Racism against Atheists

It looks like Americans would rather you believe in a god or gods they don’t believe in than have you believe in no god at all.  Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study : News Releases: UMNnews: U of M..

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.

Since we don’t do such a good job with religious and racial diversity now, I can’t imagine what would happen if the 3% of America that is atheist grows or becomes more publicly visible. 

This also seems strange to me since so many Americans do not go to church or actively participate in a religion.  I can’t imagine that an athesist lives a life that’s very different than a non practicing Christian.  I doubt they even that they have widely different values.

7 Replies to “Racism against Atheists”

  1. This is my take on it: When most Americans hear the word “Atheist” they think of someone who is against the values they grew up with. They think of Madalyn O’Hair, a woman who knew how to hate (see Wikipedia). On the other hand, when people think of Christ, they think of a man who knew how to love. So they would rather have the label Christian than atheist.
    Thanks for sharing your view . . . and your photos.

  2. Great post.
    Perhaps one explanation is the negative depiction of atheists in comic books. Most superheros are theists, with a majority being Christians: Superman is a Methodist, Spiderman is a Protestant, X-Man Rogue is a Southern Baptist, X-Man Nightcrawler is a Catholic. Even the Punisher is Catholic. But when it comes to villians, atheism seems to be the rule. The Joker, The Kingpin, The Green Goblin, Sabertooth, and Lex Luthor are all atheists. (See http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html).
    I’m kidding, obviously, but I think that this reflects something that may be a factor in the survey results. The majority of Americans think they get their moral values from their religion or spiritual beliefs. More Americans have come to realize that many other sects and religions also offer similar moral values (don’t lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, murder), if not the same theological teachings. This has not extended to atheists because atheists do not have an obvious transcendent source for their moral values. As one atheist philosopher stated:
    “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons should not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn’t decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me…. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.”
    Kai Nielsen, “Why Should I Be Moral?” American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 90.
    Ironically, there is no evidence in our society that atheists engage in crime or hurt others more than theists (though they are more likely to commit suicide). A further irony is that — as you notice — some people who claim to believe in God really don’t seem to get their values from their religion. But perhaps they sense what Mr. Nielsen articulated, that an obvious, perhaps indispensible, rational basis for morality action is religious belief. Note that I distinguish between having a rational basis for moral action and actually enaging in moral action.
    Personally, the atheists I have known tend to fall into two camps. The first were nice moral people who respect the beliefs of others, including theists. They simply had too many doubts or lacked sufficient evidences to believe in God.
    The other group is typically moral but seems to drip with contempt for theists, especially in matters intellectual. This would include such atheists as Richard Dawkins and other members of the “bright movement” who argue that atheists and agnostics should be called “brights” because they are, well, brighter than those poor blights who still believe in the big-invisible-man-god-in-the-sky (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brights_movement). People who do believe in God (or a god or gods) likely find this off-putting and perhaps even intimidating.
    I wrote an article about this question here: http://christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_moral.html

  3. I hadn’t thought about that – anyone who drips contempt for others’ beliefs is usually a bit hard to put up with!
    I also realized I’ve never met anyone who claimed to be an athesist. Granted, I usually avoid conversations about religion with people I don’t know just like I avoid conversations about politics. But I’ve never met anyone who openly claimed to be an atheist or brought it up in conversation and supposedly, I’ve met a lot of them! Atheist Scientists.

  4. I’ve met some atheists in person, mostly lawyers. But most I have met have been online, as my hobby is discussing religion with people I don’t know. 🙂
    The atheists I have met in person have turned out to be good friends. With a few exceptions, however, the online athiests I have met were more along the lines of those who advocate the “brights” concept. If I met them in person, however, we’d probably hit it off better.

  5. “*Racism* against atheism? Should you probably say “Prejudice” or “Bigotry”?
    “This also seems strange to me since so many Americans do not go to church or actively participate in a religion.”
    Church attendance is quite high in the US compared to other first world countries.

  6. Are you presuming that these people believe that non-believers are somehow descended from demons or Satan or something, and that is why you call it racism?
    Racism I guess still counts, even if that race does not in fact exist.

  7. You cannot call opposition to atheism racism, for the simple fact that it is not a race, but a diverse group postulating a minority worldview. If they are uncomfortable with the fact that a majority of the population who professes faith treat them like outsiders, or worse, thats just too bad because holding unpopular views is a risky enterprise.
    Most of my friends are appalled to know that I voted for GW Bush. They are still my friends but when the topic of politics or Iraq come up (often) I am expected to account for myself and, even from friends, I recieve a degree of scorn for my support. Atheism is an opposing fiew to faith, if they can’t take the pressure of believing in something (or in this case, nothing) they ought to reconsider how certain they are.
    Similarly, there are a small minority (thankfully) of whack jobs who deny the Holocost even happened. These people justly are ridiculed (in some countries, it’s a punnishable offence). How far should we go to defend their right to believe? Atheists enjoy the right in an open society to believe what they do. If Richard Dawkins can go on happy go lucky, he ought to at least be grateful to the tolerance a majority faithful society extends to him.

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