Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Atheists are America's Most Distrusted Minority

Just when I was starting to wonder why I bother defending atheism:

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (3/20/2006) -- American’s increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn’t extend to those who don’t believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

The study is co-authored by assistant professor Joseph Gerteis and associate professor Doug Hartmann. It’s the first in a series of national studies conducted the American Mosaic Project, a three-year project funded by the Minneapolis-based David Edelstein Family Foundation that looks at race, religion and cultural diversity in the contemporary United States. -- Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, via iidb. [emphasis added]


So Americans are more unwilling to let their children marry atheists than marry members of any other minority group, plus they associate atheism with criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism. This just makes me sick.

(This is my second post today. Don't miss the first one.)

35 comments:

Chana said...

I think that the people in the survey were probably confusing "atheists" with "militant atheists." The militant extremist atheists who try to bring everyone over to their point of view, tell people why everything they believe is wrong, idiotic, and foolish, and assert there is no such thing as absolute morality- to the family that believes in absolute morality.

I can understand why people wouldn't want to marry atheists. They might assume atheists do not have morals or a sense of ethics, or wonder how strong either of these things are without a divine figure such as God to back them up. That doesn't mean these people are correct.

Most atheists that I know or have encountered (over the Internet) were originally raised with a religion or set of values, and then discarded it/ came to the realization they did not believe in God. However, they were still raised with a certain moral grounding and they are thoughtful of that when they consider their atheism.

I've often wondered about the child of atheists who is raised to be an atheist. I have yet to meet somebody like that, and I'm intrigued by the way such a person would view our world.

I think most people make the assumption that such people would believe, as you formerly mentioned "everything is lawful." Of course this is not true, if only for the reason DBS brought up- we all have to live on this Earth together.

There are good atheists and bad atheists just as there are all kinds of good and bad, moral and immoral people. I think we are just more inclined to think of an atheist in the militant sense, and that is who we instinctively react against. And I think there are a lot of people who don't actually know any atheists either, but fear them- because their religious beliefs are not strong, and they worry they will succumb to doubt. They therefore unleash their inward doubt and hatred upon atheists- who seem to prove them wrong, or act as a reproach to them.

That might be the motive.

Anyway...interesting post. :)

CyberKitten said...

Colour me completely unsurprised by those findings........ I am SO happy being in Europe!

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

According to adherents.com, the 5 countries with the highest percentages of atheists are Sweden, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway, and Japan. We're talking up to 80-85% atheists here. Nobody would argue that the majority of those people, who were surely not raised in religious homes, are significantly less moral than religious people are.

Moreover, I would argue that contemporary Western morality is more a product of the Enlightenment than of Judaism or Christianity. When Christian morality reigned supreme throughout Europe, it was known as the Dark Ages. When Christian morality ruled America, there were slavery, genocide, and witch-burnings.

Personally, I think American atheists have earned the right to be militant. When an open atheist is elected to the Senate, when people aren't scared to let their children marry atheists, or maybe when (many) religious people just stop trying to run everybody else's lives, atheists will no longer need to be militant.

Chana said...

contemporary Western morality is more a product of the Enlightenment than of Judaism or Christianity

That's why contemporary morality doesn't work for a great number of people. *smile*

When an open atheist is elected to the Senate

Can I use this argument for women? When a woman is elected to be President... :)

Maybe we mean different things when we say militant. I think militant= extremism. I never see extremism working, not for religious people or atheists. Why would you think being militant is justified?

asher said...

You really think that as many as 3% of americans identify themselves as athiests? Can't be that high.

dbackdad said...

Chana,
Believing there is no absolute morality doesn't make one militant. If that were true, believing the opposite would be militant also.

Asher,
It all depends how you define it. The percentage that define themselves as atheist is not as high as 3%. But those that define themselves as nonreligious/secular is 13% and that doesn't even include agnostics.

Top Twenty Religions in the United States, 2001

Atheism is not a religion (as a lot of Christians want to make it out to be) and as such is not so easy to pigeonhole.

Does it scare you that there may be a high percentage of non-believers?

CyberKitten said...

chana said: I've often wondered about the child of atheists who is raised to be an atheist. I have yet to meet somebody like that, and I'm intrigued by the way such a person would view our world.

Well, I'm not sure if I would classify my parents as atheists - I think they were just indifferent to religion in general - but as a product of that household I'm an atheist (and probably a militant one in some peoples views). I'm unsure whether to be amused or insulted by your comment. After all.. it's *my* world too. Or did you mean my view of the religious world?

