Ten years ago sociologists at the University of Minnesota did a research study which discovered that among a list of racial and religious minority groups atheists were the most disliked group of people in America.
It was found that nearly 50% of people disapproved of their child marrying an atheist, while 40% of Americans felt atheists didn’t share their vision for society. In 2016 another study was conducted with a sample of over 2500 respondents. The findings suggested that Americans still have negative view of atheists and the non-religious in general. According to the researchers their goal was to replicate the analysis “from a decade earlier” and, this time around, “to consider the factors that foster negative sentiment toward other non-religious persons” (1). Their findings are tabled as follows:
According to one atheist writer for the website Patheos,
“the journal Social Forces, shows that, despite the demographic trends showing an increase in those who are religiously unaffiliated, atheists are still really, really unpopular… those results are still surprising given all the progress we’ve made over the past decade… this is a stigma that continues to haunt us and we’ll have to keep working to get rid of it.” (2).
Researcher Penny Edgell explains that,
“The findings of this most recent survey support the argument that atheists are persistent cultural outsiders in the United States because they are perceived to have rejected cultural values and practices understood as essential to private morality, civic virtue, and national identity. Moreover, any refusal to embrace a religious identity of any type is troubling for a large portion of Americans” (3).
What explains this rather high distrust and dislike of atheists in American society? According to the study,
“atheists are persistent cultural outsiders in the United States because they are perceived to have rejected cultural values and practices understood as essential to private morality, civic virtue, and national identity. Moreover, any refusal to embrace a religious identity of any type is troubling for a large portion of Americans” (4).
A large factor would also likely be the perception a number of popular atheists have been giving the general public over the last 16 or so years, particularly with the rise of the New Atheism known for its condescending views and treatment of religion and religious believers. Atheist events such as The Reason Rally and Blasphemy Day likely contribute to this negative public perception and identity, as do some of the acrimoniously toned books produced by those in the movement.
1. Edgell, P., Hartmann, D., Stewart, E., Gerteis, J. 2016. “Atheists and Other Cultural Outsiders: Moral Boundaries and the Non-Religious in the United States” in Social Forces (2016) 95 (2): 607-638. Available.
2. Mehta, H. 2016. A Decade After Atheists Were Found to be the Most Disliked Group in the Country, Little Has Changed. Available.
3. Edgell, P., Hartmann, D., Stewart, E., Gerteis, J. Ibid.
4. World Religion News. 2016. Atheists Remain Most Disliked Religious Minority in the U.S. Available.