For a lot of various reasons, people get fired up about religion. People get even more fired up about those who reject religion. A well-known study performed at the University of Minnesota discovered that people distrusted atheists more than any other social or ethnic group. You can take a look at that study in it’s entirety here. While I’m sure most atheists, particularly when talking about religion and philosophy openly, have encountered harsh criticism, it’s still surprising in a time when tolerance is said to be generally increasing.
Although intolerance towards Muslims (or anyone who looks remotely Middle-Eastern for that matter) certainly seems to be on the rise in the United States, I’m sure the statistics discovered in this study still hold water. The study found that:
Ninety percent of respondents thought whites and blacks could share their vision of society. About 80 percent said the same of Hispanics, Jews and conservative Christians. More than 70 percent said it of immigrants, and 64 percent said it of Muslims. Atheists had the lowest rating at 54 percent.
The same article discussing the study said:
Followup interviews in 2004 found that many people “believe atheists have no sense of community and promote cultural elitism and the almighty dollar,” Edgell said.
Where do people get this stuff from? Honestly? It comes from a lot of places. I think largely, these feelings are based on irrational associations. A lot of people are taught from a young age that morals come from religion. While this is not true, I would get wildly off track if I were to get into that right now. Suffice to say that a person without any belief in any supernatural being can still adhere to a moral code. I would go so far as to say morals are a natural and innate part of a human being. But I don’t want to digress too far.
One way or another, people get it in their head that if a person does not believe in God, they have absolutely no conscience. Somehow, once you renounce your belief in a particular deity, you no longer care about anyone but yourself. This can’t be further from the truth. I would argue that an atheist lending a helping hand to someone in need means more than a Christian doing the same thing. The atheist is performing the good deed without any hope for heavenly reward nor fear of hellish punishment. While of course theists help those in need out of the kindness of their hearts, I think many believers have the fear of hell in the back of their minds.
The study also discussed that a significant percentage of those questioned described themselves as “nonreligious” while only a small percentage described themselves as atheists. The stigma that surrounds atheism surely keeps many from taking that step to affirming their lack of belief. Many fear being shunned by their loved ones if they’re honest. This is a truly sad thing. Aren’t religions supposed to have love and understanding inherent in their nature?
I think there are more atheists out there than the statistics indicate. If those who don’t truly believe would actually come out and admit their lack of belief, the numbers of atheists would shoot up. I urge those who are either closet atheists or on the fence about their beliefs to bring it up. Bring it up with your friends and your family. Discussing these issues is something we do far too little of.