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Zelda Gatuskin's
Humanist Message for April 2014
"Sure Cure for Dark Secrets: Daylight!"

[Reprinted from the HSNM April 2014 Newsletter.   Previous Essays]

We've heard many stories about discriminatory backlashes, not to mention painful rejection by family and friends, following an admission that one is nonreligious. Nonetheless, I still strongly endorse the "honesty is the best policy" policy. If we do not feel we can be honest about our non-faith without repercussions, then the choices are simple: bite your tongue, or go for it and bear the consequences. Take these two situations:

1. Many of your coworkers are overtly religious. They wear their crucifixes proudly, pepper their talk with prayerful exclamations, and sometimes read the bible at lunch. The boss goes to the same church. You're sure that if you mention attending HSNM meetings and describe what we talk about, you will be shunned and possibly lose the job, which would be a serious hardship. To me, that's an easy call: Keep your mouth shut. Those who are talking about personal religious beliefs in a public/work setting are out of line. Do not be drawn in. Modeling the behavior we value in a secular society is not accommodation, it is rational and ethical. I can't imagine any employer firing someone for saying, "I prefer not to talk about personal things at work."

2. Your family appears to be unanimous about lifestyle, "values" (religion) and politics. They assume you agree with their ideas, which you actually think are abhorrent, intolerant and/or delusional. Saying so in so many words would be hurtful, and you don't want to hurt them. They probably don't want to hurt you either, but they do. Unless this is the equivalent of a job (i.e., you're counting on a family loan or inheritance), there is not much harm to come from explaining how you really think and feel. Yes, you can be "fired" (disowned, shut out) from your family. One of the most feared consequences of this is losing contact with young neices, nephews and grandchildren. But look, these are your kin. If you don't know them well enough to pick and choose whom you can confide in safely, maybe missing out on the annual reunion wouldn't be such a great loss. Or, everyone could try to get to know each other better. Give them a chance to love you for who you are.

The hardest audience we ever have to perform for is our own family. Much is made about "coming out" on a public level, but the concern is often over just a few individuals - you may be comfortable sharing something with the world, but you donít want it to filter back to them. Have things out with these individuals. Or preemptively write them off and stop letting yourself be judged and undermined by them. This way, whatever you feel comfortable saying in public can't rebound on you in private.

How about that new acquaintance? They're wearing their six-pointed star and eagerly telling you about an upcoming religious festival. Will you chime in with equal enthusiasm about the humanist meeting you regularly attend? What about rolling your eyes and saying, "I'm not into that stuff," or "I don't believe in the supernatural"? What about just rolling your eyes? I didn't even realize I was making a funny face as a lovely new friend told me that the suffering in the world was a necessary component of the karmic cycle, in which one is reincarnated through a series of (hopefully) improved lives. I was speechless, and not nodding in agreement. She faltered. "Well, I believe in reincarnation, I don't know about you...." Right there, a little epiphany! I didn't need to say much more than, "I'm a skeptic," and we shifted the conversation back to things we had in common.

I realized then that the reason I choose not to "confront" or "come out" with people one-on-one has little to do with fear of rejection. Their judgment is not important to me - but their feelings are. I find myself protecting them as one would a child. Poor dears couldn't handle being told there is no Tooth Fairy. In other words, I'm the one feeling superior. My elitist attitude is not so different from that of a true believer who condescends to tolerate us poor lost sheep.

People who respect each other are honest with each other. On the other hand, life is full of superficial interactions that do not need to be teachable moments or all-on-the-line revelations. It's fun to debate among ourselves whether to be passive or assertive nonbelievers, but personally, I just try to be matter-of-fact about it. We skeptics do not have a dark secret that will make us pariahs if revealed. We have the empathy, imagination and critical thinking capacities that all humans possess. We should also have the courage of our convictions.

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