America’s Most Hated

A recent University of Minnesota study has positively identified the most-hated minority in America.

Muslims? Nope. Jews? Uh-uh. Homosexuals? Nope. Recent immigrants? No, not them either.


Like I’ve said before, I don’t really consider myself an “atheist” — I find the whole idea of making absolute statements on matters that by definition can neither be proven nor disproven is logically unsound, no matter which side you’re coming from. Nothing wrong with choosing to believe in something metaphysical — and it’s sure as hell not worth arguing about (or fighting wars about, as pretty much the entirety of human history — contemporary times included — will demonstrate). But to claim that one religious interpretation is true — unequivocally, and for everyone — is specious thinking at best.

Still, if I had to choose a religious denomination I would most closely identify with — if only because I do not explicitly believe in anything that cannot be demonstrated — then I’d certainly have to seriously consider the atheist crowd.

So really, what does this study show? Hard to tell, given that I don’t know the specific methodology. If the study defined “atheists” as being of the militant anti-religion variety (or cultivated that impression), then frankly, I can’t blame the respondents for answering as they did. Sure, it’s easy to picture the ignorant hillbilly stereotype of middle America railing against the “godless heathens,” and yeah, the Europeans will laugh at us poor, benighted Americans (this being the same Europe in which Muslim head scarves were outlawed). But again, I reiterate that militant atheists are pretty much just as offensive as militant Christians. Or militant Muslims. Or militant Scientologists. Or anyone who chooses to insist that their religion is somehow inherently superior to all others, by virtue of the sole fact that their “god” says so. (Or that they somehow have developed the ability to demonstrate that there is no metaphysical “plane.”)

The fact that the article claims that atheists represent only three percent of the population would seem to imply that they’re using this narrower definition — limiting the scope solely to those who claim absolutely that there is no god. After all, if we open it up to those who simply profess no religion, the number climbs much higher; according to some definitions, “agnostic” necessarily implies the possibility of being convinced at some point in the future (and I certainly don’t fall into that camp — barring actual evidence, there’s zero likelihood of my making an absolute statement either way).

Are there a lot of militant atheists out there? Sure. But I’d be curious as to how the relative proportion of militant atheists compares to the total group of “non-theists.” Especially as contrasted with comparable proportions in other religions. Nobody (seriously) thinks that Pat Robertson speaks for all Christians, but say “Christian” in certain groups and you’ll elicit the same visceral reaction that this study apparently brought out.

The study (or at least the article about it) implies that Americans fear atheists are more likely to be self-interested, perhaps more prone to crime. In fact, every study I’ve seen would tend to imply exactly the opposite. Is that a function of the belief (or lack thereof, if you want to look at it that way)? Maybe, but I suspect there are other factors at work. Atheism (not to mention any deviation from your particular clan’s traditional beliefs) almost necessarily requires at least some education, an awareness of the possibility of questioning the familiar status quo (disregarding the idea of “brainwashing” for the moment). And education has an positive correlation with wealth. And, as a result, an inverse correlation with crime (at least of the violent street crime variety — wealth can certainly inspire more than its share of criminal activity). So the fact that there is a comparatively negligible proportion of atheists in the prison population is hardly conclusive. (I’d be willing to bet you don’t see a lot of Scientologists behind bars either.)

I’ll still continue to follow the Jeffersonian ideal of an absolute separation between church and state. The idea that a government can base decisions on definitionally unprovable concepts is unacceptable. But I’m not about to go around crying persecution on a daily basis. I’m no more militant than my neighbor who goes to church every week. We’re both just regular folks trying to make sense of the world around us — whatever lens we choose to view it through.

Of course, as soon as it serves my interests to claim I’m part of the most-hated minority in America, then all bets are off.

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At 2:09 AM, Emy said...

This whole topic (atheists as the group everyone loves to hate) has actually sparked a bit of discussion recently on one of the UU communities I read.

I was going to talk more about this, but it's been a long couple of days at work and I'm not sure of what the hell I'm saying anymore.

At 9:07 AM, Bill Coughlan said...

I think it’s certainly a topic worthy of discussion. On the one hand, it provides a really good example of something I mentioned before — that those who rail most fervently against those who are different (whether it be religion, sexual orientation, what have you) are actually the least secure in their position.

I’m very happy considering myself secular, but frankly it’s as off-putting to hear the antireligious bile in the extreme atheist crowd as it is to hear the unthinking rhetoric among the hardcore religious adherents.

For my part, I’ll look forward to the actual results of the study, which are due to be published next month.

But for now, get some rest. We’re in the middle of end-of-fiscal-year crunch here at work, so I know how you feel.

At 1:38 PM, Kori said...

WWJD? Hate atheists. Yes, that's all over the bible.

And for those who don't know I'm kidding, please refer to Bill's very apt comment about zealotry, and realize that the Christians (or Jews or Muslims or Faithful-of-Any-Type) who encourage people to hate anyone are on the fringe, and aren't the ones any of us should be listening to about the nature of life and God and eternity.

Yes, zealots of any type seriously freak me out, but even they don't warrant hatred on my part. Mostly, I fear that they have influence in this world far beyond their understanding.

All I remember hearing as a kid in the church was about how much Jesus loves everyone, how many times while on earth He hung out with the people everyone else chose to hate and discriminate against, how sacrificial He was for the love of humanity in general. What's up with the hating of atheists, then?


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