But ask away... what do you want to know?

Hrafnkel said...

Well, damn. It appears that I have two strikes against me should I decide to marry a shiksa...

:-P

-Benjamin

Random said...

Asher,

Actually, according to the US Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/prod/www/statistical-abstract.html see section 1, table 69) the "No religion" group of the US population is actually closer to 13%, another reason for not believing everything you read in the media. The math geek in me comes out again, sorry:-)

And JA, " When Christian morality reigned supreme throughout Europe, it was known as the Dark Ages." This shows an ignorance of European history - simply put, the Dark Ages (incidentally, the term is no longer used much by actual historians because of it's inaccuracy) were so called because of the collapse of the Roman Empire, not because of the rise of Christianity. The High Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance were every bit as much Christian epochs as the "Dark Ages" were.

And as for "When Christian morality ruled America, there were slavery, genocide, and witch-burnings." Do the words "As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free" ring any bells with you?

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana:

Maybe we mean different things when we say militant. I think militant= extremism. I never see extremism working, not for religious people or atheists. Why would you think being militant is justified?

Well, I of course don't mean that bombing churches or something would be justified, just that someone like Dawkins (although he's a Brit) is okay. I think he might be counterproductive, but that's a different issue.


asher:

You really think that as many as 3% of americans identify themselves as athiests? Can't be that high.

I actually thought it was low, but it's hard to tell since there are so many labels on the areligious end of the spectrum. (Or, what dbackdad said.)


Random:

And JA, " When Christian morality reigned supreme throughout Europe, it was known as the Dark Ages." This shows an ignorance of European history - simply put, the Dark Ages (incidentally, the term is no longer used much by actual historians because of it's inaccuracy) were so called because of the collapse of the Roman Empire, not because of the rise of Christianity. The High Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance were every bit as much Christian epochs as the "Dark Ages" were.

Yeah, you're probably right, here. Sorry for the over-the-top rhetoric.

And as for "When Christian morality ruled America, there were slavery, genocide, and witch-burnings." Do the words "As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free" ring any bells with you?

On this I disagree with your implication. Of course there were Christians on both sides, but there's no denying that a predominently church-going Christian country nearly wiped out an entire race and embraced the slavery of another. I've praised MLK Jr. on this blog before, but a few good Christians don't negate the fact that a whole lot of evil has been done by professed Christians. I don't know if Christians are more evil than atheists on average, but professed Christianity is sure no indicator of morality.

Chana said...

Cyberkitten,

No need to be amused or insulted. I'm curious, that's all. Harmless curiousity.

And when I said "our" world, I meant our as in everybody's. Our as in yours, mine, etc, so don't worry, you weren't being excluded/ there is no issue about "my world" vs. not your world.

So questions, then...What is your view of ethics and morals? How did you develop them? Are they or are they not subject to change? What is your criteria for making an ethical or moral decision?

(I know these are very broad, so you can answer them in whatever way you choose.)

StepIma said...

Well, something like 85% of Americans self-identify as Christians by the latest polls, so you have to see how this would happen. When you're a capital-C Christian, there's not much lower you can go than "G-dless." You're doomed to eternal hellfire, etc etc etc. Even the believers in other religions are usually seen as merely misguided and therefore still "savable."

Looking at the article through a Jewish (or Buddhist, or Atheist, etc.) filter, it's incomprehensible how a group would be singled out like that just because they don't bow down before an invisible being... but through an only-one-path religion like Christianity, it makes perfect sense. You can't accept a son if you don't accept a father in the first place... so you can't get salvation. Which makes you beyond help and therefore a threat to others.

So actual immorality is almost irrelevant. It's just an "of course" that they assume naturally comes with having no hope of - or desire for, or belief in - salvation. No matter how much you talk about morality or militancy, or whatever, it won't register - because they're not concerned with this world. How you act in this world only proves their point if you're disruptive, and is meaningless if you're not. And how they act is meaningless, because they're saved so long as they believe. It's a lose-lose.

Just my opinion, but I grew up in the Bible Belt, and it's all-or-nothing land. If you side with nothing, you're the devil by definition to them. Even if you're as "sinless" - or as pacifistic - as the J-man himself.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I just did a piece on my blog that used the article that came out yesterday. If I read your blog first I would have given you credit, because that is the kind of Atheist I am.
One commentor just said something that made sense about the low number of Atheists that are in the US compared to other Western countries: Thanks to WW2's victory, America jumped on god for the victory and it was magnified by the Cold War: the war against the godless commies.

Alan said...

