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date: 28 June 2022

Atheism, Gender, and Sexuality

Abstract and Keywords

The present article explores scholarship regarding links between atheism, gender, and sexuality. A review and analysis of available theory and research is presented through a social scientific lens. Specifically, research suggesting that more men than women identify as atheist is contextualized through reviews of gender role socialization, structural location, personality, and evolutionary theories. Ties between atheism, women’s issues, and feminism are also discussed. Moreover, data about atheism and religiosity amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) groups is presented. Findings regarding rates of atheist identification and sexual orientation indicate that atheism may be higher among LGBTQ individuals than heterosexually identified people; such research is discussed in the context of anti-LGBTQ religious stigmatization and oppression. Lastly, in an effort to deconstruct ‘coming out’ as atheist identity development processes, parallels between LGBTQ and atheist movements are examined and critiqued. Directions for future research are proposed.

Keywords: atheism, gender roles, feminism, sexual orientation, LGBTQ, gay, lesbian, religiosity, women’s issues, coming out, identity development

Introduction

This article explores scholarship regarding links between atheism, gender, and sexuality. A review and analysis of available theory and research is presented through a social-scientific lens. Lastly, parallels between lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) and atheist movements are examined and critiqued.

Atheist women, conspicuous by their absence

Although relatively limited in quantity, research suggests a significant gender bias in nonreligious affiliations. Specifically, a greater proportion of atheist- or agnostic-identified individuals are men (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006; Zuckerman 2007) and more generally, ‘statistical evidence seems unequivocal that women are more religious than men’ (Francis 1997: 81). Sherkat (2008) reported that women have significantly more faithful stances regarding belief in a god than men; specifically, identifying as a woman increases the odds of having a confident belief in god by 72 per cent. Women pray and participate in religious ceremonies more than men and are also more likely to believe in a life force or spirit than men (Mahlamäki 2012). Within the social sciences, two primary theories have been put forth to account for gender differences in religiosity; first, theories that focus on social or contextual influences (e.g., gender role socialization theories) and second, theories that centre on individual psychological or biological differences between women and men (Francis 1997). More nuanced variants of the above (p. 512) theories, such as risk preference theory (Miller and Hoffman 1995; Roth and Kroll 2007) and feminist theories (Overall 2007) have also been posited. In the following section, extant theories will be discussed and critiqued.

Gender Role Socialization and Structural Location Theories

Gender role socialization theories posit that societal constructions of masculinity and femininity—supported through affirmations that traits such as aggressiveness; logical, rational, goal orientation; and competitiveness are indicative of ‘maleness’, whereas ‘femaleness’ is marked by an emphasis on nurturance, gentleness, submission, and community building—drive men to align with secular beliefs and women with religious ideologies (Francis 1997). From this standpoint, women who exhibit traditionally gendered traits would also be motivated to engage in religious practices, whereas men whose personality traits are congruent with traditional constructions of masculinity may be less likely to identify as religious. When it comes to men, however, gender role socialization theories begin to unravel. Research suggests that men who are more liberal, hold less traditional gender roles, and endorse less right-wing authoritarian values are actually more likely to identify as atheist than their traditionally gendered male counterparts (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006). Thus, socialized personality traits alone do not appear to be sufficient in explaining the gender bias in atheist belief.

Structural Location Theories

Stemming from sociology, structural location theories draw from social roles and positions of women and men within larger systems (i.e., family, work, society; Francis 1997). It is important to present the following theoretical positions with a caveat: most of these arguments were posed in the 1960s and 1970s, and therefore are reflective of a time when gender roles within family systems were much more rigid. Moreover, as an increasing number of households have moved to models where both parents work outside the home, or households are single parent, or headed by couples of the same gender, the relevance of these dated models has begun to disintegrate.

Structural location theories set forth that, often as the chief caregivers, mothers are expected to be the primary socializers of children and instil moral values. One such method of instilling morality is through attending religious services (Nelsen and Nelsen 1975). Similarly, the fact that church attendance is higher for women than men may be a reflection of a traditional gendered division of labour within homes—for example, in gender traditional heterosexual couples, religious practice may be delegated to mothers as a part of typical household and child rearing practice (Nelsen and Nelsen 1975; Iannaccone 1990). Further, women’s social lives have been historically (p. 513) more restricted than men’s, leaving fewer opportunities to encounter beliefs that may be discrepant to the religious systems in which they operate; subsequently women may be placed in fewer situations that challenge them to think critically about or reevaluate their religious beliefs. And at a practical level, ‘women’s traditional roles as caretakers—giving birth and nursing babies, caring for sick and dying persons—put them in a more immediate relationship with the ultimate questions of life and death’ (Mahlamäki 2012: 61), which may lead some women to turn to religion for solace from these existential issues.

Contradictory arguments regarding the position of women in the workforce have also emerged as a result of structural location theory. In some branches of this argument, women’s levels of religiosity are related inversely to their participation in the workforce and modern secular world. Specifically, women’s occupations outside of the home are thought to be linked with declines in religious belief (Stannard 1977). If this line of thought was accurate, one would expect to find support for women working outside of the home being less religious than women who work at home. However, such a finding is not supported (Miller and Hoffman 1995; Freese 2004;Woodhead 2007). Taken together, the validity of structural location theories in explaining gender differences in religiosity is ‘eroded by social trends which may encourage providing similar opportunities for males and females’ (Francis 1997: 85).

Secondary Compensation Model

A more recent interpretation of social role theories is the compensator model that posits that a person who had all the rewards she or he could ever want would have no need for compensators, or more informally, a lack of social obligations encourages atheism (Stark and Bainbridge 1987). From this model, religion is perceived as a costly investment and an individual would not be religious unless they perceived it as rewarding to be so. Bainbridge (2005) later distinguished between primary and secondary compensation. Primary compensation substitutes a compensator for a reward that a person desires for themselves (e.g. religious compensators assuage fear when a person’s life is at risk), whereas secondary compensation substitutes a compensatory for a reward that an individual is obligated to provide another person (e.g., obligations in relationships).

Secondary compensation is posited to be social, as it functions to sustain a relationship when one party is unable to provide an expected reward to the other. Traditionally, women are thought to be more nurturing, concerned with deep and intimate relationships, and bear most of the obligations for caregiving within families. Thus, women may have more reason to turn to methods of secondary compensation (e.g., religious beliefs) when they cannot provide the help or support to others that they are expected to give. When the theory of secondary compensation was rigorously evaluated by Hunter (2010), Bainbridge’s hypotheses did not hold, as factors including race and geographic location were found to be stronger predictors of atheism than social obligations or gender. (p. 514)

Personality Theories

Although dated and largely unsupported by empirical research, some psychological theorists have speculated that personality differences between women and men account for differences in levels of religious belief. Such theories have posited that women experience greater levels of guilt, dependency, frustration, fear, and anxiety than men and therefore turn to religion to assuage their psychological distress (Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi 1975; Reed, 1978). While framing women’s higher levels of religiosity as a means to cope with alleged gender-specific psychological pathology is both limited and sexist given the lack of empirical data to support this claim, such early theorists may have been unintentionally tapping a more nuanced explanation for differences in religiosity and atheism.

Unanimously, studies find that atheist identification is more infrequent for women and for people of colour, and that levels of religious involvement are higher for these individuals (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006; Zuckerman 2007; Hunter 2010). Therefore, religiosity may provide solace from feelings of frustration, fear, and anxiety, but these symptoms of distress stem from holding a marginalized position in society in which discrimination and prejudice are rampant, not from innate personality traits. Indeed, many studies have found that individuals from socially oppressed groups use their religious communities as systems of support in dealing with a ‘one down’ position in the world (Constantine et al. 2002). Reports of the demographic composition of nonreligious people consistently demonstrate that atheists tend to be white, men, well-educated, and of higher socioeconomic status—all identity statuses that occupy privilege in society. Therefore, men’s privileged positions and subsequent lack of a ‘need’ to utilize religious beliefs, communities, or organizations as buffers against oppression may be one explanation for higher levels of atheism in men than in women.

Risk Preference and Evolutionary Theories

For many individuals, deciding to be religious may involve a rational decision-making process where rewards and costs are considered, with some perceived rewards of religiosity being a system to cope with grief and loss, a moral compass, community support, and potential access to an afterlife (Miller and Hoffman 1995). And bluntly, as captured by Pascal’s Wager, atheism equals punishment after death if God exists (Roth and Kroll 2007). Drawing from this line of thought, a risk analysis approach to religiosity conjectures that not believing in God is a risk, and that generally, men have evolved better physically and mentally to handle risks than women (Miller and Hoffman 1995; Freese 2004; Roth and Kroll 2007).

