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« Skeptics' Circle #54 The RantsDuck and Cover »

America's Most Hated
2007.02.21 (Wed) 10:21

What's worse in the minds of "typical" Americans than a half-black, half-Hispanic, seventy-two-year-old Jewish woman who's in her third marriage to her Mormon lesbian lover? Apparently...an atheist:

Between now and the 2008 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race, and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [see below], would you vote for that person?

Here are the summarized results of a February 2007 Gallup Poll in which the categories below were inserted into the question above:

A woman88%11%1%
Married for the third time67%30%3%
Seventy-two years of age57%42%1%
A homosexual55%43%2%

For a moment — just for now — let's set aside the fact that everything about these results makes us want to distance ourselves (by several parsecs) from the incredibly stupid asshats who answered "No" (or even "Unsure") to any of these questions. Keep in mind that the scenario presented was of a well-qualified candidate whose only stated "shortcoming" was being a part of whichever group is referenced. With the possible exception of the question regarding the candidate's age (since there could certainly be a legitimate concern about someone's health failing while in office), this poll reveals ultimate and uncompromising bigotry, folks, plain and simple. All of the other factors have been removed from the equation; so, by design, a negative response here can be based on only one thing — bigotry against the specified group. It doesn't get much more clear than this.

In addition, let's also set aside the fact that it looks like the trend since Bush took office has been away from tolerance. Judging by the polls over the last few decades — which you'll need to follow the link to see — tolerance across all of these groups peaked in the late 1990s (you know, when that E-ville adulterer was in the White House), and then fell off during the divisive neo-con reign. This also speaks volumes about the direction that our country has been moving in ever since these fuckheads took office, but we digress....

If you've been thinking that homosexuals are the most hated group in America today, think again — they are a full ten percentage points above atheists. Hell, even in 1958, blacks — you know, the folks who couldn't drink out of certain water fountains for a while? — outpaced atheists by a 20% margin, and that gap has widened considerably to almost 50% today. And hey, that's great for black people, as well as the other groups who have managed to increase their standing among the general population. But how do atheists get this pride of place over and over and over again? What is it about atheists that inspires such hatred? Shit, they're the only group for which more people responded "No" than "Yes." That's fucking incredible. And this is far from being a new result. These findings just reinforce the results of other recent studies that also showed that atheists were lower than the shit that pond scum scrapes off the bottom of its shoes. Take the results of this study, for example:

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.

Below Muslims? To a large portion of the country, the word "Muslim" is synonymous with "terrorist," and yet atheists are more distrusted? Don't get us wrong, we are not agreeing that Muslims are all terrorists, we're just pointing out that the view from the stupid seats is that they are...and still, atheists are seen as worse. How the fuck did this happen?

Is the Religious Right really doing that good a job of painting atheists as evil puppy-raping monsters who want to ban bibles and silence prayers? If so, they seem to have been doing that good a job for fifty years, and we find it hard to imagine that's the case. So what is it? What makes more than half of Americans hate atheists so much?

One obvious explanation that we can come up with concerns exposure. One of the pillars of bigotry, it seems, is a lack of exposure to the hated "others." It's much easier to demonize an entire demographic if you don't actually know any representative members. But as soon as you meet these individuals, as individuals — at work, in your neighborhood, at school — then, assuming your hatred isn't so deep-seated that you never allow yourself to get to know them, you eventually find that they aren't any different from any other group of people. Are there vile, loathsome atheists out there? Absolutely — we've met some, and we can't stand them. Just as there are vile, loathsome blacks, Jews, Catholics, women, Mormons, et cetera, et cetera. There are also people from all of these groups who are quite nice, wonderful folks who we'd very much like to share a steak with (though admittedly, we're overly fond of a good, rare steak). The point is pretty simple: once you get to meet some of these people, you start to realize that they should be judged on their individual merits, their words and deeds, and not on their totally arbitrary race, upbringing, or gender.

For those who think they're clever, and would like to try throwing this back in our faces, keep several things in mind.

First off, we do judge the assholes we habitually call out on their words and deeds, rather than on any arbitrary group they belong to — their words and deeds in the name of their religion condemn them in our eyes, not their religious affiliation itself (remember: all religions are the same thing to us). So when we condemn "fundies" or "neo-cons" or "true believers" as a group, we are referring to groups whose words and deeds we have witnessed first hand; and we don't pigeonhole individuals into these groups unless their own words or deeds show us definitively that they belong there. One perfect example: we don't hate "all Christians" — but we do believe that all those who deny evolution by way of their words and deeds are deluded, dishonest, or both. Hopefully this important distinction isn't lost on anyone.

