Ten years ago sociologists at the University of Minnesota conducted a research study that discovered that among a list of racial and religious minority groups in America atheists were the most disliked group of people.
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 a 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).
Regarding who Americans would vote for as president, a recent Gallup poll found that ninety-six percent (96%) of Americans would vote for a Black candidate, ninety-five percent (95%) for a Catholic, ninety-three percent (93%) for a Jew, and seventy-six (76%) for a gay or lesbian. Only sixty percent (60%) said that they would vote for an atheist. Americans are even more likely to vote for a Muslim president (66%) than an atheist one and only a socialist (47%) ranked lower than an atheist (5).
There is also a study in which participants were presented with a story about a person who accidentally hits a parked car and then fails to leave behind valid insurance information for the other driver (6). Participants were asked to choose the probability that the person in question was a Christian, a Muslim, a rapist, or an atheist. They thought it equally probable the culprit was an atheist or a rapist, and unlikely the person was a Muslim or Christian.
A 2019 Pew Research Center survey asked Americans to rate groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 (as cold and negative as possible) to 100 (the warmest, most positive possible rating). U.S. adults gave atheists an average rating of 49, identical to the rating they gave Muslims  and colder than the average given to Jews , Catholics , and evangelical Christians . (7)
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.
5. McCarthy, Justin. 2019. Less Than Half in U.S. Would Vote for a Socialist for President. Available.
6. Grewal, Dasiy. 2012. In Atheists We Distrust. Available.
7. Pew Research Center. 2019. Feelings toward religious groups. Available.
It’s apparent that you’re way behind the curve on this. The fastest growing category of religiosity in the USA are the so-called “nones.” Those without any particular religious affiliation. Currently at 25% of the population and soaring, particularly among the young.
There’s a growing trend of religious groups insistence on inserting their religious nonsense into education, government and other public venues. Perhaps the desperate last gasp of the failing theocratic privilege once enjoyed in the past when the population was more homogenous, less educated and superstitious. We can note that much effort by evangelists focuses on the parts of the world with the greatest illiterate and superstitious societies, i.e Africa. Perhaps such groups are viewed as easier pickings.
One has to wonder at the legitimacy of the opinion poll in this piece in terms of the group polled, since the facts belie the poll results. For example, religious people make up a disproportionate percentage of incarcerated criminals as compared to the general population.
Good reading here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160422-atheism-agnostic-secular-nones-rising-religion/
Thank you, James, for allowing opposing views on your blog. Cheers!
I have to wonder what use an apologist intends to make of an opinion poll saying atheism is the most disfavored minority. Certainly not a rebuttal of atheism, which means the poll serves no apologetic purpose. it’s sheer anecdote…a conversation piece if you will.
James, ‘unaffiliated’ is not atheist.
This is as bad as when Atheists cite Japan as a great bastion of Atheism. It’s overwhelmingly Shinto, which is not a formal religious affiliation like Buddhism and Christianity, so it comes off as unaffiliated.
You’re reading spiritualist pseudo wiccans, psychics, and UFO cultists as ‘Atheist’ and gloating. More often than not you’re reading unaffiliated deistic agnostics as Atheists.
But for Atheists proper, you’re not making headway.
I wonder what would happen to the this poll if we started a conversation about how critical thinking skills (especially in philosophy) are nearly non-existent in you average American adult. I’d say the poll would be reduced in its worth to the level of a poll on what most Americans think about Bigfoot.
I disagree with your characterization, prariepolyguy, that “nones” = all the other silly beliefs outside of Christianity + a few atheists. I’ll grant that many in this group may hold a vague belief in a generic god figure, perhaps due to hold over from their childhood indoctrination, or simply to avoid being ostracized by family friends and workplace colleagues. Generally though, they are effectively so-called apatheists. Theism, particularly Christianity, since it is the most prevalent group in USA, has lost any meaningful relevance to their lives. They are simply apathetic toward religion. It’s not important except as a sort of social convention. I forget who made the quote but paraphrased, “Americans don’t believe in God, they believe in believing in God.” I saw something recently that said 4000-8000 churches are closing their doors annually, and 3500 people leave the church…every day. If that is true, it’s pretty clear that the society is moving away from theism.
Gloating? That’s a good one. Pretty difficult to gloat when one is still apparently at the bottom of the heap. Methinks perhaps you should remove the plank from thine eye. 😉
Sincerely though, thank you for offering your perspective.
The one glaring fact that comes from this post and the studies you reference is how exclusionary religion is. If you don’t believe what I believe I cast you out, I don’t like you and I don’t trust you. That is the message this post and studies like this send to the world. It exposes religion and particularly Christianity as the intolerant organizations that they are and it exposes you as one of its soldiers of intolerance.
What’s funny is that liberal Christians are a good rebuttal to the “turn or burn” fundamentalists who are so separatist. When fundamentalists “evangelize”, what they are really doing is asking us to take sides concerning many of Christianity’s in-house debates.
If I have to formally accept Jesus to be saved, I have to believe the liberal Christians are wrong. If I must believe the bible to be inerrant in order to avoid stumping my spiritual growth, I have to believe that most Christian scholars, because they deny biblical inerrancy, are wrong. If I cannot be saved apart from accepting the virgin birth accounts in Matthew and Luke as literal and true history, then I have to believe the liberal Christians, who characterize that doctrine as legend, are wrong.
We also see that atheists are incoherent and unskilled at thinking, such as the emotion-driven passel of logical fallacies in that comment. They bounce between sulking and throwing tantrums, then demonize God, “religion” (a phantom boogieman to blame for anything they perceive as evil), Christians, the Bible, Conservatives, anyone who disagrees with their rhetoric. Atheists seek their personal identities in their atheism, which is probably one reason that their suicide rate is so high. Just read some of the atheopathic social media and you’ll see the lack of reason and faux morality, a morality that has no consistent standard and is only based on current, personal expedience. And you wonder why your hateful cult is disliked?
Well I think your comments make my point. Your comments here are filled with intolerance. As a matter of fact your whole blog seems to do nothing but attack those that don’t believe as you do. That was my whole point and you stepped up and offered a perfect example of it. Thanks!
So, you read over 1,500 posts and articles that I did? Wow, that’s impressive. Of course, with all the sites I’m involved with, there are plenty more. However, you did not do anything more than question-begging epithets and the straw man fallacy with blatant misrepresentation of my content, nor did you show examples of this alleged “intolerance’. Actually, you supported my points, as well as the points of Mr. Bishop.
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