"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Saturday, April 19, 2003

Excellent article (though in a more secularised society like Singapore's, there's really nothing to come out of):

Coming Out - Atheism: The Other Closet

"The religious right have engaged an a war of words and slander against their greatest enemy: the logic and common sense of atheism. The Bible goes so far as to forbid contact with atheists (2 Corinthians 6:14), thereby stemming debate and preventing the incursion of logical, non-religious ideas entering the flock... Only a small portion of atheists are open (out of the closet) about their atheism, and as a result we are viewed as a much smaller percentage of the population than we really are. In other words, the legislators are paying less attention to us than they should. In still other words, the Christian Right are winning.

To me, one of the best components of atheism is the freedom of thought and mind. Prejudice against people of other sexes, races, or sexual preferences is rare, because most of such prejudice is religion-based and completely illogical. We argue with each other, thrive on debate, and feel like we're better people after we've been proven wrong. We do good because it's the right thing to do, not out of a selfish fear of eternal damnation or a need to "win points" with a deity... Since we are bound only by our disbelief, there are atheists with differing views on every political, economic, and social issue. I view this as a benefit which should serve as a model from which the rest of the world could learn. Atheists are united in diversity. We are moral, we are ethical, and we're tired of being defamed and maligned for our disbelief. Sound familiar?

The fact is, that there is nothing shameful about atheism. Rather, it should be viewed as a major accomplishment. Most people stick with the religion in which they were raised, never thinking or examining the reasons why. Those that switch religions (or sects of a particular religion) often never truly question the belief in a god. Those that do should be proud that they have searched and reached an educated conclusion, and so should you.

As an atheist, you have broken out of the cycle of doing what you're told because someone says God says so. You think for yourself, you are self reliant, and you are responsible for your own actions and decisions. Showing yourself is your next great decision.

Coming Out - Doing it.

Ok, so now you've decided/realized that you're an atheist, and you're about to tell the people you know about it. Exactly how is it done?

There are three simple rules to follow when coming out as an atheist, which I've found to be quite helpful.

1. Be confident. Don't come out by saying "I'm thinking that I'm having some doubts about religion." This will only invite people to try to "save you before it's too late." When you tell people, state it with no uncertain terms, in the present tense, and make sure to convey that you've come to an educated decision. Try something like "after a lot of soul searching and talking to a lot of people, I've decided to give up on religion" or "I've been an atheist for some time now, so I won't be going to church with you anymore."

Smile, be confident, and proud. This is an accomplishment not a shame. This is a good thing you want to share with your loved ones. If you convey this attitude, the people you are telling may receive these signals, which may make the situation go a little easier.

2. Be Compassionate. Yes, YOU be compassionate to THEM. Understand that the people you tell love you, and actually believe in God and their preachers' teachings. They are victims - just as you are - of the lies and falsehoods told by religious organizations, the only difference being they actually may believe those lies. They may express their emotions as anger, but a little education and steadfastness mixed with understanding may allow them to get over that hump quickly.

Make sure you tell your parents that they succeeded (instead of failed) in raising you as a person who makes his/her own decisions and does not follow blindly. They did a good job. Tell them you're happy, and, at the end, let it slip in that this is your decision and that they have no reason to be hurt or to judge you, and that you're grateful for their acceptance and love.

3. Hope for the Best, but prepare for the worst. The best is obviously "I'm an atheist too" or "so what" but don't count on it. As I said earlier, friends are easier than anyone else, and are less likely to reject you because of you atheism. I've lost potential friendships because of it, but never an established friend (even the most pious ones). However, be prepared for all the standard questions from "you're going to Hell" to "does this mean you pray to Satan" to "How could you do this to me?" from loved ones and family members.

The best defense for this is to have answers for questions at the ready. You know your people better than anyone, and are best suited for guessing what those questions might be. Below are some frequently-used statements and some suggested counterpoints for your reference:

* "Atheists have no morals, since they don't believe in God" - What a sad world it is when people can seriously say that humans need to fear eternal damnation in order to do good.

Humans have the idea of right and wrong imbedded in them by their own brains, as well as their upbringing and society. Atheists do good, not out of fear of reprisal, but because it's the right thing to do. We value family, society, culture, and, of course, freedom. Many of us will - and have - defend these values with our lives.


o Slavery was not only acceptable 200 years ago, it was considered a good deed by many, and defended using the bible. The bible was also used to justify the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition. This shows that the bible can be used to defend even the most immoral and unethical ideals, and is therefore not an adequate yardstick to measure moral or ethical behavior.

o Mention bad religious people. Remember that Hitler was a Catholic, and that Jeffrey Dahmer said grace before he ate his victims. Mention also that one need only open a newspaper to find yet another story about allegations against priests for sexual misconduct, often with children. Don't forget our good friends Jim Bakker (who swindled millions from his flock) and Jimmy Swaggart (asked for forgiveness only after being caught using prostitutes).

o Always couple these statements with the fact that, while atheists make up 8-10% of the population at large, we only make up 1% of the population in prison. I mean, think of it, what if 8-10% of the population (on top of all the religious criminals) decided it was OK to steal, rape, and murder? We'd have chaos! These will serve to prove that religion and ethical behavior are not even slightly related.