Beyond evolutionary perspectives, longstanding patterns of differential socialization across cultures may be another factor in shaping gender differences in risk taking and, (p. 515) subsequently, religiosity. Specifically, risk-taking behaviour is more culturally enforced among boys (e.g., encouraged to display physical activity, courage, adventurousness) than girls (e.g., encouraged to be passive, caring, and community-oriented). From this perspective, it follows that if women are the ‘less risky’ gender, they would also be more likely to opt to believe in a god than risk salvation for identifying as atheist. However, empirical examinations of risk preference theory suggest that while men may take more physical risks than women, difference in risk taking is non-significant for other types of risks (e.g., career, financial). Further holes in this theory are adeptly noted by Roth and Kroll (2007). First of all, a risk preference theory of religiosity assumes that all individuals calculate costs/rewards of religious belief, which is a very large (and unbacked) assumption contingent on individuals believing that the cost of atheism (posthumous punishment) is a very real possibility. Thus:

[T]‌aking belief into account, risk preference theory suggests that women who perceive a risk of punishment after death should be more religious than men who perceive such risk. Among nonbelievers (who perceive no risk), men and women should exhibit similarly low rates of religious participation because there is no risk of eternal damnation to motivate differences in their religiosity.

(Roth and Kroll 2007: 207)

In a test of this hypothesis, the researchers examined General Social Survey (GSS) and World Values Survey data to test the effects of gender and belief in an afterlife on religiousness. They found that the gender gap in religiousness is larger for those individuals who do not believe in an afterlife than those who do—results that directly contradict risk preference theory. Similarly, using data from the World Values Survey, Freese (2004) found that risk preferences were related to religiousness, but no indication that the relationship between risk taking and religiousness was linked to gender. Taken together, such results call into question the extent to which the male bias in atheist identification can be explained by gender-specific risk orientation.

‘I’m a feminist, but…’

Some feminist scholars claim that women’s participation in religion is a paradox; as women continue to make strides toward equality across work and social contexts, the gendered stereotypes of women offered by most religions seem increasingly disparate with feminist goals (Ozorak 1996). Links between religion and gender inequality are well established (Woodhead 2007). In an analysis of World and European Values Surveys, levels of gender inequality across different nations were most strongly linked to religiosity; therefore, religion matters deeply for cultural attitudes, opportunities and constraints placed on women’s lives, the gender ratio in educational attainment, the female literacy rate, contraceptive use, paid opportunities in the workforce, and parliamentary representation (Inglehart and Norris, 2003). Plainly put, ‘women are far more (p. 516) accepting of the [religious] institution than the institution is of them’ (Conn 1995: 422). But institutionalized gender oppression itself does not appear to be a strong motivator for women to abandon their faiths. To understand the complex and sometimes incongruent relations between women and their religious beliefs, it is necessary to understand how many women shape and alter traditional religious practice to meet their individual needs and values.

Outlined by Overall (2007), there are two primary and oppositional feminist lenses through which the relations of religiosity to women have been viewed. First, the anti-theist feminist argument in support of atheism (that monotheistic, patriarchal religions harm women) and second, the ‘faith plasticity’-argument (women can reconstruct the concept of god and faith to fit feminist goals and values, while still engaging in religious practice). Research suggests that most women do not leave their faiths. As such, the latter lens is one that may be helpful in explaining the gender disparity in atheist and religious identification. Specifically, an important nuance of belief patterns not often included in gender discourse is that men tend to be more fundamentalist, all-or-nothing, and resolute in their beliefs than women. As described by Mahlamäki (2012):

A tendency among men is to accept ‘the whole package,’ which means that they are more apt to embrace everything pertaining to their belief. Women are more selective; they believe in a loving God, but not in Hell, the Devil, or the Last Judgment.

(Mahlamäki 2012: 60–1)

Ozorak (1996) discusses women’s practice of retranslating, reinterpreting, and integrating traditional texts in ways that are more aligned with feminist values as a way to cope with gender inequities present in many religions. To preserve self-esteem, a woman may take action to change her religious environment, or cognitively alter her private religious beliefs. As succinctly explained by one participant in Ozorak’s study, ‘I can look at [religious] readings and make them into what I want them to mean for me…I don’t say “Our Father,” I say, “Our Being who art in Heaven”’ (Ozorak 1996: 23). The ability of many women to hold religious beliefs that contradict each other may help to explain how many women are able to retain their beliefs even when many religious organizations take very vocal stances against women’s rights issues (e.g., sexuality, workplace issues, birth control, gender roles, marriage).