Second, many of the groups these fucks belong to — as an easy example, the Discovery Institute — aren't arbitrary; they are joined in a very deliberate decision to be dishonest pricks, and therefore constitute words and deeds rather than arbitrary classification. And we aren't pre-judging members of the Discovery Institute; we are judging them based on their stated goals, and their dishonest discourse.

And third, whereas the typical American may encounter little to no exposure to us atheists, there is certainly no lack of exposure to fundamentalists (and their woo counterparts) in this country. We're forced to deal with them on a daily basis, both personally and through the actions of powerful political forces. So the "danger" of not having an opportunity to meet any fundamentalists is almost non-existent. They're everywhere, and that's hard to refute.

And that could be the problem with atheists. While, for example, homosexuals have enjoyed increased media attention and more public acknowledgment of homosexuality, atheists remain largely "in the closet." As a result, we aren't sure we can think of very much positive media time that atheists have been getting — at least, not as atheists. Sure, many of the scientists and medical experts who appear on the news, in documentaries, and on Science Channel specials are quite likely to be atheists — but the subject just doesn't come up. Their atheism isn't why they're there (and we agree that it shouldn't have to be).

We certainly can't think of atheist analogs to such things as Will & Grace or Ellen or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Heathen Eye for the Holy Guy?). And maybe atheism just doesn't lend itself to the same media presence that homosexuality does. (What would a "flaming atheist" look like, anyway? Aside from Dawkins, of course.) The thing is, though, if we throw down terms like the "Gay Culture" or the "Black Culture," you know precisely what we're talking about, even if the terms might be vaguely defined or vary in their interpretation. But what the heck is the "Atheist Culture"? Atheists, being what they are, don't necessarily share any cultural or experiential identity with other atheists. Some may build atheist "communities" or "congregations" — we personally find that a little too artificial for our tastes — but there's nothing that naturally binds atheists together except for the lack of something. It would be like starting a club where the only requirement is that you've never seen a Tom Green movie — there's no real common experience to build from (but oh, how we wish we could still be a part of that club).

Of course, the only proven solution for such a problem is time, and historically that hasn't worked wonders for the image of atheists, if this fifty-year history of poll results is any indication. To be sure, more of us could be more open about our beliefs, making sure that our friends and family are aware of us and our views. Without a doubt, some of the people who shitcanned atheists on this survey were very likely people who are close friends or family members of atheists, and just don't know it. So making our views known is important.

But once again, to those who may be sporting a large "Gotcha!" in their thought bubble right now, we want to clarify what we're suggesting here. We despise the fundamentalists for throwing their shitty views in our faces — in fact, that imposition, in its various forms, is our biggest problem with them. So it's important to note that we aren't advocating the same behavior among atheists. We're talking about making our views known to our family and our friends, not going door-to-door to convert the bible thumpers, and not lobbying the government to put monuments to godlessness on public property. We're advocating the proactive sharing of our views with friends and family, so that they are aware that atheists aren't evil, immoral bastards. Other than that, there's seldom any reason to offer our views other than when asked or challenged. We offer our views on our own website, where it's our freaking dime and we make the rules; but we don't go out and shove atheism in believers' faces just to be fucking jerks about it, despite the fact that they don't display the same courtesy in return.

And this "unbalanced playing field" — the believers' expectation that we have to play by rules that don't restrict them (in tandem with our own willingness to play by those rules, which we think should be applied universally) — dovetails neatly with another hypothesis as to the source of this boundless hatred (or at least intense dislike) of atheists. You see, as much as it irks us to realize it (but we do realize it) there is a very basic difference between blacks, Jews, women — all of those who are somewhat less "other" according to these recent polls, those who one by one get absorbed into the mainstream — and folks like atheists; a difference from the point of view of the comfy-as-clams casual Christians who make up the vast majority of our citizenry just as much as from the point of view of those seriously deranged evangelicals.

The difference, as we've observed it, is this: those "Less Others" do not, by their mere existence, tear apart the very foundation of the typical American (and therefore, by the numbers, Christian) worldview. As can be seen from hundreds of years of "progress," each of those groups — from women, to blacks, to Jews, and on and on — can come into conflict with those darn Christians. But after a while, even the Christians will adapt — whether forced to, or of their own volition — and seek to reinterpret their bible, and come up with a reason why Hey! Maybe God didn't say to persecute that particular group after all. In the end, as long as blacks, and Jews, and women are willing to kow-tow to the Lord 'n' Savior — or at least not bring any serious doubts to the table — then, after all, there's still hope for them, right?

