Updates: 1.0, 2.0.
Via Digby, we find this news of the results of a study done by the University of Minnesota explaining that it's not just my imagination.
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.That's it, then... America hates me. You can all just stop pretending otherwise. I get the picture already.
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'll be leaving as soon as I can find a place to live where I'm not loathed and despised for my religious affiliation. In the meantime, if anyone asks, tell them I'm a unitarian.
p.s. No, I will not be coming to your Bon Voyage parties...
Update 1.0: I see this study has made The Washigton Monthly. I just posted the following in comments there.
You know what? I really doubt even a significant fraction of the people called in this poll really gave a fig about the technical distinction between atheism and agnosticism, much less the difference between their "hard" and "soft" variants.
The study hasn't been published yet— just the press release announcing the results. When we see the methodology, we'll know for sure, but my suspicion is that it didn't provide these distinctions in any detail to the respondants before asking them the questions.
More than likely, I'll bet, the prevailing understanding of what "atheism" means in America is actually this: an atheist is someone who refuses to join a church on principle. From that perspective, an atheist and an agnostic are pretty much the same thing.
Read the press release. The study purports to show "findings [that] seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good." That's a viewpoint that doesn't give a flip whether you are personally conflicted about whether you can prove that God does or doesn't exist. It's actually pretty stark.
The study seems to show that Americans generally think that you don't have to attend any church if you don't feel like it, but you better be theoretically willing to join one. If you aren't, then you're a moral degenerate unfit for membership in civil society.
Are we clear about that, yet? America doesn't care whether you call yourself an atheist, an agnostic, a "bright" or a freethinker, an objectivist, or whatever. If, as a matter of principle, you aren't willing to identify yourself as an adherent of some religion or another, then you're scum— lower than queers, wogs and Al Qaeda. That's what America thinks of atheists.
Update 2.0: Kevin Drum says he received emailed from Andrew Sabl that tries to discredit the George H.W. Bush quote I reprinted in an earlier post on this topic. The quote is from Robert Sherman, who claims to have personally had the exchange with the former President when he was campaigning for reëlection in 1992. Sherman has long claimed that he never made an audio tape recording of the incident and that all the other members of the Chicago press corps present at the time are refusing to back him up because the Bush has now publicly denied ever making the statement or expressing similar sentiments.
Now comes Andrew Sabl, a Straussian political philosopher at UCLA, telling us that Sherman has changed his story. The claim is that Sherman is now saying he has a tape recording that he has never released. Sabl doesn't explain why Sherman is supposedly refusing to release a tape he has long claimed he never made, nor can I find anywhere that Sherman is actually on the record making the claim Sabl is reporting.
I emailed Kevin Drum about this, and here's the response I got:
Yes, it's possible I've been gulled. This really wasn't that big a deal to me, and I just did some very cursory Googling. If his story is that he didn't make a tape, and that's still his story, then I accept that.
If I get some time, I'll try to contact Robert Sherman and ask him about this claim that Andrew Sabl is making about him.
One thing I would like to note: because of the widespread distrust of atheists in America, as noted in the survey done by the University of Minnesota, it would be natural to expect that discrediting Robert Sherman would be very easy indeed. All you have to do is call him a liar and an atheist. As everyone apparently "knows" in America, atheists are "self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good" and don't share a common sense of "right and wrong," i.e. a moral philosophy Americans recognize as compatible with civil society. Therefore, it would be perfectly natural to expect that atheists would have no reason not to tell lies to advance their interests.
Indeed, you could even tell baseless lies about atheists and make them stick by forcing denials out of them that will only further reinforce the untrustworthyness of atheists. I wouldn't put it past a Straussian political philosopher to do that. Hell, I could see how they'd think they were doing society a favor in the process.