In the mid-1990s, researchers began to tackle the phenomenon of Christian women defecting in place, or ‘pledging allegiance to a new paradigm of church’ in the context of struggling to be faithful to the old paradigms of religious practice while holding feminist values (Conn 1995: 422; Winter et al. 1995). In a study of 3746 women of mixed Christian identification, 73 per cent of whom attended church on a weekly basis, Winter and colleagues (1995) began to tackle issues of feminism and religiosity. Generally, the researchers found that many feminist women struggled to survive within organized religions and adapted their spirituality to include feminist symbols, acts of community-oriented social justice, rituals, and alternative liturgies. Specifically, women came to understand (p. 517) values purported by feminism such as equality, justice, and mutuality to be congruent with values preached in religious gospel. Taken together, it seems that many women are able to emphasize the centrality of caring and community within their religions, and reframe God as a friend or confidant, rather than a colluder in patriarchy (Ozorak 1996). Religions, therefore, are not perceived as one-dimensional evils to shed, but flawed systems in which women can operate and tailor to meet their individual needs.

Atheism as a boy’s club

Two final barriers that may prevent some women from identifying as atheist are, ironically, (i) the number of men who identify as atheist and (ii) the qualities of the men who have become the focal points for ‘hardcore’ atheist movements. Specifically, some women perceive atheist communities to be exclusive clubs (for men who are white and upper-middle class) that do not openly welcome women or other minority group members. Barry Kosmin describes that hard-secularist ‘New Atheist’ positions are increasingly held by men; illustratively, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (a positive atheist group) reports that 79 per cent of their members are men. Kosmin states that ‘a lot of women are turned off by what they call the “warlords of atheism” and what they interpret to be very aggressive attitudes held by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and people like that’ (Mooney 2011: 44). For many women, painting all religious institutions as, in Christopher Hitchens’ words, ‘enemies with gnarled hands who would drag us back to the catacombs and reeking altars’ is unnecessarily filled with hubris and machismo (quoted in Curthoys 2008: 42). Thus, many women may agree with positive atheist beliefs, but they do not support the dogmatic mobilization efforts and violent animus of the male leaders in New Atheist movements. Resultantly, women may not openly identify as nonreligious because they cannot envision a place for themselves in atheist culture.

Gender and atheism: conclusions

Available literature assessing the conspicuous absence of women who identify as atheist remains unsatisfying. Although social, biological, feminist, evolutionary, and systemic explanations have all been set forth, not one of these theories has emerged as a clear predictor of gender role disparities in religious belief. Likely, an interplay of each of these theories can be traced back to the shaping of women’s beliefs. And, while higher levels of societal atheism are linked clearly to the promotion of egalitarianism, gender equality, and women’s empowerment across nations (Zuckerman 2007), it may be premature to overlook the individual benefits and supports that many women still experience from their religious communities. (p. 518)

Sexual minorities and atheism

Links between atheism and identification as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) person have been widely discussed within sexual minority and religious scholarship (Linneman and Clendenen 2010). While many theorists adamantly profess that identifying as a sexual minority person while maintaining traditional monotheistic religious beliefs is impossible, clearly not all LGBTQ-identified people are apostates (Rodriguez and Ouellette 2000). Thus, the following section will discuss available literature surrounding sexual minority people’s decisions in navigating faith or becoming nonreligious.

Keeping the faith?

Religious affiliations can provide social, community, and familial support systems for LGBTQ people. Still, ‘religions in general, and Christianity in particular, are often perceived as anathema’ to LGBTQ identity (O’Brien 2004: 180). Countless studies have documented the persistence of heterosexist attitudes and policies within numerous religious groups including the Catholic Church (Buchanan et al. 2001), fundamentalist Christian sects (Barton 2010), conservative Jewish sects (Kahn 1989), the Mormon Church (Cooper and Pease 2009), and Islamic sects (Boellstorff 2005). For example, in a recent qualitative study, one woman reflected upon growing up as a lesbian youth in the Pentecostal church and stated ‘[t]‌he preacher would preach on homosexuality. He would always group us in with the so-called perverts, you know, like child molesters and just awful people’ (Barton 2010: 472). Such a traumatizing early experience is depicted frequently in research with religious LGBTQ people (Califia 2002; Gold 2008).

