It’s impossible to overstate the simple power of feeling as if you belong.
It’s a feeling that leads too many of us to change who we are in order to fit in. It keeps people in the closet, in the pews, or in their social group. All for the sake of belonging. Losing this feeling is terrifying, and and can have consequences ranging from simple social awkwardness to full ostracism. For this reason, many of us chose to remain silent in order to get by. It’s a social convenience for some, and survival for others.
I’ll never forget the first time I said “I’m an atheist” to anyone that would have any effect over my life. It was to a new coworker during a discussion of the upcoming holidays and the topic of church came up. I told him that I didn’t go to any holiday church services because I’m an atheist, and he paused before stammering out, “oh, I’m one too.”
I’ve felt this way so many times since becoming out and proud about my atheism. The “me too!” will pop us from the most unexpected of places. The word “atheist” usually don’t come up, but softer words like agnostic, freethinker, or phrases like “I don’t go to church either” are usually uttered very quietly. I’ve only met one social acquaintance who would say the a-word out loud, and we greeted one another with the biggest high five imaginable.
I’ve mentioned here before that I was lucky enough to meet Aron Ra at last year’s California Freethought Day. He signed my copy of his book and was kind enough to take a picture with me. I posted the picture on Facebook later that day and was surprised at how many friends knew who he was! He’s not particularly mainstream so it was then that I knew just how many “me toos” were hiding around me.
Of course, I have also experienced varying degrees of contempt, disappointment or pity when sharing my disbelief. I’m very fortunate that living in California affords me the luxury or being more open than in other places.
Still, if you are able I greatly encourage speaking up, especially in the most benign of circumstances. You never know when you’ll hear, “me too.”