* "Atheists believe in evolution, but that doesn't answer as many questions as creationism"- Atheism is not a scientific theory, rather a lack of religion. We do believe in science, and that all questions will eventually be answered with science if they are not answered today, but we readily admit that not all answers are known to us right now. That is no reason, however, for inventing a fictional god to whom to give credit, especially when all it does is create more questions. Science has done well so far, giving theories regarding evolution, geological movement, and the Big Bang, all supported by evidence, but not necessarily endorsed by all atheists.

* "Atheists cannot know there is no God, since you cannot prove he doesn't exist" - Again, this is a two sided coin, but the theists are loathe to admit the other side. Atheists don't need to prove the non-existence of God, any more we need to prove the nonexistence of Zeus or Santa Claus. Can theists prove God over any alternatives? Of course not. Nobody can prove God exists, yet they will stand on their heads saying they're sure. Well, if they can be sure despite evidence to the contrary, we can be sure in light of evidence in support of atheism.

* "Atheists seek to remove religion from society, and to force all people to be atheists" - Absolutely wrong. We seek only the freedom for people to make their choice on their own, free of intervention from the government or public school system. We seek the freedom not to support religion through taxes, forced participation, or special privileges of any kind. That being said, your thoughts are your rights, and none of our business. Wear your jewelry, celebrate your holidays, and pray in your house, church, or in public if you like. Just don't force your religion on other people. That's what we're all about.

* "Atheists are so closed-minded, they can't see that miracles happen every day!" - Some people look for miracles where none exist (they never do). Allow me to put things in perspective: Someone's cancer going into remission is no miracle, but we can talk when disease suddenly disappears from the face of the earth overnight without help from medical science. Food getting through to a hungry village: human perseverance. Starvation vanishing from earth without a reason overnight: Miracle. One more time: A child is born - science; The spontaneous end of birth defects - Miracle. Got it?

Note: only good things are miracles, so volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes don't count. Just for good measure, I also wanted to list some good questions to have as support for your reasoning to be an atheist. NOTE: These may start or worsen a fight, and are to be used sparingly. They are dangerous questions which can only be answered with "the lord works in mysterious ways" or the like. You also might get the old "you're asking questions about God, so you must believe in Him" speech. This is easily countered by saying that it's easier to prove the bible wrong using the bible itself, and that your arguments do not constitute an acknowledgement of God's existence any more than a discussion about Greek mythology would prove a belief in Zeus.

Use these only when you are sure of a congenial discussion, and be prepared to agree to disagree.

* If God is all-powerful, why did he take 6 days to create the universe, resting on the 7th? Why didn't he just snap his proverbial fingers and create everything all at once, and not need rest afterwards? Doesn't sound so all-powerful to me.

* If God knows the future, why does he make mistakes? He should have known he would regret the flood, and that Sodom and Gomora would be full of sinners, etc.

* Why does God need to be "served", and why can't we do it from heaven?

* Yes, we have free will, but God already knows who will sin, who will accept Him, etc, for all eternity (since he has perfect knowledge of the future). Why then, are we here? Why not just send our souls to Heaven or Hell, depending on what he knows we'll do?

* Why does God care if he is praised? He is this all-knowing, super being, why does he care if we mere humans give him credit for creating the universe?

* How can you justify the fact that this merciful, loving god is sending all non-Christians to Hell, no matter how good they are? Even those from before Christ was born went to hell. However, terrible people, including Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, could go to Heaven if they repented before death.

* Why does this wonderful, forgiving God hold Adam's sin over all our heads? Why must we all pay for this by being permanent sinners? If God was so pissed, why didn't he just kill Adam and Eve and start over? Again, this is God's choice, so they're going to have to explain why God CHOOSES to hold this incredible grudge.

* Where did God come from? How did he get created? Why is it a valid argument to say that He "always existed", but an invalid argument to say the same thing about matter and energy?

Once you've both agreed to disagree, you've successfully outed yourself to that person. Avoid that awkward post discussion silence, making sure the discussion has completed, and not that the person to whom you are speaking is searching for words to continue. The best thing to do is change the subject to something positive, smile, and get on with your relationship with this person. S/he may need some time to adapt, but it will be made easier if you be yourself and show your happiness at being free of the closet.

Be a proud, open, honest atheist, not another closeted victim of the Christian Right."
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