Monday, September 7, 2009

Experiment: What Happens When You Advertise Your Atheism

So I just moved from san Francisco to San Diego. Everyone up in the Bay warned me: "San Diego is so conservative!" While I've learned to take it with a grain of salt any time my fellow Bay Areans tell me a place is conservative (compared to SF, where isn't?) I think it's probably true that San Diego is somewhat more conservative than SF.

So, when I ordered the following T-shirt from Cafe Press ("Proud to Be An American, Proud to Be An Atheist"), I wondered whether I would get negative reactions from anyone I ran into during the course of the Labor Day weekend. Since I bought this particular shirt because I thought it would be more likely to get positive consideration from people who would otherwise not give the time of day to an atheist, I hoped not. But: only one way to find out.

So, walking around at the beach or at grocery stores, I noticed a few glances my way, but no one said anything. Except for one person: a (strikingly attractive!) young woman working at the checkout counter at Mitsuwa Markets, who gave me a very nice smile and said "I dig your shirt." So much for all the warnings about conservative San Diego!

Let's review:

Negative consequences of wearing atheist shirt: none

Positive consequences of wearing atheist shirt: compliment from attractive female

If you're not out of the closet, or you hold back in advertising your atheism, I can only hope this serves as encouragement.


Innis said...

Heya. Welcome to UCSD, another Bay Area refugee here. I'm going into my fifth year here (friggin ERC). If you want to do anything with your atheism and want a hand from a frequently busy frequently lazy useless comp sci guy, shoot me a reply; I'm tired of just yelling back at the street preachers calling atheists axe murderers whenever they hit up Price Center.

Michael Caton said...

I *want* to meet these folks but I have yet to see them. Would definitely be cool to get together. I've noticed there's no active atheist group on campus so maybe it's time to start one.

Joshua said...

Well, did you see recent reports that atheists have more success with online dating? See for example:

Michael Caton said...

I did see that. I think rationalists do on-the-fence people a disservice when we overstate the tribulations of coming out. It's never been easier or more consequence-free. Or even actively beneficial, as you pointed out.

Joshua said...

Well, yes and no. For example there was a study a few years back that showed that atheists were treated more suspiciously than pretty much any other religious group in the United States (nota bene, I'm deliberately using the term religious group not religion. Atheism is a not a religion but it is a stance on religious issues. If one has a better term to use that includes religions and atheism I'll be happy to use it). Also, in the United States people are much more likely to rule out a priori voting an atheist into an elected office than any other minority group. (There was a Rasmussen poll to that effect in November of 2006 but I can't find a link to it right now).

Moreover, it may very well be that people who would be willing to date online would be more likely to either be atheists or be more tolerant of atheism. (One can construct a variety of hypothetical explanations).

So the situation in the United States is at least a bit more complicated.

On the other hand, in most of Europe, no one really cares one way or another.

But yes, some of the atheist worrying about this is a bit annoying. There's no way that atheists are being treated as badly as blacks were historically or even as gays still are treated in much of the US.

Michael Caton said...

I agree. Basically it boils down to, might you get hassled a little? Maybe in some communities. But no one is turning fire hoses on us or arresting us. Consequently, closeted atheists, come on out!