be a matter of life or death.”

    While I’m all in favor of coming out and appreciate the importance of this both on an individual level and as a supportive gesture for all atheists everywhere, can we in good conscience expect or advise atheists who are in a life or death risky environment to do so?

    We don’t need martyrs. Better to stay alive and make subtle changes where you are. It’s not effective to make changes in one’s own country when one isn’t even living in that country anymore. If we have an atheist who makes a flamboyant gesture and then ends up exiled or in prison, what good is it? Here today gone tomorrow. If things are too dangerous out there then moderate your statement, work within the system and have the goal of real change.

    One good secular leader in a family can do so much to diminish the bad old traditions and religious ideas and replace them with positive change. If every family had someone who could think outside the box and had the guts to exert influence on others close to them then we’d be getting somewhere fast.

    Learn those holy books. They contradict themselves on every other page and can be used against fundamentalists very easily. There are psychological manipulations that achieve decent results against the people who are so brainwashed that they can’t see the forest for the trees. It works.

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  • @ #1. I fully agree. Sadly, the reality is that the majority of women under islamic rule, cannot get an education, or a useful job; Malala being shot in the head is a stark reminder of how bad life under islam can be.
    A woman under islam is nothing more than a sperm receptacle and a slave to be bought, sold or abandoned. Women may have the intelligence to appreciate their position, but not the means to change anything. As long as rabid mullahs and ayatolla’s rule the roost, nothing will change.
    However, the islamic people in the west start to influence the middle east, so there is a small ray of hope for eventual enlightenment.

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  • **”I’ve advised atheists to build a safety net before they come out, as much as they can: to find an atheist community in case they lose their religious one, and to build some savings and get their resumes in order if coming out could mean losing their job.
    For you, that safety net should probably include a plan **to get out of the country.”****
    I don’t see how this applies to anyone in the West. Here in the US, what is the necessity for anyone to “come out” in the first place? One’s religious ideas are private and personal, there is no need to mention them to anybody, except as one cares to. As these religious ideas and mental states usually change gradually in any event, should we be obliged to notify those around us what those incremental changes are from day to day? Or to make an announcement of some sort at the end of the process? If one is young, uncertain of him- or herself, and in a family situation, still living at home, etc., leaving off churchgoing might present a ticklish situation. But that’s for each person to figure out for him- or herself. After you’re 21, even if you’re still living at home, it’s nobody’s business what you do on Sunday mornings. Neither are your private opinions. By that age you should have figured out your personal identity, i.e., who you are. If you live in extremely provincial circumstances, i.e., some backwater town in the Bible Belt, the challenge will perhaps be greater, but there comes a time in every life when you have to put on your big-boy, (or big-girl) pants. Because now the question becomes “Are you an adult or still a child?” Or to put in more old-fashionedly, are you a man or a mouse? Figure it out, kids, and leave home as soon as you can. If that’s not possible, then put yourself in shape to stand up for your rights–you’re going to have to one day. Toughen yourself intellectually, take courage, and “press on regardless.” Your soul is your own, don’t let anybody push you around.

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  • Greta Christina, in that paragraph from her book, must be addressing some Atheist living in an extremely regressive Islam country. I would not think that too many Americans could say they are as fearful as described in that paragraph.

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  • Hal,

    You’re right. What’s the big deal about “coming out” in America? Maybe in some very religious, uptight families it’s an issue. But people can handle themselves; they don’t need a primer, or another self-help book.

    I think it is far more important, and far more difficult, to become an atheist, to be able to reject what one was taught and learn to think for oneself. That is what is important (here in the US); coming out is a breeze compared to that.

    I live in New York City, have progressive and enlightened friends and family members, and would be more afraid of saying that I am religious (which I am not) than “coming out” as an atheist.

    The paragraph makes it sound like it’s about living in a regressive, violent Muslim country, as hgldr said. This could be useful – although how would these useful tips make there way over to the people who really need them? And how does this American blogger know her ideas will work? And it is not at all clear that that is what the book is about anyway, which is annoying. So I googled the book and read a short, favorable book review. Nothing I read in that review makes it clear either, and I am not terribly anxious to do more research. Too much work.

    Speaking of coming out, President Obama came out this past evening at the convention and delivered an historic speech.

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  • Further to Greta’s commentary on the experience of Amina Tyler and her Femen inspired protests in Tunisia. I think a further warning is needed for those following in her shoes. She created one of the great agit prop images with herself photographed, slogans written written on her bare body reclaiming it from patriarchs, smoking, wrists bandaged as if cut, Reading a Book! A fantastic slap in the face for more people than she bargained.

