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Atheism:

Differences between Atheists & others.
Active discrimination against Atheists.

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What is the difference between Atheists and non-Atheists?:

According to a Gallup poll in mid-2007, 78% of Americans believe in a personal God. 14% believe in a universal spirit. (We are not entirely certain what that means.) Only 7% said that they don't believe in either.

It appears that many Americans have a much higher regard for those individuals who believe in a deity or deities of some sort, then for Atheists who have no belief in any deity. It seems to matter little what God and/or Goddesses are believed in; one can be a polytheist, monotheist, duotheist, Trinitarian, henotheist, or perhaps even Deist. Just as long as the individual believes in some sort of deity with supernatural powers.

There is a degree of irrationality in this denigration of Atheists.

Many thousands of Gods and Goddesses have been worshipped in the past. Many thousands of other deities are being worshiped in the present. For example:

  • Almost all Christians recognize the Trinity -- a single God composed of three persons -- while denying the existence of the other thousands of deities.

  • Religious Jews generally worship Yahweh and believe that the thousands of other Gods and Goddesses are figments of people's imagination.

  • Muslims, like Jews, believe in a single, indivisible God, who is referred to as Allah in Arabic and God in English. They teach that God cannot be divided, nor does he have a partner, or does he have a son, nor are there other Gods or Goddesses in existence. To teach one of these heresies is the ultimate blasphemy.

An Atheist takes an almost identical position to a Christian, Jew and Muslim. Atheists also have:

  • Either no belief in those thousands of Gods and Goddesses, or

  • Actively disbelieve in their existence.

Within the Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist, freethinking community, the former are usually described simply as "Atheists;" the latter are referred to as "strong Atheists."

Where Atheists differ is that they do not have a belief in the Trinity, Yahweh or Allah. When comparing an Atheist with the a followers of one of the three largest religions in the U.S., Atheists differ by only one among the many thousands of Gods and Goddesses. The difference is less than 0.05%. Yet, this miniscule difference is often sufficient to make Atheists the victims of hate and scorn -- sight unseen.

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Active discrimination against Atheists:

There is a widespread opinion that a person needs to believe in some higher power and an afterlife -- either hope for an eternal reward in Heaven or fear of an eternal torture in Hell -- in order to behave morally and  honorably. These beliefs may be the cause of a widespread public opinion that Atheists must behave immorally, are poor citizens, and/or are personally rebelling against God.

Atheists are widely despised across the U.S. There is a general consensus that no Atheist could ever be elected to any important political post in the country.

The belief that Atheists should be discriminated against has been embedded in American law for centuries:

  • Public office: Eight states (AR, MA, MD, NC, PA, SC, TN, and TX) have exclusionary language included in their Bill of Rights, Declaration of Rights, official oath of office, or in the body of their constitutions. Most of them specifically exclude all Atheists and Agnostics from holding public office. These phrases are historical relics, left over from earlier times. The First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution supersedes these statutory laws and sections of state constitutions. It thus nullifies the effect of the above clauses. Still, it would be almost impossible to get citizens of any of these states to amend their constitution to end the religious discrimination. They remain as a continuing expression of hatred and distrust of Atheists.

  • Conscientious objector status: Throughout much of the 20th century, a person could not be recognized as a conscientious objector unless their beliefs against participating in a war were backed up by their religion which included a belief in God. Again, belief in any deity was sufficient. Since 1967, belief in God is no longer required. According to Jrank.org:

"...a registrant needs only a conscientious scruple against war in all forms to obtain conscientious objector status. A conscientious scruple against war is an objection to war based on moral beliefs. A conviction that war is wrong, arrived at solely on intellectual and rational grounds, does not entitle one to exemption as a conscientious objector." 1

Actually, it is not that simple in practice. A person applying for conscientious objector status must prove that their beliefs have been consistent for some time. Documentation proving a history of personal opposition to war is important.

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Bias in election of the President Most Americans would not vote for an Atheist:

The average American will not vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who is an Atheist:

  • Cliff Walker, webmaster of "Positive Atheism"  made the following observations:

    • 1986: Wendy Kaminer wrote that as late as the 1980s: "....intolerance for atheism was stronger even than intolerance of homosexuality."

    • 1999: The Gallup Organization concluded that being an Atheist was "the most discriminated-against characteristic of the eight tested in the research." Only 49% of American adults would vote for an otherwise qualified presidential candidate if he was an Atheist; this compared to 59% who would vote for a homosexual candidate and over 90% who would vote for black or female candidates. 2

  • Rasmussen Reports stated in 2006-NOV-20 that 60% of voters said they would never consider voting for a presidential candidate who is an Atheist. 3

  • A public opinion poll was conducted by Opinion Dynamics for Fox News during 2006-DEC. It found that 50% of voters would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an Atheist. Only one category was worse: 53% would be less likely to vote for a Scientologist. The flip side is that 5% would be more likely to vote for an Atheist; 4% would prefer a Scientologist. 4

  • Gallup conducted a poll on 2007-FEB-09 to 11. Results are shown in the above image. They asked American adults whether they would vote for "a generally well-qualified" presidential candidate nominated by their party with each of the following characteristics: Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, an Atheist, a woman, black, Hispanic, homosexual, 72 years of age, or someone married for the third time. Only 45% would vote for an Atheist. Atheism is the only category for whom most adults would not vote.  5

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2011: Suprise development: Atheists no longer the most unfavorably viewed group:

In mid-2011-AUG, there was a great deal of consternation among Atheists as a result of data collected by "Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and David E. Campbell, a political scientist at Notre Dame. ... they have collected data indicating that the tea party is 'less popular than much maligned groups like 'atheists' and 'Muslims'.'"  6 They wrote:

"... in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right." 7

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

Punctuation and grammar in some of the quotations have been altered.

  1. "Conscientious Objector," Net Industries, 2007. at: http://law.jrank.org/
  2. The Positive Atheism web site is at: http://www.positiveatheism.org/
  3. "Election 2008: 43% Would Never Vote for Mormon Candidate," Rasmussen Reports, 2006-NOV-20, at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/
  4. "Poll Recap: Mormon a Better Choice For President Than Muslim, Atheist, Scientologist," Fox News, 2007-FEB-13, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  5. "Americans Will Vote For Anyone But An Atheist," AOL News Elections Blog, 2007-FEB-21, at: http://news.aol.com/
  6. Rachel Rose Hartman, "Survey’s surprising finding: tea party less popular than atheists and Muslims," Yahoo! News, 2011-AUG-17, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  7. David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, "Crashing the Tea Party," New York Times, 2011-AUG-16, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
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Copyright © 2007 to 2011, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-SEP-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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