Normally, I don't write follow-up columns. But the flood of e-mail, letters and phone calls provoked by my last piece in which I "came out of the closet" as an atheist, called out for a response.
In writing of my objection to the open ridicule and discrimination faced by atheists, I had anticipated letters maligning me and warning of the eternal damnation to come. And yes, there were a handful of those. But they were countered by more than 350 positive responses. My e-mail account overflowed with people expressing their amazement that someone, somewhere was finally saying what they held to be true - views that were almost completely absent in the mainstream media.
I was wished bon courage by many readers who expected I'd have to hold up against an onslaught of negativism; and the newspaper was roundly congratulated just for being bold enough to allow my heresies into print.
But it is they who deserve congratulations for courage. I don't use full names because my guess is they would not want their identities known.
Bill: "I am a 20-year-old atheist and I know exactly how you feel. I have actually had some Christian friends find out that I am atheist and they told me that they couldn't be friends with me anymore. . . . We truly are the only minority that I can think of that everyone considers okay to pick on and discriminate against."
Danielle: "I find the comparison of atheists to lesbians and gays particularly apt. I have often found that I am reluctant to "come out' with my religious views around co-workers and employers, because I know that it can affect my professional relationships."
Jon from Florida: "Boy are you right about nonbelievers being in the last and only unprotected minority group. For the last year or so I have been active in local politics, as a volunteer for various Republican candidates. Some of the other Republicans, noting my enthusiasm and grasp of issues, have asked me whether I would be interested in running for some office. When I reply that I'm unelectable, due to my atheism, I am met with unanimous agreement (and a certain wariness, too).
"I too am continually astounded at the hostility so many believers have toward me and my nonbelief. So you're right, for that reason I tend to keep my nonbelief to myself, or "in the closet.' "
Polly from Florida: "I don't remember ever reading about anyone who shares my beliefs, and I've lived and read papers from all over America in my 47 years. Thank you for having the courage to publicly voice your beliefs; it's a joy for me to know that I'm not alone."
Wayne: "I am an atheist and an army officer serving in Iraq, a real, live atheist in a foxhole. It is interesting to me that we are so quick to persuade the Iraqis to keep religion out of their government, but the same administration is so bent on inserting religion into our government. I guess theirs is the wrong brand."
Chris from Maryland: "I know people who are forced to participate in prayer at work just to keep their jobs. I'm often reminded of a comment made by Bush Sr. during his run for the presidency when a reporter from the American Atheist news journal asked him if he recognized the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists. Bush responded, "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.' Imagine if he had made that comment about blacks or any other minority."
Linda from Colorado: "Many people are very surprised to learn that I'm an atheist. I'm a nice normal person, I volunteer, I try to help people, I love animals, and I think that life and the world are amazing. How could I be an atheist!!?
Sarah and Joe: You have put into words what many of us nonbelievers have to deal with on an almost daily basis. It is even harder on those of us atheist families. We choose to raise our children without superstition, but if we state so openly, we invite the anger of many of our neighbors.
Then there was the other side:
Jodi: "Reading the article you wrote made my mouth drop open. There are NO coincidences EVER. We are given freedom of CHOICE from a loving GOD. Those who choose to NOT follow his WORD will be cast into hell forever."
J.J. from New Port Richey: "I cannot believe we still have so many "air-heads' that cannot see beyond their nose, to say there is no God. If you have anything in your "upstairs,' all one has to do is look up at the stars at night. They did not get there by some strange and goofy chance."
The Underwoods: "My gut reaction to your column was sympathy and then I decided I would write you and also have everyone I know pray for you. . . . I am a Catholic Christian and will be offering up the sacrifice of the Mass this month for your conversion."
No thanks. Really.
In the column I misspelled the last name of Friedrich Nietzsche. Sorry for the error.