Recently, especially since the CNN special on Atheists in America in which American Atheists President David Silverman claimed that atheists are the most hated group in America, a heavy debate has picked up to either support or negate this claim.
As it happens, back in July of 2014, I wrote such a piece for AlterNet titled, America’s Overwhelming Contempt Toward Atheists and Muslims, and in the piece I looked at a recent survey done by PEW Research that looked at religious demographics and American’s feelings towards them.
The question of hatred towards atheists really varies depending on who you are talking about. Overall, Muslims in America face more overall hatred and are the only demographic ranked lower than atheists.
But when you break down by say, political party, you get a different picture.
When it comes to politics, Republicans really hate atheists, which they ranked at 34. The only group Republicans hate more are Muslims, which they ranked one point lower at 33.
Democrats were slightly more favorable to atheists, but not by much. They ranked them 46, pushing Mormons under at 44 (thanks, Romney), but were slightly more trusting of Muslims at 47.
So it seems in either party’s eyes, atheists are not loved, but are never ranked the lowest.
So it would not be inaccurate to describe atheists as one of the most hated groups in America, but to claim we are the most hated is simply too misleading. Even more so when you begin to mix in non-religious groups such as immigrants, African-Americans, homosexuals, etc.
But moving on from the semantics and deciding that “one of” may be the best route to take, what does the future look like for atheists in America?
Younger generations are much more accepting of atheists because they themselves are more exposed to it than the older generations. Atheism isn’t some back alley religious demographic anymore. We are out in the open, we are exposed and making our voices heard, changing people’s perspectives or ideas on who atheists are.
The answer may be in the age demographic. Atheism is less favorable the higher you get in the age bracket, but the silver lining for atheists is they are actually ranking much better in the younger bracket. So the answer for the future of atheist acceptance may simply be time.
By doing this, we are gaining exposure to people who in the past would most likely have never known, or at least didn’t know they knew, an atheist.
Another PEW chart shows who people know among religious groups:
Fifty-nine percent of American’s now say they know an atheist, a number I suspect we will see grow year after year and a number I suspect is much higher already, but as mentioned before, many people probably don’t even know they know an atheist because in parts of the US coming out as an atheist is still not seen as safe or the idea is just too taboo for certain communities.
Though hatred and distrust of atheism may still be at a high point in the U.S., the outlook is not as bleak as it sounds. With time and continued exposure, and as more and more atheists come out of the closet, the tide will turn on atheist favorability and maybe the country’s original goal of pure religious freedom will be reached.
So let’s remember, as hated and distrusted as we are, other groups and demographics still have it worse, and those of us among the atheist community that care and fight for social justice have to remember this in our fight. We should not be stuck on “woe is me” and realize we are seeing the tides changing and while we still have work to do, others still need our help more.