I wonder what the child of two atheists/skeptics who observed halakhah would look like.

CyberKitten said...

chana said: So questions, then...What is your view of ethics and morals? How did you develop them? Are they or are they not subject to change? What is your criteria for making an ethical or moral decision?

I'm afraid I don't quite understand your first question. My ethics and morals developed much the same way as most peoples I would imagine: Because of my genes, my upbringing, my culture and my experience. Yes, they are subject to change (I would add 'of course') depending on experience. My main criteria for moral choice is harm - does an action cause or reduce harm (taking into account the particular circumstances of each situation (again I would add 'of course').

I'm afraid that you need to ask a more specific set of questions to produce more specific answers.

bryce said...

I wonder if a person who calls himself "bacon eating atheist jew", or a jew who incessantly blogs about his atheism, is, practically by definition, a 'militant atheist'. Or, at least 'militant enough'.

Esther said...

I am a member of an Ethical Culture Society, self-described as a non-theistic religious movement. All we do is talk about ethics and morality. I bristle at the idea that if you don't believe in god you can't possibly have a moral standards. That's one of the many conceits of so-called religious people. That they're the only people that could possibly live a moral life.

Did Jesus think up the golden rule? Was it Mohammed? How 'bout Moses? Buddha? No. People thought it up all by themselves. Many cultures came to the same conclusion simultaneously.

With or without religion, people can use their brains and their hearts to make this world a better place. Or they can choose to do the opposite.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Morality evolved. We know we can't be fruitful and multiply if we went around randomly murdering each other and stealing.
I'm convinced that we evolved the 10 commandments. And yes, they are man made.

Sadie Lou said...

Let's be logical:
A professing Christian should not marry an unbeliever. Number one, the Bible asks that we not yoke ourselves unequally.
This is not an issue of Christians thinking they are better than Atheists, it's an issue of common sense.
A person of strong faith in God would want to find a partner with the same strong faith in order to be on the same page concerning marriage, goals, children, etc. I think you're looking at this article in the wrong way. Why would we encourage marrital discourse?

Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

I would not be excited about my children expressing an interest in marrying an Atheist either. Not because I believe Atheists to be bad people but because I wouldn't want my children to set themselves up for a difficult marriage. Marriage is hard enough between people with the same beliefs let alone a complete opposite world view.

dbackdad said...

Sadie said: "A professing Christian should not marry an unbeliever. Number one, the Bible asks that we not yoke ourselves unequally."

As you know, my wife "yoked" herself 12 years ago with a non-believer. And we're still here and happy. That's a big part of marriage ... finding common ground. I've allowed her to take Alex to church every week and he's in a Lutheran pre-school. But when we feel he's of an old enough age to choose for himself, we'll give him the choice. We don't hide my atheism/humanism from him and we always discuss our differences in a very open and respectful manner.

Telling someone that they shouldn't marry an atheist is no different than telling them they shouldn't marry someone of another race. And that is getting just a little too close to xenophobia for me.

CyberKitten said...

dbackdad said: Telling someone that they shouldn't marry an atheist is no different than telling them they shouldn't marry someone of another race. And that is getting just a little too close to xenophobia for me.

Though I'm not the marrying kind... I don't think that I could date a non-vegetarian.. or a smoker... My kids (if I had any) could make their own decision though..

David said...

dbackdad, it's reasonable to assume that people of similar interests are more likely to marry. As you say, "a big part of marriage [is] finding common ground", but if your whole life revolves around your faith, if you say a prayer before and after every meal, when you wake up and before you go to sleep, wouldn't you assume to marry someone who shared that?

dbackdad said...

CK and David,
We all have the right to make whatever choice we want in who we marry. I'm not saying that you wouldn't have a person's faith (or preference in food) in mind when you make that choice. I was just responding to her (Sadie's) statement that you absolutely SHOULDN'T marry someone of non-faith and that you should discourage anyone else from doing so. You know us atheists ... we don't like absolutes. :-)

Sadie Lou said...

dbackdad-- with all due respect towards your happily functioning marriage and child rearing, you have to understand that when your wife chose to marry you, she was doing so against what we learn from the bible.
You don't marry someone with the hopes that they will change later. I'm not saying that your wife wishes you would convert to her faith but I would wonder why she wouldn't. As people of faith, we desire our loved ones to be saved. We want to know that they will be with us in heaven. I find it odd that a Christian would be married to someone they don't believe will share their fate in the afterlife.
I have a young cousin that was dating a guy she REALLY liked. They had much in common except that she's non-denominational and he's from The Church of Christ. The Church of Christ believes that you must be baptized to be saved.
My cousin believes salvation is in Christ alone; works don't save you.
Why would she continue to date and invest in someone emotionally if the end result will be nothing? She understands the futility of dating a guy who would teach their children something she knows isn't true. Perhaps they could find common ground the way you and your wife did but you are, essentially, submitting to her way of life by allowing your son to go to church with your wife. There's nothing wrong with that, I think that's awesome but it's not a reality for most people. I know plenty of people who tried to do what you two have done and it blew up in their face.