    When the protest was reported here a few years ago, the nudity caused her to be abandoned by some of the prissy feminists here, rather than supporting her right to do what the hell she likes with here own body. Feminists here endorsed the shocked reaction of the oppressor patriarchs by condemning the nudity….. men might see and fall in lust. Put a burka on that asap, woman! The result put her in further danger, because it showed the West endorsing the patriarch view, the image unacceptable for a woman.

    So, in coming out in Tunisia and the like don’t expect support from a number American and UK feminists. Greta…she good on these matters. Sexually grown up.

    Amina may well have helped Tunisia grow up a bit too as an increasingly tolerant country. She now lives more safely in France, a country not subject to American prissiness but sadly targeted by IS for its liberality

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  • phil rimmer #6
    Jul 28, 2016 at 3:40 am

    Further to Greta’s commentary on the experience of Amina Tyler and her Femen inspired protests in Tunisia.
    When the protest was reported here a few years ago, the nudity caused her to be abandoned by some of the prissy feminists here, rather than supporting her right to do what the hell she likes with here own body.
    The 19 year old Tunisian FEMEN activist whose only “crime” was to post a topless photo of herself saying: “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” and “fuck your morals”.

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  • Re-reading those I still fume at what I see as self destructive “feminist” positions.

    I have met so many feminists who support their “Sisters” right to wear the burka that I have shaken my head at their crass-stupidity. But then again, when I opined that the burka is the ultimate expression of male-oppression, they rolled their eyes and muttered things about white supremacist patriarchal misogynist….
    You cannot possibly win.

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  • Phil #6

    I was just wondering who the book is trying to help, and what qualifies this author, who I have never heard of – but appears to be part of the blog scene – as an expert in this area, and whether it is responsible to offer practical advice on how to escape the perils associated with the struggle for liberation amid foreign, repressive and highly punitive cultures. Nor could I figure out who her audience is supposed to be, who she is trying to reach. I did a small amount of research, learned nothing, and then quickly lost interest.

    I am suspicious of (skeptical with regard to) atheist bloggers (and to the commodification of dissent in general), as some of them – and I base this on the articles I have read online – are opportunistic, are not intelligent, and use atheism to gain profit and to advance their own ideological agendas.

    You cannot possibly win.

    You win by adopting, with resignation, this attitude:

    “You know, the older you get, the more you begin to depend upon irony as the last human element you can rely on. Whatever exists will, sooner or later, be turned inside out.” —Norman Mailer

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  • Sorry, Dan, I can’t help you with Greta Christina. I approve of her only in so far as her support for Amina Tyler was real and not compromised. I have in my mind cast her with Maryam Namazie as being a world engaged feminist free of parochial concerns. (It was notable that in the Amina threads Namazie was dissed.) But I know insufficient about her to have any opinion of mine about her taken seriously.

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  • I remember that, Phil. You might encounter that kind of thing again. If you do try to take a step back (as you usually do) and look at it scientifically. (Not always easy, is it?) And maybe ask yourself where that fits in with Haidt’s moral foundation theory (if you can), which you have discovered since then. (Liberty – at all costs? extreme Loyalty?)

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  • My comment number 50 from that old thread.

    You are aggravated and I feel that through the intertubes. I want to say that your views are important here whether or not I/we agree or disagree, (and in the great majority of cases, I agree). Just lately, for example, what you said about charity on another thread is something that I would not have come up with on my own in this place (US) and I appreciate your input on those wrenching Amina Tyler threads. It’s very easy to pipe up with arguments and disagreements in conversation (for me) but I’m trying to remember that even the most resilient among us need direct positive reinforcement as well. You make a difference here.

    Every word still applies.

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  • Laurie,

    Thanks….as ever.

    I am surprised at how I still burn over this/that issue. My outrage, not expressable at the time, over the continued denigration of Amina Tyler… (a “child”…mental health experts should have been consulted) the dismissal of Namazie showed more intellectual violence to women than I had witnessed here for many years. The hacking off of inconvenient women to build a stronger group sickens me even now. This was not cool for cats.

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  • phil

    I still burn over this/that issue.

    Interesting how the emotion lingers. I mean it’s just words and ideas in black and white on a boring screen. o_O There are some old threads that I won’t dare to read because I’m afraid I’d post a flaming comment even now, in defense of my previous self.

    I read through both of those old threads and they now seem so weirdly disjointed. All over the place. Plenty of comments deleted now including some of mine. What a bunch of apes we are.

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  • 19 cont. “(Liberty – at all costs?)”

