I posted a version of this challenge earlier on r/atheism, and I decided I wanted to get it out to non-Redditors. This post is not addressed primarily to atheists, but I know that I may have several readers who believe in god. This idea has been floating around a bit, and I decided to formalize it a little. Its inspired at least in part by things like the We Are Atheism project and The Out Campaign.
For those of you who are theists, I think that many of you don't really realize what things are like for an atheist. Atheists are one of the most hated groups in America, and public distrust has been confirmed yet again in the 2011 Values Survey. The headlines are focusing on things like Mitt Romney's Mormonism and the overall support for a redistribution of wealth, but of interest to me is that 67% of voters would be "uncomfortable or very uncomfortable" with an atheist President. Being openly an atheist can threaten one's relationships with family and friends (as I've learned, although I've largely been lucky), one's livelihood, one's personal property, and in some cases one's physical safety or even life. And that's just in the United States. Even if you visit r/AtheismComingOut, the stories might not really hit home. So I'd like to propose a challenge.
Come out as an atheist, and pretend to be one for a month. Simply be an atheist as your public persona.
Now, I'm not asking you to pretend to be a raging, full-on Hitchens-style anti-theist. I'm not asking you to be "that guy", the one who angrily comments on all of his friends' posts containing the slightest reference to god. Indeed, that would probably be a bad idea, as it would too easily lend itself to caricature. Just be openly, unapologetically atheist. Post the occasional link from an atheist blog or website on your Facebook/G+ feed; don't go to church; tell your friends and family, but don't make a big deal about it.
Feel free to do some research first. The r/atheism community on Reddit is rapidly approaching 250,000 members, and can serve as a great resource. I'm proudly a member of that subreddit. There are a lot of us there who've helped others with coming out, so we know how to do so gently but firmly. We can help you with a reading list, great videos to watch, useful links, quotes that we like, and generally help you get and stay "in character". There are thousands of us there, so its not like there's a lack of information.
While you're going through the challenge, tell me about it, or post it to r/atheism. Let the atheist community know what kind of reaction you receive, how others treat you and if it changes, what consequences (good or bad) result from being an atheist. I think that both you, and we, may end up surprised at what happens. You could even turn it into a book deal, a la The Year of Living Biblically, or just become "Internet famous" like the atheist couple that became Mormons as an experiment.
At the end of the month, simply "find your way back to god". I'm not asking you to make a permanent life change, not unless you really want to. The point of the challenge isn't to make you question your faith. If it does end up that way, I wouldn't complain, but that isn't the goal. As a note, this challenge is not being extended to anyone who is still young and dependent on their family for support. I wouldn't counsel actual deconverted theists to come out in that situation; I'm certainly not going to recommend it for an experiment.
I'll be honest, I don't expect anyone to take me up on this challenge. Heck, most atheists wouldn't want to go through it again, and wouldn't wish it on anyone else. But I think we really need perspective, on both sides. And as a skeptic, I'm always looking for more data. The challenge is open.