After presenting my research project, something a member of the class said to me got me thinking about a potential problem. She indicated that coming out as an atheist might a privileged position, ie, that you need a solid support structure, or be well off yourself, to coming out. And some of the responses indicate that a few people felt that same way, that they cannot be open and out about who they are, because they have to rely on religious people to get by, and they cannot risk losing that support structure. This got me thinking about how I could reach out to the atheists that are not "out" and here those stories. As with all research involving things that people may be afraid or embarrassed to share, it is 100% safe to assume that the number you get for those that report having those feelings/experiences that can caring social stigma with it is low, and the real number is higher. When investigating cases of rape or other sexual assault, for example, it is commonly understood that because of bullshit social stigma placed on those who are raped and sexually assaulted, crimes go unreported, and those who are victims such assaults do not talk about it. The same basic phenomena I think may go on when trying to get accurate results for the number of atheists, and understanding their stories. When pondering this question of how to reach out to those that may be unable or unwilling to come forward, I realized I had, in my first conception of how the study might be conducted, made an assumption that would hinder my efforts to get as many closeted atheists as possible to talk to me.
One of my concerns with the survey was getting Christians to answer honestly and fully to a research project conducted by an atheist. In considering this issue, I settled on the solution of, in the really closed religious communities, getting a respected member of the church who was sympathetic to my goals to conduct the study for me. Religious people can sometimes be more honest and open about crisis' they have had with their faith, when they have acted poorly, or with concerns they have had with others surrounding their faith when discussing those issues with another member of their particular church. Further, I would, in this case, avoid the issue being preached at as an atheist, or getting prepackaged answers about the glory of god that would taint the results. However, in considering this issue, I realized that I would also completely cut off access to atheists whose stories I would be most interested in hearing, those who are in the closet and a member of a closed conservative religious community. In thinking about this issue, the small error in the results I would get from doing the survey myself would be insignificant compared to the ability to get access to closeted atheists in those communities, and hear their stories and understand what challenges and issues they face in hiding their disbelief.