Monday, March 19, 2012

A-Week – Are You Shouting, Or Are You Just There?

It's that time of year again... It's A-Week!

Last year, I didn't participate. I had my reasons. But this year, I'm ramping it up with an 'A' as my profile pic! Nothing as gauche as last year's scarlet A, though. This year, it's a nice, sedate blue.

Really, though, I have to wonder... Am I making a difference?

The only person who's asked me about it so far is my fiancé, who already knows I'm an atheist and who clearly has no problem with that. In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone else asked, at this point. Some members of my extended family are only people I can think of to whom my atheism would be fresh news, and judging by how often they interact with me on Facebook, it would probably take more than a week and one profile change to pique their attention.

On the other hand, the theory behind the A-Week strategy is sound. The more visible atheists are, the more likely we are, as a group, to not be seen as 'other.' For more than twenty-two thousand people (judging by the number who 'like' the cause on Facebook), participating in A-Week feels like a good way to do that. It's a good way to not be hiding.

But how many people who participate in A-Week were hiding before it? I don't have numbers on this, and frankly, I don't know where I would find such numbers. I just know that I wasn't. It says 'Atheist' right there on my profile, even when it's not A-Week. Hell, if I were worried about people knowing that I'm an atheist, I'd have a serious problem, given that this blog is the first result on a Google search of my name.

How many A-Week participants are actually increasing their visibility to people who think atheists are amoral or evil, or even just unusual? I feel like most of the people I see with an 'A' by their name this week are already visibly out. They're the people who already shout their nonbelief from the top of mountains. If they were going to have a confrontation, it would have happened a long time ago.

Perhaps A-Week is more useful as a tool to remind atheists – whether they're still in the closet or outside of it – that they're not alone. For me, seeing all those profile 'A's is an inspiration to do more: there are so many of us, and we have so far to go.


  1. Of the two years i've participated (being off Facebook this year), i've had one friend each year tell me that i prompted them to adopt the emblem for the week. One was out as irreligious but still considered themselves "spiritual" and the other took the opportunity to come out to her family and friends for the first time. I consider both of these occasions exceptional wins, considering the reluctance of spiritual people to identify with atheists (much less as them) and the very real risk of ostracism from family.

    As for any one person making a difference among their friends, in my view the immense gains to be had in greater visibility and positive identification can't help but be worth even the longest plausible odds.

    1. That's awesome! Good on you, and on both your friends. I guess I just don't see too much of that, personally, but it's great to know that it's working.

      I definitely agree on the long odds thing; it feels unlikely that my participation will make much of a difference, but it's hardly going to hurt the cause. And besides, even if no one were to come out this year because of A Week (which seems unlikely, given the sheer number of people involved), participants still benefit from the sense of community. I guess that's really what I wanted to say; for me, that's my primary reason for participating.