Thursday, May 17, 2012

Atheists - The most hated minority

According to polls, atheists are the most hated and distrusted minority. 

One recent study was conducted by the University of Minnesota, which found that atheists ranked lower than “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 results from two of the most important questions were as follows:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society

Atheist: 39.6%
Muslims: 26.3%
Homosexuals: 22.6%
Hispanics: 20%
Conservative Christians: 13.5%
Recent Immigrants: 12.5%
Jews: 7.6%
I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group
Atheist: 47.6%
Muslim: 33.5%
African-American 27.2%
Asian-Americans: 18.5%
Hispanics: 18.5%
Jews: 11.8%
Conservative Christians: 6.9%
Whites: 2.3%

At first blush, the animosity towards atheists is difficult to understand.  Atheists tend to be underrepresented in prison populations.  They have have lower rates of divorce.  My personal experience with atheists is they are extremely moral and less "in your face" about their beliefs than religious people.

Some possible explanations include:

  1. Atheists are viewed as immoral. I have had many people tell me that I cannot possibly have a "moral compass" in the absence of religious beliefs.  This contradicts a great deal of empirical evidence, not to mention the fact that countries with atheist/non-believing majorities tend to have less crime.
  2. Our government has spent decades demonizing atheism by associating it with Communism. Once our leaders decided that they were threatened by Communism, they embarked on a massively successful propaganda campaign to turn the American people against Communists. Demonizing atheism was - and to some degree still is - an important part of that. Thus, one of the reasons many American theists hate atheists is that they continue to associate us with what they were taught to fear.
  3. Atheists may lead religious people to question their faith. I have long suspected that this may be one of the most important factors in maintaining hatred of atheists. Our very presence seems to make many religious believers (especially fundamentalist Christians) deeply uncomfortable, and I suspect this is because we are living reminders that they may be wrong.  The reason for this lies in terror management theory.  If a person is dealing with their fear of death with religion, my assertion that faith is a delusion results in extreme cognitive dissonance and negative emotional reactions.  Link
  4. Atheists are perceived by many American Christians as trying to ruin tradition (i.e., the privileged status Christianity enjoys in the U.S.). I suspect this is another big one. We are often perceived as spoilers. If it was only a matter of us spoiling cherished traditions, the reaction might be one of annoyance. But it is manifest as hatred because "tradition" is really just a stand in for Christian privilege.

I would be interested in any thoughts people have about why atheists are so hated.

(At least believers can agree on one thing)


  1. 22 percent of Americans said in a recent Gallup poll that they would not vote for a hypothetical Mormon candidate for president.
    By comparison, 10 percent or less of respondents said they would not vote for a Hispanic, Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, female or black candidate. Only a hypothetical gay candidate (32 percent) and a hypothetical atheist candidate (49 percent) fared worse than the Mormon candidate.
    To Americans, Atheist = Communist, the opposite of American, thanks to the Cold War mentality that brought us McCarthyism, the Red Scare, a mentality we're still living with.

  2. Excellent point. What can we do as atheists to overcome this prejudice?

  3. I like Sam Harris's approach, don't identify yourself as an Atheist.
    Don't identify yourself as anything, other than a homo sapien, who attacks bad ideas wherever you encounter them.

  4. I think all your reasons for this are way off the mark. And I think Stan's idea to not say what you believe is very devilish and destructive, that contributes to the problem - most religious people thinking they don't know any atheists, when in reality they know lots. Staying in the closet is very immoral, in my opinion.

    To me, the primary problem is all about faith and hope. Atheists are perceived as always say things like: "I'd like to believe in a God, but I just can't., because the rational and adds are against such a possibility."

    I would argue that even if the odds were against you, at least to some degree, going for something better is always more moral, despite the odds and rational.

    But the truth is, if there is already a god, or spirits, or anything out there hiding from us, that is the most hideous and terrible of all possible realities. It says that even if we become as good as that god, for whatever theodicy you favor, we won't be able to do any better, even if we become as good as them. Obviously resulting in eternal damnation of everyone, like our current supposedly 'weepy' God.

    If we were created by God, rather than evolution, again, that is the worst of all possible realities. It says that Gods creation necessarily 'fall' from omniscient goodness. Where if we evolved from lesser animals, then there is hope for all of us, that someday we'll never have children that ever have to similarly fall, for any reason. When you think about every possible reason to "hope" there is already a god, you find the same twisted rational. I'td be better, if there is not yet a God.

    To me, as an atheist, the most troubling argument is "The New God Argument" come up by some very intelligent transhumanist Mormons. (see: ) In my mind, all other arguments for God, are crap, but this one is very troubling to me. It is so compelling, that I must admit that odds are, there is already some God out there, some where, and that this is the most rational possibility to accept.

    So, given the odds and rationale, and this argument, I must admit that odds are, there is a God, but just the same, this hasn't converted my from my hope for atheist. Because, despite the odds, and the rationale, there is still a very rare possibility, that we just might be the first, or some other yet to be understood reason.

    It's time us atheist take back words like 'faith' and 'hope' and stop letting the religious theists twist them to be so evil. Then, finally, I think things will start to turn towards the better. It's all about true faith and true hope.

    Thank my parents, for creating me - don't slap them in the face, and claim it was some omnipotent God's fault. That's the most hellish and unjust thing anyone could do.

  5. I'm not sure I agree with A1-A3 of the "New God Argument." However, it is very interesting.