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(Post 3 of 33 in my 16-hour shift for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.)

9:00 am EDT

Q (from South Africa): Because of my demographics (female, 40, white, Afrikaans speaking) people automatically assume that I’m a Christian. So my usual tactic is just not to say anything and let it pass, but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with this as it feels hypocritical. Comments?

A: This is a great question, and I’ve seen it answered several ways.

Start with the fact that being out, to whatever degree you can be, makes it easier for others to be out, which in turn makes it harder for religious folks to stereotype nonbelievers as a cartoonish ilk they’ve never met, which in turn causes attitudes to evolve. It has worked precisely this way for gays and lesbians, and it will work for us. Being out and normal is the most important and powerful element in changing attitudes.

Some respond to this idea by essentially sewing the Big Red A on their lives, framing their every gesture, message, and wardrobe choice in terms of atheism. I have no problem with this, but it’s not for me. Sometimes I’m interested in going boldly into the fray for positive social change, and sometimes I’m more interested in having a beer. And sometimes these overlap.

A perfect example: When a new acquaintance asks what books I write, I often say “nonreligious parenting books.” But sometimes, like when I’m getting my hair cut and not looking for a big conversation, it’s just “parenting books.” Maybe it has something to do with the scissors by my ear.

I think we have to give ourselves permission to come out to the degree and to the people we choose in the ways that we choose, and to not be bullied into more. At the same time, we should constantly remember that it’s the way to positive change, and that it almost always goes better than we think it will.

Specific ideas:

1. When someone says “I’m praying for you,” say, “I’m not religious myself, but thanks for the very kind gesture.”
2. Wear a Foundation Beyond Belief T-shirt. If someone asks, tell them about nonreligious people coming together to work for a better world.
3. Wear a Happy Humanist or similar pin or earrings. Someone will ask.
4. Post and comment on Facebook in ways that gradually reveal your perspective.
5. Offer a nontheistic “grace” at a family gathering.

Aaaaand, I’m out of time. Add in the comments!

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.