American Atheists, in an article posted on their site on Saturday March 25th, discussed a report that will be published in American Sociological Review, by researchers at the University of Minnesota.
The research is part of the American Mosaic Project which monitors attitudes of the population in respect to minority groups.
Researchers concluded: “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.”
Disturbingly, Atheists are “seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public,” despite being only 3% of the U.S. population according to Dr. Edgell, associate sociology professor and the lead researcher in the project.
A significant finding of the new study is that despite growing acceptance and tolerance of different groups within the religious community, Atheists are viewed as outsiders, “others,” who do not share a common community vision. “What matters for public acceptance of atheists — and figures strongly into private acceptance as well — are beliefs about the appropriate relationship between church and state and about religion’s role in underpinning society’s moral order, as measured by our item on whether society’s standards of right and wrong should be based on God’s laws.” The study found that conservative Protestants especially rejected the “possibility of a secular basis for a good society.” This, more than anything else, may be the driving factor placing Atheists outside the cultural mainstream in the minds of nearly a majority of Americans.
The report also talked about the relationship between Atheists and people’s perception of Atheism:
“Some people view atheists as problematic because they associate them with illegality, such as drug use and prostitution — that is, with immoral people who threaten respectable community from the lower end of the social hierarchy.” Presumably, this might be rooted in the claim that only religion can provide an authentic moral compass, and that without a deity (and the presumed punishment in an afterlife), people have little to lose by engaging in certain immoral, sinful behaviors.
“Others saw atheists as rampant materialists and cultural elitists that threaten common values from above — the ostentatiously wealthy who make a lifestyle out of consumption or the cultural elites who think they know better than everyone else.” In both cases, atheists are perceived as “self interested individuals who are not concerned with a common good.”
The debate over Atheists, Atheists and the issue of religion in civil society has been fueled by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Minnesota team devoted a section of their report to quotes from leading officials such as former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who in public statements invoked religion as a guarantor of freedom and human dignity. The 2004 presidential campaign witnessed similar rhetoric.
The study underscored the role of Atheists as “symbolic” of angst permeating American culture. “Negative views about atheists are strong,” noted the researchers, although “survey respondents were not, on the whole, referring to actual atheists they had encountered.” Instead, the Atheist is a sort of boundary marker distinguishing members of a wider policy from “others,” outsiders, those not sharing assumptions about morality and the role of religion. Religion is widely perceived as providing “habits of the heart,” and a disposition which includes one in membership within a larger community. Americans “construct the atheist as the symbolic representation of one who rejects the basis for moral solidarity and cultural membership in American society altogether.”
Very interesting reading and seems to prove some of the points I made in my last post about the myth of Christian persecution in the US.
For further reading: