Several other blogs have picked up on this and I’m late to the game, but what the hell, I blame it on my WoW addiction.
It’s true, I am the guy your mother warned you about.
According to a new survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology Atheists are considered to be bad, bad people by the majority of Americans:
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in “sharing their vision of American society.” Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.
The parents of the first woman I asked to marry me weren’t thrilled with the idea of their daughter marrying an atheist and they worked hard to bring about the end of our relationship once we got engaged. It wasn’t the sole reason our relationship fell apart, but it was a factor in it and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Which is why I was so surprised at how accepting my in-laws are of my unbelief despite the fact that they are a reasonably religious family, certainly more so than my own family ever was.
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.
Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
I’ll give ‘em the materialism and even the cultural elitism, but criminal behavior? Folks, check your prisons and you’ll find the majority of people in there are good old fashioned believers who are supposedly all moral and upstanding thanks to their religious beliefs. Least represented belief group proportionally speaking? Atheists. Must be that cultural elitism making us so damned clever we never get caught or something.
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.”
Which is really ironic to me considering that the vary majority of truly apathetic and self-centered people I’ve known in my life have been true believers while the vast majority of people I’ve known that actually gave a damn about the common good were atheists. It’s entirely possible that my personal experiences are different from the norm, but I haven’t any reason to suspect that is the case.
The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation—with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.
Being more educated makes you more accepting of other’s differences, or in other words, more liberal?!? GASP! Whodathunkit?
In all seriousness, there’s not a whole lot in this new survey that we atheists haven’t known for a long time already. The archive here at SEB has similar entries about previous surveys/studies that have said the same thing. We already know that an openly gay politician with a felony record and an alcohol problem would still be more likely to be elected to political office than an openly atheist candidate. We are the people you love to hate and that’s likely to stay that way for awhile yet to come. So long as being stupid remains fashionable at least.
Not that I’m complaining as entry into The Evil Atheist Conspiracy gets us these wicked cool black capes and long “Snidely Whiplash” mustaches that we can twirl in a sinister fashion as we cook up our plots to take over the world.