Op-ed Asks, Why Do Americans Still Dislike Atheists?

Are atheists and other nonbelievers treated as "second-class citizens" in the United States? Researcher Gregory Paul and sociology professor Phil Zuckerman assembled the evidence to make a compelling case in Saturday's Washington Post:

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

This largely overlooked discrimination is even more puzzling when you consider how inaccurate the negative stereotypes about atheists truly are. In fact, as Paul and Zuckerman show, nonreligious people are -- by many important measures -- far better off, and far better behaved, than their religious counterparts:

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

Consider that at the societal level, murder rates are far lower in secularized nations such as Japan or Sweden than they are in the much more religious United States, which also has a much greater portion of its population in prison. Even within this country, those states with the highest levels of church attendance, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, have significantly higher murder rates than far less religious states such as Vermont and Oregon.

As individuals, atheists tend to score high on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds when it comes to existential questions and to obey the golden rule. They are more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious are, and are less likely to be nationalistic or ethnocentric. They value freedom of thought.

While many studies show that secular Americans don’t fare as well as the religious when it comes to certain indicators of mental health or subjective well-being, new scholarship is showing that the relationships among atheism, theism, and mental health and well-being are complex. After all, Denmark, which is among the least religious countries in the history of the world, consistently rates as the happiest of nations. And studies of apostates — people who were religious but later rejected their religion — report feeling happier, better and liberated in their post-religious lives.

So why the hostility to atheists? And is there hope that society is becoming more accepting of non-belief?

More than 2,000 years ago, whoever wrote Psalm 14 claimed that atheists were foolish and corrupt, incapable of doing any good. These put-downs have had sticking power. Negative stereotypes of atheists are alive and well. Yet like all stereotypes, they aren’t true — and perhaps they tell us more about those who harbor them than those who are maligned by them. So when the likes of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly and Newt Gingrich engage in the politics of division and destruction by maligning atheists, they do so in disregard of reality.

As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations’ tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.

I draw two conclusions: One, we in the secular movement need to do a better job combating character attacks from the Becks, Palins, O'Reillys, Gingrichs, and others in the media and on the Religious Right who want atheists to remain second-class citizens. Second, we need to draw more attention to this issue, and to the evidence. Articles in the mainstream media, such as this one, certainly help.

But what do you think: Why do Americans still dislike atheists?

 

seo google sıra bulucu kanun script encode decode google sira bulucu google pagerank sorgulama seo google sıra bulucu ukash kanunlar

Comments

I think part of the problem is American politics. The religious right claims to have the so-called "moral high ground" and locks in the Republican party, for example. Therefore, Republicans are "good, god-loving" Americans. There was a time in relatively recent history that Democrats avoided embracing this overt takeover of a political party. Now, however, even Democrats wish to be seen by Americans as "people of faith." If not, they faced accusations from republicans as "godless" or as trying to take god out of America. They make sure they are seen going to church. They make sure to say "god bless America." They make a point of talking about they're prayer breakfasts, or that they get scriptures or prayers on their cell phones or blackberries daily (i.e. President Obama!). They are afraid of alienating voters, who might "defect" to republican candidates, rather than hold true to their own principles. I find it hypocritical at best, opportunistic, biased, insulting, and just plain phony. Ultimately, "god" doesn't belong IN America in the first place. David Barton, a self-taught "historian" who has the ear of such right wing lunatics as Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee is an especially dangerous man. He believes that we were, are and MUST be a "christian nation" and claims historical and biblical citations to back his claims, often erroneously, but his followers never check. I included a link to a page "Barton's Bunk" which describes in detail why this man, David Barton, could arguably be the most dangerous man in America today.
I think is the fact that religion is both inclusive and exclusionary. When a theist, who considers himself a well informed person, see's people he considers as intelligent or more intelligent than himself, who do not agree with his religious views, he may feel that his views are possibly not 100% correct. This may trigger a defense mechanism, and a necessity to pigeonhole those persons into a definition of character that is acceptable to his peer group. So atheists become immoral, untrustworthy, etc. This predefined identity is easier to accept then having to discover the truth personally.
I think is the fact that religion is both inclusive and exclusionary. When a theist, who considers himself a well informed person, see's people he considers as intelligent or more intelligent than himself, who do not agree with his religious views, he may feel that his views are possibly not 100% correct. This may trigger a defense mechanism, and a necessity to pigeonhole those persons into a definition of character that is acceptable to his peer group. So atheists become immoral, untrustworthy, etc. This predefined identity is easier to accept then having to discover the truth personally.
I really good example of non-believers doing good work was a recent event where they did something concrete for some cause (I don't remember the cause) but it coincided with a Christian prayer group praying for this cause. Not that we are tied to always or only countering some prayer vigil but I thought it was a good idea.
Sorry to post twice in a row, but as I was typing I was trying to remember something like what I was talking about. Here it is: http://www.imaginenomalaria.org/ It's a church-based outreach program to combat malaria. I wish a coalition of secular groups could come together on one issue like that and promote it on billboards and in the media.
I think us atheists should spend more time doing human service outreach and less time trying to let others know we're here. Instead of "There's probably no God" or "You KNOW its a myth" billboards, how about "Humanists feeding the hungry" or "Atheists fighting AIDS." The more positive stories about atheists actually helping humanity rather than being "controversial" would be the best thing to combat the stereotypes. I've seen a few stories about local atheist groups building houses in New Orleans or running food banks, or adopting a road but the vast majority are on the more divisive aspects. If there could be humanists groups in Alabama right now rather than mostly the church-based groups I'm seeing on my local news, I think it would be great.
- atheism is associated, fairly or unfairly, with the many failures of communism - atheism is associated with evil, devils and demons - rural grassroots identity problem. atheist communities do not offer any of the social benefits of the church communities, especially in rural areas. rural atheists have no local ingroup identity and no public visibility. - atheism is not the same as secular humanism. atheism defines a particular view towards supernatural claims but it does not offer an alternative moral message. many, but not all, atheists are secular humanists and this leads to a confused message. - atheists tend to use logic instead of emotion.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
seo google sıra bulucu kanun script encode decode google sira bulucu google pagerank sorgulama seo google sıra bulucu ukash kanunlar