Eric Fromm (not the German philosopher), is a 21 year old man who recently came “out of the closet”. Eric’s emergence had nothing to do with his sexual preference or his gender identity though. The closet from which Fromm finally escaped is arguably darker and more frightening that the one faced by so many LGBT members of society. Eric Fromm came out as an atheist.
Doing that in our current society is, in general, an exhibition of real courage. It’s been said that “fat people are last group that can be publicly ridiculed .” but atheists know that isn’t true. Although prejudice against atheism seems to be waning as the new enlightened generation of Americans comes of age, the level of open and unapologetic defamation of atheists is still an huge problem in our culture.
And so for Eric Fromm, it took real courage to just tell the world, and the people at Northwest Christian University, who he was. In a piece today at The Register Guard, Fromm is described as a pretty normal young person:
“Fromm said he was baptized as a Lutheran and attended a Methodist church regularly until his parents’ divorce when he was a teen. He said he had many questions still lurking from his upbringing in the Christian church when he arrived in 2010 to study communications at NCU, which was established in 1895 and is nestled next to the much-larger University of Oregon campus. As a graduate of the 1,600-student Canby High School, Fromm said he opted for NCU, despite his emerging doubts, because he liked the communications program and the one-on-one attention he knew he would receive from his professors on the 600-student college campus.”
While Fromm was struggling with his faith, he would often talk about his doubts with his friends and peer-group. He was surprised to find that those honest and personal expressions of doubt seemed to make him the subject of jokes and whispered rumors. The Register Guard put it this way:
“While initially drawn to his peers’ faith and sense of community, Fromm said some students responded with shock, shame or fear when he divulged his doubts and lack of faith. Some avoided bringing up the Bible around him, some stopped talking to him for fear of losing their own faith, and others poked fun at him for his views, he said. “The more I got shunned, the more cold shoulders and verbal attacks, I realized, ‘OK, I’m part of the ‘out’ group,’ ” he said.”
And so Eric Fromm decided he was going to bite the bullet and just come out publicly. Fearing the worst — from being ostracized to actually being expelled — he posted a piece in the University online newspaper, openly identifying himself as an atheist. To the great credit of the NCU students, Fromm was surprised at what happened next.
While still facing some negativity, Fromm’s friends rallied around him. People on campus who before had just sat by quietly, began to open up and come to his defense. Hugs and supportive gestures soon overwhelmed the glares and whispered hateful comments. Even the University administration spoke out in his support.
“Michael Fuller, the university’s vice president for enrollment and student development, said he’s known about Fromm’s views for years and didn’t question his election as student body president. He’s a man of very high character and respect,” Fuller said of Fromm. “He’s a great advocate for our student body, which is exactly what he’s supposed to be and do.”
Its been said that if the hatred and fear of atheism were to suddenly disappear, if open displays of disgust and enmity were no longer socially acceptable, then the people willing to come out as unequivocal atheists would rise from today’s 2% to a much higher level. The Pew Study on Religiosity in July of this year, reported:
“In recent years, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the U.S. public as a whole. For example, there has been a modest uptick over the past decade in the share of U.S. adults who say they seldom or never attend religious services. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion also has grown in recent years; indeed, about one-fifth of the public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Fully a third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” And two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives.”
With the younger generation’s growing sense of acceptance, the future looks brighter for atheists. Their potential to become a meaningful voice in the public dialogue is an important element in our national growth. It may be the harbinger of the coming “New Age of Enlightenment.” It’s about time.