Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
I wonder how much animus towards atheists derives from the unwillingness of atheists to think in categories like whether they have the authority to “allow” their children to marry someone or not.
Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.
This won’t be a surprise to any atheists in America. Atheists aren’t tolerated in a wide array of contexts and there are many examples where bigotry or discrimination towards are atheists in contexts where similar behavior towards Jews or blacks would be unequivocally condemned.
Why are we perceived as a threat to the American way of life? There is just one thing that is common to all atheists: we don’t accept the common belief that some sort of god exists. Thus, the only thing that can be identified as “atheistic” is the failure to go along with the same beliefs as everyone else. For varying reasons, atheists are dissenters from popular beliefs. This would means that dissent, disagreement, and individualism are perceived as threats to the American way of life.
Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens—they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”
Now this is very interesting. Atheists are associated with criminal behavior? The percentage of atheists is prison is lower than the percentage in the general population. Perhaps people simply assume that criminals can’t really believe in God, thus leading to a nicely closed loop of bigotry.
Atheists are associated with materialism? By that, I assume the study means “being materialistic,” or placing material concerns over all others. I can understand people thinking ill of materialism, but I can’t understand why people would associate atheism with that. After all, when was the last time you saw a major conservative evangelical Christian leader condemn materialism? Indeed, when was the last time you saw any Christian leaders in America condemn materialism?
Which party is most associated with greed, selfishness, or materialism: Republicans or Democrats?
Which party is most associated with atheists: Republicans or Democrats?
Now, tell me again why atheists are associated with materialism? I’m not claiming that atheists can’t be materialistic, but being materialistic is a product of being part of American culture — a culture that Christians are every bit as influenced by as atheists are. Atheists aren’t going to be any more materialistic than Christians, but we at least don’t think that any gods are telling us not to be.
We can make the same point with the claim that atheists aren’t interested in the “common good” by looking at all sorts of social programs that helps support the common good: welfare, health insurance, benefits for veterans, and so forth. Which political party is most associated with cutting such programs? Which political party is most associated with atheists?
Maybe atheists are despised because we’re more likely to oppose the use of torture? According to a survey posted on the National Catholic Reporter, here are the percentages of people who say that torture is never justified:
31% White Protestant
31% White evangelical
32% Overall Population
Here are the numbers who think that torture is often justified:
15% White Protestant
13% White evangelical
15% Overall Population
I’m not sure what “secular” means, but it surely includes atheists and agnostics, given how the term tends to be used in surveys. It would appear, then, that we atheists are far more likely than Christians, or even the whole population, to say that torture is never justified. We atheists are far less likely than Christians, or even the whole population, to think that torture is often justified (same is true for “sometimes justified”).
So, maybe we atheists are a threat to the American way of life because so many other Americans want to include torture in that “way of life” but we don’t?
Understanding Atheism & Atheists:
- Atheism 101
- What is Atheism?
- Defining Atheism
- Is Atheism a Religion?
- Who Are Atheists?
- Why Don't Atheists Believe in God?
- Questions About Atheism
- Atheism Myths
- Polls on Atheism
Resources for Athiests: