We have had movements for equal rights for African-Americans, women, gays. The next victimized, discriminated against minority who are demanding approval: Atheists!
The Washington Post has published an op-ed piece by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, raising the issue and asking “Why don’t Americans like atheists?”
Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.
Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.
Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.
A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.
First of all, to answer the initial question, the major reasons atheists aren’t well-liked are evident right there in the column: the atheists’ habit of condescension, anti-religious bigotry, reductionistic snarkiness, and insufferable smugness.
Second, one has to ask, how, exactly, are atheists being discriminated against? Are they not allowed to vote? Are they not getting hired? Is there wage discrimination against atheists? Are they not allowed to get married? A complaint here is that studies show that many people don’t want to marry an atheist and don’t want to vote for one. If someone doesn’t want to marry you, is he or she violating your rights and discriminating against you? Should defeated politicians be able to sue everyone who voted against them for discrimination? I realize that the authors are just demanding social acceptance, but can there be an inalienable right to be liked?
The third point is the most important of all. Notice how the authors are framing the issues. Atheists are actually MORE moral than religious people, they say. They then define “basic morality and human decency” not according to a traditional measure (such as the second table of the Ten Commandments) but according to what is primarily (though not completely) a list of distinctly contemporary secularist positions. Thus, someone who does not believe in homosexuality, who does believe in capital punishment, who sometimes spanks his child, and who is not an environmentalist is EVIL, lacking basic morality and human decency.
This kind of moral and social inversion, if it catches on, would very soon result in actual and probably legal-driven discrimination against an unpopular minority whose human rights would be violated: Religious people.