New study finds atheists most distrusted American minority

I think it’s time, or nearly so, for me to truly ‘come out’ as an atheist. Certainly my friends and associates know this about me, but not all of my family does, and while it’s not something I’m ashamed of, it is certainly something I’m currently cautious about disclosing.

This study is a good indication of why I am cautious.

However, I feel a responsibility toward emerging atheists and existing atheists alike to declare myself publicly atheist, to show that atheists are not, in fact, all evil, self-centered, untrustworthy and unethical frauds. 

I shall continue to ponder this, though I think my decision will likely be in favor of this public declaration.

Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study : News Releases: UMNnews: U of M.

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.

ADDENDUM: 2006-03-25 @ 14:20 CST – I just came across this quote from an interview with Dennett:

Well, by leading a meaningful life. As I look around the world, I see all sorts of heroes in every walk of life. But there is a prejudice against this because a lot of [atheists] are reluctant to point it [their lack of belief] out. Nobody wants to spend their life going around being the ‘village atheist.’ They’re much more interested in just leading a good and normal life.

So a lot of people, I find, are surprised to see me so candidly and cheerfully acknowledging my atheism. Not because they’re not atheists, but because they don’t go around mentioning it. I think that’s unfortunate.

The emphasis is mine. The article is here.

ADDITIONAL ADDENDUM: 2006-03-25 @ 14:24 – another perspective on religion and ethics:

Everyday science: Science, religion and the atomic bomb

“We know where scientific reason can end up by itself: the atomic bomb… fruit of a reason that wants to free itself from every ethical or religious link.”

So they go on to claim that religion should oversee science.

But a bomb does no harm unless it is dropped on someone. So who made the decision to bomb the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Not the scientists. Most of the scientists who knew about the bomb signed letters to President Truman asking that the bomb never be used, especially against civilians. But they had no say in the final decision.

<>Then who did decide to bomb cities full of women and children? Christians all:
President Harry S. Truman was a Baptist.
Secretary of state James F Byrnes was an Anglican/Episcopalian.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson was a Presbyterian.<>

So where was religion’s famous morality when these decisions were made? And where they now while our self-proclaimed Christian President George W. Bush wages a war in Iraq based on lies which kills civilians by the thousand?

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2 Responses to New study finds atheists most distrusted American minority

  1. chagnon says:

    Great post. It’s comforting to to know that there are a few atheists in the “village”. I consider myself an anthitheist, principally opposed to religion on moral grounds. I believe that religion undermines moral and rational thinking by replacing reason with dogma.

    On the relationship between religion and science, it is interesting to note that the earliest organized denouncement of nuclear war was led by Humanists. It is extremely important for people to realize the importance of rejecting religion in order to live a moral life.

    Religion seems to act as a screen onto which we project our nastiest instincts, such as fear and superstition. Fits in nicely with the Bush philosophy of leadership.

    I like to Richard Dawkins quote in your blog title… I suppose you saw his series “The Root of All Evil” on Channel 4? It’s a must see. Wish there was more such dialogue permitted in the US.

  2. Kodjo says:

    Along with others like Dennet, I decided about a year ago to identify myself as a bright (not bright; just as someone might identify themselves as a gay, not light-headedly happy; note the opposite of bright is not dull any more than the opposite of gay is not unhappy). The Brights are about raising people’s awareness of people who only accept natural explanations for phenomenon (and their decency). See http://www.the-brights.net

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