    Phil, I have tiny little theory about what might be described as the psychopathology of political arguments.

    I was looking at some old threads, like the one you gave the link to. Why does everyone have to be right all the time? I include myself. I like to be right too. But why is it so important to convince one person or a handful of people that one is right (even if one is)? I think arguments have an unconscious symbolic aspect to them. There are people on this site who will argue with, say, an abortion rights “troll” or a Trump supporter and will not desist until all of one’s energy is exhausted. Why? I suspect that this impulse is rooted in (unconscious) symbolic-magical thinking of a kind, an omnipotence of thought: if I can convince this person then all people will be convinced. If I can’t then all is lost; no one will ever be convinced and nothing will ever change.

    Could this have something to do with the moral foundation of Liberty? (Haidt) Allow me to be heard. Do not oppress me. Allow my ideas to be set free. Let us not be oppressed.

    Then again, we all want to make a difference (create a ripple effect), be heard, and reach people. It’s not black and white.

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  • Yes Dan! Of course you make a difference!

    It is one of my personal leadership goals to give the people around me more positive reinforcement. This was not part of my family growing up and I never realized it was missing until later in life. So it’s not part of my natural repertoire but I’m now reminding myself to do so whenever I can. Not a perfect picture.

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  • Thank you!!

    I will agree to your being my chief of staff but that doesn’t give you the right to make my cabinet appointments. Don’t get above your station in this life !!! Was that sexism???? Hmmm….I’ll just bet some guy is doing the same thing to Hillary right now.

    I have a confession to make: in spite of this admonition, I asked Steven007 to be your VP! Please don’t fire me!

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  • Dan

    Why does everyone have to be right all the time?

    Personal integrity is enhanced if you are right, one test of which is being endorsed by others.

    When young social status was gained by saying an agreeable thing first. Meme theory has it that successful people are the most copied (stars etc.) Being copied in your pronouncements is a marker thereby of success.

    Now I am most proud of posts that often get no upticks and not particularly proud of those that get plenty.

    My concern is not for people’s opinions but the facts (or lack of them) upon which they depend. I don’t expect to change people’s moral “aesthetics” and will take those as inaccessible, but I will try, after addressing matters of fact, to find a basis for more mutually beneficial views. Though I hadn’t the time to engage Darrel our war Vet Trump voter, if I had I would have argued on the basis of endeavouring to make your country better as being the ultimate in loyalty to it. I would never undercut his own sense of loyalty. War Vets earn respect.

    Besides, I argue most with those most like me. Nearing perfection shows the remaining flaws most keenly….

    All errors of fact need correcting for the onlookers. The internet one day will get fixed….

    Finally, now status wears thin, I love to find out when I am wrong. It happens on things great and small. I love, love, love being told a useful new thing.

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  • Phil

    Now I am most proud of posts that often get no upticks and not particularly proud of those that get plenty.

    Take some of this with a grain of salt. Observation with no data: The most “like” upticks are to the comments in the beginning of every thread.

    People who want to win question of the week should pounce on the opportunity to get the comment in there first or at least in the top five. I give this strategy away (ethical obligation of benevolence) because I’m not eligible to win any books now. (purest altruism for which I want full credit!) 😉

    Remember when we could see the names of those who liked our comment? That added a whole level of social drama. 😀

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  • JEEZIS Olgun! You got a certificate?!! I got nuttin. 🙁 Well, except for a free awesome book. But STILL.

    What am I? Chopped liver?!

    Don’t answer that.


    Don’t worry about the upticks. Meh, who’s counting anyway.

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  • Hi, Phil, Olgun, Laurie, others:

    Yes, that is true, Phil Integrity. Yep.

    My so-called theory does not deserve to be called one. I was just improvising, as it were. What I really think is that good people, especially philosophers and scientists, who have a sense of truth, and of right and wrong (and let’s not get into definitions now; you know what I mean) are pained when an idea that they regard as true is not appreciated. It is nothing other than truth and humanity themselves that suffer – and the conscientious amongst us (people such as yourselves), people who are humane, must feel a sense of loss when truth is denied or suppressed. Whether it is one obstinate person we are dealing with or half of an entire nation, the denial of truth and reason must produce pain. Truth is one. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, said King. A lie anywhere is a lie everywhere.

    But I also think that there is a lot to be said for resignation, acceptance and humility. Look at all the great men and women throughout history who were persecuted or murdered for being right. Not only were they disagreed with, they were executed, tortured. We must learn from them, and be willing to pay the price of martyrdom. Today, in the West, we are not killed for being right; we are merely silenced and contradicted. Strindberg once said that it is a sublime privilege to be accused of a crime you did not commit. Perhaps there is nobility in allowing oneself being “out-argued.” Resignation. Next time you find yourself confronted by an obnoxious interlocutor and he just has to be right and you know he isn’t, just take a moment, step back and say: I appreciate you passion and your perspective, or something like that. You will be surprised by how ennobling and salutary a gesture like that can be.

    And remember: a lie cannot live forever.

    (I hope this post made sense: I am exhausted.)

    Btw, I love getting likes and not consistently self-confident enough to take pleasure in posts that get none. On one thread I had about eighty! (It was one of the first on the thread.) But nothing beats Laurie’s smiley faces.

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  • Maybe it’s true that on the threads where passions run high, every one of those likes become a super validation whereas on the more sedate topics they’re just winks 😉

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  • Perfect topic. I got into it today with my dad who started telling me Jesus is your creator you just willfully wont believe. I said theres no evidence for anything your saying, your making assertions. Then i asked him wheres Jesus or God if they are living as you claim, he tells me hes a spirit. I said people make the same claims about ghosts. So he says look at the human body its created. I told him ive taken biology and an evolution class online theres no evidence for creationism. He keeps saying look at the human body, your a sinner. Wait til you die. I said i dont believe in talking snakes and walking zombies, he starts going off, Jesus came to save you, 1000s of witnesses, faith is gift, Jesus is absolute truth. Insanity…. i hate religion, usually my dad is a kind man but his dogma, sheesh.

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  • 36
    fadeordraw says:

    The parts of the world where one needs fear an atheist declaration, if a declaration needs be, are Africa and some South East Asia. If folks in the USA has such a fear, my guess is it’s a paranoia; i.e., an unfounded fear. The sociological persuasions against science and logic, which are counter to business and economic growth, is not really a challenge to succumb to, rather than easily overcome.

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  • I think in the US it is social reprucussions, 90% of both sides of my family are fundamentalists. And as i was talking about above it can be rough when only you and one cousin are non-believers. 90% of my coworkers are Christian, most moderate, but it depends what part of the country you are in. I dont need to announce im Agnostic just to do it, but if someone trys to shove Jesus down my throat, which happens frequently, i will come back hard, im not going to back down because i dont believe in outrageous tales and refuse to worship a bronze age middle eastern book.

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  • @Brandon

    I wish you well on the front line, as it were. I’ve been fortunate in never having had to put up with religion pushers since leaving school, except the odd door-to-door JW variety, who are easily dismissed.

    One response I’ve considered, but never had the chance to try out, for repelling the pushers is to draw their attention to one of their Seven Deadlies, Pride. Aren’t they indulging in the sin of pride by trying to tell me that they know better than I do about what I need to be doing or thinking or believing? I have my own viewpoint, and I’m not so full of pride that I’m pushing it at them. In other words, using their own terminology: “Go in peace and sin no more”, or more forcefully “Back Off Sinner.”

    I’ve no idea how useful that response would be.

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  • Even in the liberal, relatively unchurched state of Massachusetts I’m constantly fielding religious statements that I either ignore or counter in the most diplomatic way that I can at those times. It depends on how forceful my interlocutor is and sometimes there’s no wiggle room at all. When someone comes right up to me with a statement like, “Your father is in a better place right now. He’s in heaven with Jesus and the angels.” What should I say? I can either nod in agreement -a blatant lie, or I can try to wiggle out of it while assuming that the person is nice and really means well and that they are sincerely trying to make me feel better about something terrible. So these aren’t really the people that I’m worried about.

    The time I slipped up and that I really feel bad about was when a woman that is always so kind and caring caught me in a bad moment and said (about my father), “You know he’s in a better place right now, right? You must believe that he’s in a better place.” Upset, I replied, “What’s wrong with this place?! He didn’t want to leave this place here with us. He didn’t want to die.” This shocked her and we both just stood there silent for a minute. In that moment we both knew that there was a chasm between us that couldn’t be bridged. It’s at funerals that I see that chasm between the believers and the nonbelievers at it’s most obvious state.


    one of their Seven Deadlies, Pride

    I have used the reminder of the sin of pride many times against those devout Christians who think they are so high and mighty that they have the right to judge others for their “sins”. It works. This is why it’s useful to know the Bible and the Koran well enough that we can fling the words right back at them. The Koran, like the Bible warns the true believers that they need to be humble and refrain from judging their fellow Muslims and to avoid ostentatious displays that point to self importance.


