I made it a point to be honest with people about who I am what I believed in. Believe it or not the most negative responses I got were not about my having had deferred adjudication when I was 17, but rather my lack of religious belief.
I was actually a bit shocked about the number of “looks” I got when I told people I am an atheist. Although people seemed to get over it pretty quickly after discussing my stand on religion and religious tolerance. But it was that initial “look” that really surprised me.
Now I have a good idea as to why.
A new study was just published:
Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study
What: U of M study reveals America’s distrust of atheism
Who: Penny Edgell, associate professor of sociology
Contact: Nina Shepherd, sociology media relations, (612) 599-1148
Mark Cassutt University News Service, (612) 624-8038
MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (3/20/2006) --
American’s increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn’t extend to those who don’t believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology.
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that 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.
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.”
The researchers also found acceptance or rejection of atheists is related not only to personal religiosity, but also to one’s exposure to diversity, education and political orientation—with more educated, East and West Coast Americans more accepting of atheists than their Midwestern counterparts.
The study is co-authored by assistant professor Joseph Gerteis and associate professor Doug Hartmann. It’s the first in a series of national studies conducted the American Mosaic Project, a three-year project funded by the Minneapolis-based David Edelstein Family Foundation that looks at race, religion and cultural diversity in the contemporary United States. The study will appear in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.
I have found it important to make an effort to understand other cultures and beliefs. I have delved into learning about different faiths and religious history because we do have a rich diversity of religious and cultural difference in this country.
I value religion and especially the freedom of religion this country has. Other parts of the world, like Afghanistan, have strict Islamic law where right now a man is on trial for converting to Christianity and is facing the death penalty. A person such as myself would also be executed for my lack of belief.
I am bringing this topic up because I believe that people are basically good and tolerant. That awareness is a key to understanding and that by raising awareness I believe some of these prejudices can be overcome.
After all, we are not so different.
As atheist we believe in things like:
- Peace, happiness, community, truth, goodness, beauty, and liberty; these are attributes of human awareness. We must fight for and protect them.
- Marriage, family and commitment.
- Religious liberty and freedom.
- The Separation of Church and State.
- Justice and forgiveness.
- Fairness and competition.
- Hard work and just reward.
- Helping others by giving a hand up, not a hand out.
- Education and continuous learning.
- Science and the Scientific method.
- We believe in Government for the People by the People.
- Humankind must protect the elderly, children and foundlings, or they will not be protected.
- Man must hear and help man.
- We are accountable for and must face the consequences of our actions.
- Life is a struggle against preventable and unpreventable situations.
- Cooperation of humankind is the only hope of the world.
- We must work to achieve our personal goals now or never.
Again, are we so different?
Hopefully this will help to raise awareness and help bring about more understanding. By having a dialog we can continue to have and increase the mutual respect and tolerance that all humans deserve.