Not surprisingly, ‘a flight from religious intolerance is a central aspect of personal “coming out” stories’ for many sexual minority people (O’Brien 2004: 184). As such, some LGBTQ people who may try to maintain their ties to religious institutions may feel as though they will not be fully welcomed into some LGBTQ communities. Potentially confronting ‘double stigma’, religious LGBTQ individuals must often undergo a solo journey to forge a path of spiritual understanding and self-acceptance. A growing body of research suggests that many sexual minority people are able to (re)integrate their religious beliefs, overcome guilt and feelings of betrayal, and (if they choose to) find affirming spiritual groups and religious communities with whom they can (re)connect (Buchanan et al. 2001; Halderman 2004; O’Brien 2004). Other LGBTQ people may choose instead to explore expressions of spirituality that have not been affiliated historically with oppression such as Buddhism, Paganism, Wicca, and some Native American traditions (Buchanan et al. 2001). Finally, a large proportion of LGBTQ people may (p. 519) decide that they can be fulfilled without formal ties to an organized belief system and become atheist (Barret and Barzan 1996).

As reviewed previously, within many religious groups, LGBTQ identified persons are taught that their identities are unacceptable, immoral, and the expression of these identities is incompatible with being a good devotee (Barton 2010). Considering this open hostility from many religious organizations, it is no surprise that many sexual minority individuals make the decision to abandon their faith. Until recently, it was unclear how rates of religiosity differed between heterosexual and sexual minority populations, however through their analyses of GSS data, Linneman and Clendenen (2010) found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are three times more likely to be agnostic or atheist than heterosexual people. Moreover, 62 per cent of gay and lesbian individuals in the USA feel that religion is not an important part of their lives (Singer and Deschamps 1994). It is important to note, however, that the direction of this relationship is not clear. It may be that sexual minority individuals feel cast out of religious organizations because of their orientations and subsequently become atheist, or, it could be that people who identify as atheist are free from religious oppression and more able to explore and acknowledge their LGBTQ identity.

Atheism’s warm embrace

With growing acceptance of LGBTQ issues across the world, some individuals have shifted away from conservative religious communities and toward atheism because some of ‘the most vocal opposition to laws protecting gays has come from fundamentalists’ (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006: 15). Plainly, incongruencies between the teachings of conservative religious organizations about LGBTQ populations, and the personal beliefs of more liberal congregation members, may inspire some individuals to begin to question their religious beliefs. Indeed, their groundbreaking research with self-identified atheist individuals, Hunsberger and Altemeyer illustrated that some people from very religious backgrounds became atheist due to disagreements with their church’s attitudes toward LGBTQ people. A perfect example of this conflict was described by Zuckerman:

One man started to feel alienated from his religion when the words ‘God Hates Fags’ were spray-painted on a wall at the small Midwestern Christian college he was attending. Although not gay himself, such religious-inspired intolerance opened his eyes, causing him to look at the negative aspects of his religion, where before he had only seen the positive.

(Zuckerman 2012: 153)

Countless studies affirm that atheist people are more supportive and tolerant of LGBTQ people than members of religious groups (e.g., Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006; (p. 520) Linneman and Clendenen 2010; Cimino and Smith 2011). Drawing further comparisons between religious people and atheists, atheist people also tend to support feminist values, and in general, ‘be nondogmatic and nonzealous’ (Hunsberger and Altemeyer 2006: 110). When taken together, it is no surprise that associating with atheist people may feel more comfortable and safe (when compared to members of religious groups) to some LGBTQ individuals.

The other closet: coming out as atheist

In November 2011, a controversial New York Times article began with the bold statement ‘Ronnelle Adams came out to his mother twice, first about his homosexuality, and then about his atheism’—indeed, the trend of discussing atheist identity as parallel to LGBTQ identity development is one that has permeated mainstream and academic discourse. As with LGBTQ identities, atheist identification can be considered a marginalized status, as to be nonreligious in most Western cultures relegates an individual to a minority identity status with associated oppression and prejudice (Edgell et al. 2006; Siner 2011). As such, the spaces for atheist individuals to openly exist in many cultures have been largely limited throughout history—resulting in many atheist people deciding to conceal their beliefs from friends, family, co-workers, and members of their religious congregations.

Recent calls from leaders in the New Atheist movement have encouraged atheist people to ‘come out’ of the closet and proudly identify as apostates (Dawkins 2006; Hitchens 2007). One notable example of this is the Out Campaign website, sponsored by Richard Dawkins, that encourages atheists to disclose their identities. However, not all atheists are supportive of this zealous movement to drag each other out of the proverbial closet and wage war against believers and agnostics (Curthoys 2008; Kurtz 2010). Parallel to coming out as LGBTQ, there are very real risks—job loss, trouble adopting children, child custody battles, and social exclusion—of outing oneself as atheist in some regions of the world (Edgell et al. 2006). Similar to the process of coming out as a member of any stigmatized group, atheist individuals should exert caution in assessing the safety of their environment before proudly proclaiming their godlessness from the rooftops.