Even the homosexuals aren't as big of a problem, here (though they certainly do come into conflict with the basic Christian worldview more than most of the other groups mentioned). Sure, their existence flies in the face of the typical Christian's theocratically warped mind, but that's what those Gay Reform Schools are for, right? They can be saved after all! Hooray! And once the guys stop sucking cock, and the gals stop licking muff, and they all start getting down on their knees for Jesus...then we'll all be one big happy Christian family. At least that's how it could work for everyone, according to Jesus' children.

Except...the atheists. Because how do you "reinterpret" the bible to accept atheists? That's where it all falls down, because atheists have made it quite clear that it's not a matter of being a different brand of "God's children," and it's not a matter of making choices that go "against God" — we don't even acknowledge the existence of their god, let alone his dominion over the planet. And it doesn't matter if we're quiet about it; it's inconsequential if we don't bother them with our rationalist views. The simple fact that we're here means that something is abominably wrong in the world. It's not even anything we do or say deliberately (though exceptions certainly exist — i.e., Dawkins and Sam Harris); we just have to mention that their mythology holds no meaning for us, and it fucks their shit up royally. Heck, just poke around our site a bit, and others like it, and you'll see plenty of examples of the visceral hatred that we're talking about.

Because — and here, of course, lies the most fundamental problem with fundamentalism — in the end, their faith is all they have. Without it, they're sunk, because nothing they do has any meaning to them. (It would still have meaning to us, but they wouldn't see it that way.) So, in a way, they have a "reason" to be frightened of us, to hate and fear and spit upon us; but it's fucking silly and pointless, because it's not because of anything we actually did or said. It's just because of their incredibly precarious belief system, which can tumble like a house of cards if we breathe on it wrong.

Science, skepticism, atheism — these viewpoints can all handle setbacks. They can accept a small detail or even a much larger element of their models being proven wrong, because the whole point of the rational approach to the universe is to adapt our interpretations more and more finely until we get to a more accurate view of what's happening around us. (And, of course, there's no "final goal" to be reached — there's always more to learn. The religiosos make the same mistake here that they do when they try to grasp evolution, where they assume that humanity is somehow the "result" of evolution, when it's merely another step in the process.)

Religion, on the other hand, can't handle a setback; because if just one thing is wrong, then their whole conceptual landscape crumbles and falls into a sea of intellectual, moral and ethical uncertainty. Their fear and hatred of us, and what we represent, is real and even somewhat justified...it's just that the justification is based on very faulty reasoning, and their fear is wholly of their own making. Nothing that we do or say — or that we've ever done or said — can either create or relieve that fear. It's really out of our hands, which is perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole line of thought. Which, of course, is why we frequently point out that we do what we do in order to help the fence sitters, rather than the believers. Fence sitters have a chance — the true believers need a fucking miracle to see the light, and we don't believe in miracles.

Look, we aren't trying to downplay the historical or even the current bigotry against any of these other listed groups. What we are saying — and what we've said on several occasions — is that we can see the imminent arrival at general acceptance of all of these other groups...but we just don't see that same clear path for atheists right now. While we believe that we can co-exist quite nicely with people of various beliefs as long as those beliefs aren't being thrust upon us, that very same accommodation is often withheld from atheists, and we're not sure that we can see that changing any time soon.

There may be other hypotheses for this abundant prejudice against atheism; we're sure our readers have some of their own, which we invite you to share. And you may disagree with some of ours. We've cited lack of exposure — which we believe is a huge factor in most (if not all) cases of bigotry. We've also cited the unfortunate issue that, no matter what we say or do, our existence alone is cause for fear and hatred among a significant portion of the population — a kneejerk reaction to the assumed "threat" that we pose to their belief system. The first cause we might be able to do something about, if we can think of the right way to approach the problem. The second...well, that one seems pretty hopeless without a major — and thus far hard to imagine — revision in the sociocultural topography. Or, barring that...maybe divine intervention might be worth praying for. Hm. No. Not really.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Civil Liberties  % Government & Politics  % Greatest Hits  % Religion  ]

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Comments (33)

PoolGuy, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 11:13 [Link] »

Wow! This really is truly amazing. I have two thoughts.