dbackdad, while I'm sure you guys have it all worked out and are happy--most Christians wouldn't have gone down that path with you knowing that you believe in something that isn't true for themselves. It's such a conflict of interest.
Love conqures a lot though, doesn't it?
:)
As a girl and a romantic at heart--I see the love in the choice your wife made, despite what my head tells me is right.
Surely, you can understand that?

Esther said...

Sadie Lou - You have to be more careful when you describe how "most Christians" feel. My husband is a Christian. (To whom I am happily married for many years.) I have many friends who are Christians - some who are members of the clergy. I don't think you could possibly presume to speak for most Christians. Perhaps you could be more specific about which sect of Christianity you presume to speak for.

Random said...

Sadie,

I don't want to disagree with you over scripture, but I don't believe it's the case that the bible forbids believers from marrying non-believers. The relevant scripture is 1 Corinthians 12-14:

"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."

A good and faithful marriage saves both parties in other words, so long as at least one of the parties has been saved.

Random said...

Aargh - that should be 1 Corinthians 7:12-14. Sorry!

Sadie Lou said...

random--
that's actually not the verse I was thinking about. I was thinking about:
2Corinthians 6:14 ¶ Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

The scripture you mentioned is for couples who are already married and have either become a Christian after marriage or have fallen away from Christianity after marriage.
I have seen both examples.
My husband and I were agnostic when we married and he became a Christian. We lived that way for a year before I accepted the gospel.
I had an elderly lady friend that was married for 25 years and then her husband told her one day that he didn't believe anymore.
He left her.

The scripture I'm talking about is directed towards individuals considering marriage.

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou:

You still haven't explained why Christians would want their children to marry Muslims or Hindus (for example) before atheists.

Sadie Lou said...

esther--I feel comfortable speaking for non denominational, conservative Christians. I don't know what you are.
I'm sorry if I have overstepped my bounds but I would appreciate an example of how I might have inaccurately stated how "most Christians" feel on the subject of marrying an atheist.

Sadie Lou said...

JA--I have no idea how a Christian could justify a marriage between the two examples you mentioned before they would justify a marriage to an atheist; doesn't make sense.

dbackdad said...

Sadie,
I certainly (and never) intend any disrespect. I understand within the framework of your beliefs (and a lot of Christians) that you cannot advise anyone to marry a non-Christian. I'm merely trying to represent the viewpoint of non-Christians. And I believe that different Christians even interpret it differently ... as the last couple of commenters have pointed out.

Random said...

Sadie,

The problem I have with using 2 Cor 6:14 that way is that nowhere in the verse itself does it actually mention marriage (unlike in the verses I cited), and that if you read it in the context of the following verses -

"What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."

- it actually appears to be talking about Church government and doctrine, and specifically warning Christians not to adopt pagan practices or doctrines or to allow themselves to be led by unbelievers in matters of faith.

That said, I agree with you on the wider point - of course it is natural to want our children to marry someone who shares their most important beliefs. Harmony in such things cannot do any other than help build a happy marriage. I just don't believe that scripture forbids Christians from marrying non-Christians.

JA - with Sadie on that one. On my personal hierarchy of preferences where potential marriage partners for any children of mine may be concerned there are more religions that would come lower down the list than atheism than would come in above it. It really is more complicated than believers vs. atheists.

Sadie Lou said...

random--
I have always understood it that Christ's relationship to the Church is always a picture of our own relationships to each other.
If God asks the question:
"What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?"
I would look at that seriously and ask myself that question if I were looking at an unbeliever in the prospect of marriage. I believe that particular Scripture to be applicable to many life choices...
That Scripture is not telling us we can't associate with unbelievers at all--but in the scope of long term emotional or physical investment or commitment, absolutely.
Jesus ate dinner with unbelievers but he didn't leave it that way. He always confronted them with the truth. How could a believer justify a long term relationship without eventually parting ways? I have unsaved relatives and while I do not turn my back on them, I'm also not in a binding relationship with them in the same way marriage is binding.

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