I am struggling to keep a small business afloat during these tough economic times. As a woodworking artisan making product here on my property in the Ozarks of north Arkansas I am constantly in contact with religious people, aka Christians. Some of the shops I market my work through are owned by devout people. Occasionally I am asked what church I attend blah blah. Having very long hair and a beard some have mistaken me for the brother of Jesus. Hah Hah. I have decided to not hide my atheistic stance for some time.
But adopting this open policy has caused me to lose some customers. People around here are very intolerant of anyone who doesn't attend a local church. They almost seem to be even more severe against atheists. I have a pro atheist bumper sticker on one of my vehicles and this has caused some incidents with the locals. I fear that as the word spreads I could be facing a boycott of sorts. Some religious people simply will not support or conduct business with those who don't "worship the Lord." So in a sense I feel like I am shooting myself financially in the foot to remain open and vocal about viewpoints on religion.
It's a sucky situation because I want to be vocal about the millions of thinking, rational, moral atheists who live in this country but on the other hand I don't want to alienate those who would help me keep the lights on.
As a business owner who happens to be atheistic would you remain silent or "go for broke?"
Option 1: I would move. I am so saddened when I hear from fellow atheists who happen to live in the American south describe the hardships they endure. Please know, everywhere in this country is not like that.
Option 2: I would not be outspoken about my views but I would not lie about them either.
In this economy it is tough enough without bring this into the equation.I run a construction company, I don't have to worry much about Xians asking the questions but I live in a state where close to 30% of the population claim not to be religious, makes life much easier.
Feel your pain.
I lived in Atlanta once; that was okay but, step outside the city, and you're in Hazzard County. So I ran into some of this. I actually had a guy running a filling station who didn't want a cheque from me [this was in the eighties] until he knew the name of my pastor. Eventually, I [lied] told him the guy's name was Anton LaVey and that he could look it up later; meanwhile, the fuel already in my car, I was leaving now whether he wanted any money or not.
Optimally, you just don't live in places like that.
Here in civilisation [Denver Metro], it's not as big a deal; here, while there are theists—a disturbing percentage of them fluffbunny 'pagans' [atheists in training, really]—no one much cares. Including me. I don't really keep it a secret that I don't believe in deities, any more than I keep it a secret that I don't believe in goblins; if someone brings deities up, I'll usually smirk and, if pressed, explain that I've just never believed in the things; if and when that doesn't work, I'll respond to begged questions with 'weird; I don't do that' and valid questions with the more laughable bits I happen to know about whichever religion I'm getting sucked into talking about: 'You guys are the ones with the global flood failing to exterminate evil, so you had to nail a guy to a telephone pole? That didn't work either?'
In business, I kinda planned ahead, starting up something which works with atheism, though that's not its entire purpose. Occasionally I'll get the odd theist [odder enough than others that it talks to me] complaining that I'm advertising atheism and exploiting whatever element of society with bumperstickers and shirts and whatever; on really rare occasions, one will complain that the books I write are heavily atheistic [or at least not terribly protheistic], though for the most part theists don't read my books...whether they read others' or not.
In your case, it's a bit hard to guess what would and wouldn't work. If your stuff is secular but not particularly antitheistic—stuff christworshippers et al would buy if they didn't know who was making it—then it might be best to just let it speak for itself. If someone coincidentally brings up deities out in the world, I suppose you could try to guess whether that might lead to an amusing conversation, or instead to assault and battery, then decide how deep into the topic you're willing to get.
Losing the bumpersticker is a thought. Personally, I haven't got any stickers on my car, atheistic or otherwise; I've never been into that, as much as I might like designing them for other people. Around here, it's not uncommon to see cars parked next to each other with dangerously conflicting stickers, and I never catch anyone firebombing the other. But, again, this town's as apathetic as anything ever gets: the uppity pundits around here go as far as adding stickers to their cars, figuring that that's good enough.
So...I'm not sure how helpful all this is. The simple statement is probably that you should live within your geographical means: if advertising your sanity is dangerous to your health or your income, then don't make a big deal about that; if someone comes to you, trying to sell deities, maybe just tell them that you know, and don't care, or whatever. Theists especially will take 'oh yeah; I know' as a form of agreement; you rarely have to commit to anything to get rid of them, in my experience—even in the south.
Note: Sorry that this was longer than the question itself. Novelist thing, I guess.
I'd start looking at other ways to market my stuff. I couldn't personally lie to people if asked directly. I dislike that behavior in others, and thus I try to keep it out of my own life.
If at all possible I'd start making nice, arty things of small sizes and marketing them online. Etsy does well for a lot of crafters (http://www.etsy.com/). Or you could get a small website or your own and advertise via other secular websites and link it to whatever social networking sites you have. Akshay, one of the members on this site, is a web designer (http://www.thinkatheist.com/profile/AkshayBist?xg_source=profiles_m...). That way your entire income isn't based in an area so heavily anti-atheist.
If you really can't move or find enough people to support yourself who are ok with your views, you might not get much of a choice about playing the smile-and-nod game. Everyone has to eat. I'm sorry to hear how these people are treating you though. Let us all know if you do set up an online shop somewhere!
Since we are talking about your livelihood, I would probably take the sticker off my car and remain silent and as pleasant as possible. Being a "light unto the world" goes both ways.
I'm sorry to hear about the intolerance there- it is all too common away from big cities and university cities in America.
I wish you well.
We face the same issue here in SC. My husband and I own our own business as well. We do not make a big deal out of being atheist, though if asked we are honest and then let the matter drop and hopefully we will not get into a religious debate.
You are right the intolerance is much higher against atheists here as well. They have an immediate and very negative reaction. We own rental property and our tenants are not generally interested in our religious affiliation so we are not as directly impacted as you are.
We have experienced small issues with the kids at school. There are many children who go to school and profess their religious beliefs and often ask my children what their beliefs are. My oldest who is 13 is very open and tells them he is atheist. I worry because I know that this could be a potentially volatile situation for him in the years to come. The kids tend to be even more intolerant and the parents may just be apathetic and not care if their child is bullying an atheist kid. I keep a close eye on that situation.
Moving is not an issue for us, our real estate is here so we are here.
I have often thought about the passages in revelations that mention the "mark of the beast" and that anyone who has this mark will not be able to do business. This has come true sort of, because if you are not sporting a Jesus fish then you are not worthy of doing business. I see many vans and trucks from plumbers, contractors, heating and air companies who have a Jesus fish displayed somewhere on the truck along with their company name and logos and such.
It is starting to look like, if you do not have the "mark of the beast" (Jesus fish) you cannot do business.
I absolutely refuse to do business with any company that uses the fish or any other symbol to
promote their buisness.
It is a tough spot and I am not sure how I would handle it in your shoes. The south and the “heart-land” are mental in regard to their Jebus. It is easy for me being out here (not now I am deployed on ship) in SoCal and a vocal Atheist, at least not a bashful one. I have also been lucky in being an open Atheist in the military, Navy, as well. Not to much flake, minor stuff nothing to hamper my career.
Is there a way to sell online instead of locally? At least is a profitable way to do so?
I honestly wouldn’t hold it against you to play it low-key given the area you live in. You need to make a living and I would never tell anyone screw it and be loud and proud when you could lose the means to provide food and the table. In the end you are the one that would have to live with either being a vocal Atheist in Arkansas or not.
You will have support here no matter which way you go with it.