    Hang in there. You’ve got a hard road there and it’s not easy to maintain relationships with family, friends and coworkers who are devout and see everything through their religion. The paragraph presented above is aimed at nonbelievers like you who stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Just for now, try not to get those religious family members riled up. Their reactions are based in fear I think. They are frightened for you when they hear you “blaspheme” against God and Jesus. They imagine themselves in heaven some day and that you won’t be there with them because you’ll be burning in hell for eternity. They must be petrified of this imminent possibility. Of course we think this is stupid and unbelievable. They want to bring you back into the family fold where everyone will be safe and happy. I think that the stronger you push against this then the stronger and more fearful their reaction will be against you, in their view, for your own best interests. Try to demonstrate and point out to them that you are a good person and acting in line with their values no matter where the motivation comes from and that if their so called judgement day were to take place tomorrow that you’d be in good standing no matter who is waiting for us at those pearly gates. If they agree to this then they may back off a little.

    I haven’t read the book that the paragraph above is taken from but maybe you would benefit from doing so. I’ve read other books by the author Greta Christina and I do breeze through her blog from time to time. I think she’s a very reasonable person and must have suffered through a serious coming out on at least two fronts that I know of. She is gay and she is an atheist so I know that I’ve never faced any difficulty in coming out like she must have in her life. She’s a braver person than I am for sure.

    If nothing else, it’s therapeutic for you to hang out here on this website and get plenty of virtual support. There are some commenters here who live in places where they don’t encounter devout religious people every time they turn around. They may have no way to relate to those of us who fend off irrational brainwashed religious people all around us on a regular basis. But there are plenty of us here who can definitely relate to what you’re going through. These are the atheists who will give you the most support and there are plenty of us out there. It’s worth a lot I can say that for sure. Good luck to you Brandon.

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  • This excerpt and the discussion it has engendered were just interesting reading for me up until a few days ago. My 89-year-old mother passed away early in the morning after a long struggle with dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s. Back when she was still lucid she made me her executor, and was very clear about what she wanted at the end of her life. No church service, no grave, no sad music, no invocation of a “higher power”. She wanted a get-together of family and any friends that might still be alive, lots of stories and laughter, and then to join her husband’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean.

    This has raised some interesting social issues: for one thing, she was a brilliant musician and at one time in her life was a church organist. She grew up on the buckle of the Bible Belt, Kansas. By any measure one could have expected her to remain a good Methodist her entire life—her mother’s maiden name was Calvin, for goodness’ sake—but along the way, she changed.

    American society is still so rooted in faith practices that questions like “When is the service going to be?” are automatic. As a result I have had to come up with several workarounds. I try to steer the conversation to the word Memorial instead of Service. When told that she’s in “a better place” I smile and note that except for her illness she was extremely happy and active right here on earth her entire life. If pressed further, I offer up the somewhat lame explanation that Mom sort of “left religion behind” several decades ago. For some people this is uncomfortable to hear, and I’m sorry about that, but I’m not about to go against Mom’s wishes. To be clear, she never “came out” to me; she was a very private person in that regard and we are free to draw our own inferences. Obviously all of this is trivial compared with the trials and physical danger faced by non-believers who must live in repressive states—but I do find it interesting that the subject of coming out as a non-believer can in some ways affect one even after one’s death.


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  • Peter
    My sympathies go out to you for the loss of your mother. Very nice that you respected her end of life wishes. I hope everything went smoothly. It’s a stressful time when someone close to us dies. My father died this past April and something that comforted me was knowing that there were people all around me who had also buried their parents in grief and that somehow they’ve got through it alright. Find positive support where you can and block the negative. Best wishes to you.

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  • Dare I say, can I say, that as a straight, white, male who is an atheist, and is an atheist because truth be told I think we are all atheists and just vary in our degree of atheism, that after reading this post I feel just a touch what it must have felt to be Jewish in a Nazi world or a rebellious woman in a conservative Muslim world? Perhaps it’s too much to say so. But in a modern, 21st Century U.S. society I see my social cache plunged the moment the topic of religion comes up and in a good-hearted manner I stand up for atheism. It’s as if I stood up for nun-beating or bank robbing. I cannot imagine what such a stand would mean in a fundamentalist world, say in Saudi Arabia, where the last time I visited a friend the call to prayer sounded and his children saw I wasn’t praying and wide-eyed and in fear asked if I was an infidel. And so I walk around, as I suspect many of us do, cloaked and hooded, even in most “modern” countries, and simply deflect conversations regarding religion or “higher powers.” And while I am not gay, all of a sudden the words “coming out” have an entirely new meaning for me.

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