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The Safety of Pseudonymity

August 14, 2008

Recently, there has been a call by certain portions of the freethought blogosphere for members to have the “courage” to use their real names on their blogs. This isn’t a new sentiment, but it’s an issue that certainly needs to be addressed.

The reasoning behind a citizen-journalist using a pseudonym is fairly obvious, for safety. The protection of anonymity on the internet is paramount, especially for those of us who would be persecuted for our views. Atheists are considered to be one of the most hated groups in our society(Co$ are now #1 thanks in part to Anonymous). There are still large parts of the United States where it is severely dangerous for someone to be an open and vocal atheist. Not only would it be dangerous for the writer, but also for their family and friends. Sometimes courage is really just being too stupid to comprehend the consequences.

For instance:
A man, with a wife and 4 school age children, living in a small conservative town in Alabama would not be entirely wise for divulging that he is a well known atheist blogger who has caused quite a stir with some of his writing. Not only would he be endangering his own life, but also the welfare of his wife and children. As most of us know well, the stigma around atheism can be quite unpleasant.

Fortunately for me, when I “came out” in high school as an atheist the consequences were not so dire. A friend of mine who had known I was an atheist for some time, mentioned it a little too loudly during history class. The whole room became silent for a moment, you could have heard a pin drop. Then immediately came the rush of “you just haven’t been to my church yet”’s and “you’ll love my church, come with me this Sunday!”’s from nearly every student in the class.

I was only ever physically threatened once in high school for my lack of faith, one particularly ignorant individual told me he was offended that I thought he descended from apes and wanted to fight me for it. I regretfully declined his request. I had a few teachers try to preach to me. When I wrote a paper on the sound logic of evolution for a biology assignment, the teacher threatened to have the paper published in the newspaper so that the whole town could know I didn’t believe in Jesus. I don’t miss high school or that town very much.

Pseudonyms allow us to be able to express our views without being admonished by the simpleminded. I’m not saying that all religious people are simpletons, some can be very smart, but those who wish to harm the faithless for our “thoughtcrimes” certainly are.

  1. August 22, 2008 8:13 am

    I have mixed feeling regarding anonymity. I don’t hide because I am an atheist, as all my friends, family and coworkers already know. Rather, I stay hidden due to privacy concerns of having too much personal information on the web associated with my views. Plus, there really is no need for people to know my last name (which isn’t really hidden is they see my “Digg” profile lol).

  2. Sisyphus Fragment permalink*
    August 22, 2008 10:00 am

    I’m out to all my family, my real Facebook and MySpace(bleh!) both say atheist. I just separate my cognomen from my real life because saying you are an atheist and saying something against religion are two very different things..

  3. August 22, 2008 12:17 pm

    This is certainly a sensitive issue and one that I think each individual has to carefully consider on his or her own. I don’t believe we should be “calling” others out and insisting that they use their real names if they don’t yet feel comfortable doing so. After all, if we don’t know the person’s name we certainly don’t know the details of his or her situation.

  4. atheistproject permalink
    October 28, 2008 4:48 pm

    I don’t care what you’re saying on the Interweb: you’re a fool if you make any identifying information available to people with whom you’re not personally acquainted.

    Who’s saying we need to give out names, anyway? What do names matter? The ideas we share don’t need to be tied to individuals.

    I agree with SisyphusFragment: the risks of revealing names vastly outweigh the potential benefits. (Which would be WHAT, again?)

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