Further similarities beyond references to closeting in the gay rights movement and the ‘atheist rights movement’ can be found through comparisons in the way both movements have altered common identity labels to be more affirming—specifically, changing the clinical term ‘homosexual’ to gay and the socially loaded term ‘atheist’ to Bright (Linneman and Clendenen 2010). In changing the language surrounding marginalized identities, the hope is that both of these groups will be viewed from a more positive and less pathologizing lens. (p. 521)

As described by Linneman and Clendenen (2010), there are some equivalent patterns in the coming out journeys for LGBTQ and atheist individuals. Notably, as with sexual minority identities, an individual’s atheism is not readily visible (as gender or racial minority status may be) and requires a formal disclosure by the atheist person to be recognized by others. Moreover, once a person reveals having an LGBTQ or atheist identity, other people are likely to react to these identities as if they are master statuses that dictate all aspects of the individual’s behaviour. As posited by Siner (2011), coming into an atheist identity requires people to undergo simultaneous challenges to development: first, figuring out how to define their own faith (or lack of faith) and second, how to establish connections with a particular faith group. Like LGBTQ identities, atheist identity development exists in both internal (personal, emotional, spiritual) contexts and external (social, community, familial) contexts. Specifically, Siner (2011) draws from Fassinger’s (1998) model of sexual minority identity development and overlays this framework to create a model for individuals who ‘come out’ as atheist from religious backgrounds. Four stages are posited:

  1. 1. Awareness: recognition that you are different from others if you are atheist and that other atheist people exist;

  2. 2. Exploration: figuring out what it means to be atheist; deciding if you would like membership of an atheist community;

  3. 3. Deepening/Commitment: learning more about and feeling more self-fulfilled by expressions of atheism; actively participating in atheist groups or communities, becoming aware of oppression;

  4. 4. Internalization/Synthesis: atheist beliefs interact with all dimensions of identity; begin to identify as a member of a minority group across contexts.

While an important first step in exploring patterns of atheist identity development and coming out, empirical validation with this model is necessary. Additionally, it is important to note that some atheist people never have a formal coming out. In more liberal regions of the world where atheists are a less stigmatized social group, there may be no need for processes of self-discovery, exploration, or commitment to atheist activism.

Directions for future research

At this point in the literature, discourse surrounding ‘atheism and gender’ appears to be more of a ruse for discussing the religiosity of women. While extant research about gender role socialization, risk analysis, and compensators that intends to explain why women are more religious than men is informative and engaging, a fruitful approach to deconstructing gender and atheism may also be to critically examine narratives of apostate women and men (e.g., Blackford and Schuklenk 2009) for patterns and trends. Moreover, available gender theories tend to approach the religious/atheist argument (p. 522) from a risk lens (e.g., Pascal’s Wager) or a combative ‘ills of religiosity’ lens. Work by future authors should consider atheism from a positive psychology framework and investigate its links with egalitarianism, self-esteem, personal mastery, satisfaction with life, cognitive flexibility, and empowerment. In other words: less focus on why people reject religion and more focus on why people choose atheism. Indeed, if the potential benefits of atheism were vocalized through a less dogmatic and androcentric megaphone, it is possible that more women would participate in the atheist movement.

Finally, parallels are continually drawn between the LGBTQ rights movement and recent atheist movements. While utilizing models of sexual minority identity development to inform studies about atheist identity development may be a useful first step in furthering our understanding of the ‘coming out’ process, researchers should be mindful of notable differences between the two groups. First, to move from a heterosexual identity to a gay or lesbian identity presumably means that one will begin to have romantic relationships that are recognizably different than their prior relationships (e.g., same-gender partners as opposed to other-gender partners). Moving from religious to atheist may mean that one will stop going to church or praying, but atheism does not necessitate additive and/or visible behavioural changes. Further, research suggests that many LGBTQ people face near daily threats of violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientations or gender identities (Herek 2009). While prejudice toward atheists certainly exists, the intensity of such experience appears to be muted comparatively. Future research regarding atheist identity development should further explore the impact of environmental prejudice and stigma on atheists’ coming out decisions.

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