Without Faith

June 9, 2014
By , Brewster, NY
I typed “demographics of atheism” into the google bar and started clicking some links.The first thing I noticed was that there was a very small amount of atheists in the U.S as compared to other countries. I didn’t think much of it, but simply kept track of the websites that I thought were interesting. Then I clicked the Wikipedia link and read “A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota involving a poll of 2,000 households in the United States found atheists to be the most distrusted of minorities, more so than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, and other groups.”1 Wow. I sat there, completely in shock. Atheists were hated this much in America? Why? Why is it better to believe in a different god than no god at all?

First, let’s start with defining atheism, since the definition is interpreted in various ways. Atheism is the belief that there is no higher power of any kind. It is very different than those who define themselves as having no religion, because those people still believe in a higher power. Atheism is also not to be confused with agnosticism; agnostics believe that it cannot be proven that there is a god or that there isn’t a god out there, but they believe there is something. It is also very important to know that atheism is not anti-religion. Anti-religion is the opposition to organized religion, and most atheists are not. Although some anti-religionists are atheists, not all atheists are anti-religionists.

It’s hard for people to deal with atheists because not believing in any higher power or entity scares people. For people who’ve lived with religion their entire life, it’s shocking for them to consider living without faith and the assurance of a higher purpose. They also may fear that atheists may launch an attack on their religion and try to instill doubt in them, when most atheist don’t want to argue. Having a different view on religion does not make atheists different people. They are the same in nearly every way, but why do people still hate them?

All research points to the same fact, again and again. Atheists are distrusted and disliked because they are viewed as immoral. Since atheists don’t go to a religious establishment to be preached at about morality, then obviously they have to be horrible people. One poll showed that 47.6% of people disapproved of their child marrying an atheist, which is more than any other group by a high margin2. Atheists are hated by Christian Americans more than Muslims, Hindus, and Jews because even though these religions are different, they all include ethical teachings. Although this is true, atheists are hated more in America than most other countries with an atheist population. Some point to the fact that traditionally, America is a very religious country. But isn’t this true of every country? Israel has a higher percentage of atheism and acceptance of atheism, and it was founded for the sole purpose of being a safe haven for Jews.

Atheism is hated in America because we give no attention to it. It’s a very simple but profound problem. The hatred, the prejudice, the discrimination… all of this is allowed to continue, to fester, to go unchecked because nobody will combat it. Let’s look at Islam, for example. After 9/11, hatred against Muslims exploded across the country. They found themselves at the mercy of extreme discrimination and physical violence. As a reaction, religious tolerance began to be preached. Statistics and research was conducted to combat misinformation and disinformation. Islam was given more attention in school, so children know what Islam really means. The same thing happened with gays and lesbians. As the explosive issue of gay marriage hit the courts and the news, so did information. If you entered “Do more heterosexuals or homosexuals spread AIDS” you would get thousands of hits that contain real, unbiased data. This is because the rumor that AIDS was a gay disease was so damaging to the gay population that people rose up to stop it, and as a result it was found that more heterosexuals than homosexuals have AIDS worldwide. So much has been done to stop disinformation and debunk myths for the minority groups in America. But people still don’t know the difference between atheism and agnosticism.

Most misinformation about atheism runs rampant because nothing has brought it to the forefront of America’s issues. Discrimination and prejudice goes by unchecked because it is on a small scale. I don’t mean by saying “small-scale” to imply that is isn’t happening wide-spread, because it is. I mean that it is quiet. It is not in the news, or in the courts, or on T.V. Nothing has happened that would spur atheists to come out of hiding and demand acceptance. However, we don’t need an outbreak of violence or a messy court case to push the problem of prejudice against atheism into mainstream media. We just need to face the fact that “ignorance is bliss” is not something we should follow. Here are some of the biggest myths that surround atheism, and how they aren’t true:

Myth: Atheists are immoral.
Fact: Atheists only make up .07% of the prison population, which is disproportionate to the amount of atheists in the population. Atheists are misrepresented in prison.4
Myth: Atheists break up marriages because they can’t love.
Fact: Divorce rates of atheists are lower than that of Jews, born-again Christians, and other Christians. Divorce rates are the highest in the “Bible Belt” in the U.S.5
Myth: Atheists worship Satan.
Fact: Atheists don’t believe in Satan!

With information comes tolerance. If more and more people learn the truth about atheism, then the end of the prejudice will come closer and closer. Atheists are already being accepted more in the north-east and west coast. This is because these are the regions that are the most educated.

Obviously, the discrimination against atheists in America is not as bad as the discrimination against the two examples I’ve used above, Muslims and gays. They’ve faced prejudice for decades, and often in the form of physical violence. And they’re still struggling today. But the thread that runs through discrimination against all groups is the same.

I know that in the future, the discrimination will lessen and someday might even stop. But that fact is moot. I shouldn’t have been able to write four paragraphs about discrimination, whether it was about atheism or not. We should have ended it by now. Racism, sexism, ableism…. just skim through a history textbook and you will see the bloody history of prejudice and inequality played out, again and again and again. We supposedly learn history so we don’t repeat it.

Discrimination is nothing but a cycle and atheism is just the new belief that is being dragged through it. I’ve proposed a solution to stop discrimination against atheists, but I have no answers on how to stop discrimination as a whole. Because it is human nature for the majority to try to stifle the minority, and so the cycle will never end.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism
2 http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheitsHated.htm
3 http://atheistempire.com/reference/stats/
5 http://atheistempire.com/reference/stats/

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