One, it seems that the conventional wisdom still seems to be that atheist = amoral. I know that anyone with a soupcon of interest in the matter can read any number of sources from anecdote to scientific studies that show that morality is a societal positive and a trait that helps promote the survival of the group, even in the absence of any belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Two, I think this is a direct result of the offensive that is primarily spearheaded by the fundie asshats in this country who have been making a concerted effort to define atheists as terrorists against the sweet baby Jesus. In other words, a modern version of "We can't drink out of the same water fountains as blacks or we might get cooties".

I suppose our (we atheists) only hope is that this, too, shall pass. Personally, as a relaxing mechanism, I remember that leading up to our Civil War, Good Christian Men (the equivalent, at the time, of our fundie asshats) were explaining that the good Lord had written in the bible that slavery was something that all christians should believe in.

PoolGuy, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 12:12 [Link] »

BTW - I love "Heathen Eye for the Holy Guy". I can see it now. Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell in Birkenstocks with lots of macrame accessorizing.

Glintir, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 14:01 [Link] »

Once again, a lovely rant. I think you've hit the twin nails on the head. Unfamiliarity and fear make atheists into outcasts. Being vocal when the opportunity arises is really the only outlet we have. As long we're not asshats while we do it, we build empathy.

However, I do have to take exception with your implication that tolerance has gone down because the neo cons were in power. I do see the small drop in percentages since 1999. I do realize the administration is certainly on board with those lowered percentages. I don't think you can lay all the blame at their feet. I'd like to, but can't.

The fact is, alot has happened since 1999. Terrorist attacks and wars aren't exactly events that lead to tolerance. Add to that an administration that likes to have enemies domestic and foreign and it gets worse. Add to that economic difficulties (at least in 2001 and 2002). I would say that the small statistical drop is due to a change in the overall attitude of Americans due to events in the world. Not because George Bush and the Neo cons are destroying all that is good.

All that said. Bush sucks. So do the latest batch of Republicans. Just needed to get the bad taste of defending them out of my mouth. Oh, the Democrats suck too. In fact, politicians as a class bite.

Tom Foss, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 16:14 [Link] »

Wonderful post, 2-percenters.

To Glintir, though, I think you're partially right. There's a very clear reason that tolerance toward Muslims has gone down. Unfortunately, the neocons have done everything in their power to make sure that it stays down by further spreading the bigoted notion that Muslim=terrorist. And while economic issues may be the root of much of the vitriol against immigrants, those economic issues wouldn't be nearly so omnipresent if not for an unnecessary war and really unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy (and really really unnecessary cuts to social programs designed to benefit the middle and lower class). If the middle class weren't part of a two-pronged assault--the shipment of jobs overseas and the cutting of benefits--they wouldn't be so worried about the "damn furriners comin' to tek ur jahbs." And the neocons have done everything in their power to fan the flames there, with talk of walls and fences and deportation and official languages.

And any drop against gays or women can really only be accounted for by the insane social policies of the religious right.

I will say that it's nice to see how low "72-year-old" is on that list. Maybe people will take that into consideration when looking at 70-year-old John "The 'Maverick' Geriatric" McCain's presidential campaign. Maybe they'll start seeing him for the septugenarian sycophant that he is.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 16:28 [Link] »

We did struggle with how to phrase the section about atheism being different from the other groups due to "special" religious intolerance, PoolGuy, and one reason for our struggle was the very fact you mentioned — that, historically, Christian teachings have frequently endorsed intolerance to various groups as "just" or "righteous." Our point is essentially that, with many of these other groups, it seemed like a case of interpreting the bible to fit an existing stereotype, much like we see with the generic Christian attitude toward homosexuals today. With atheists, though, we really have to agree that — by the word of their god — the religiosos are right to hate us. We just don't agree with the word of their god (obviously).

Glintir — our post may have made it seem like we were laying all of the blame for the drop-off in tolerance on Bush and the neo-cons. That wasn't our intent (though we admit we didn't explain ourselves very well there — that bit was largely an aside). However, we really do feel that the neo-cons have had a significant impact on this change. Sure, we were attacked, and we don't blame Bush for that (ugh, now the conspiracy theorists will jump in on this thread). But we absolutely do blame him for running a government on fear and hate in the wake of those attacks. Every aspect of his campaigns and his administration has relied on fostering the fear and hate of "others," be they Muslims, homosexuals, or any other group he thought he could exploit to his advantage (thanks to the easily manipulated myopia of his typical voting base).

The politicians are right about one thing: 9/11 was a nexus in this country's history, a kind of focal point of decisions that could be made — successfully or disastrously. Our contention is that the "feel-good" vibe of togetherness and international cooperation that sprang from the events of that day could potentially have been just as thoroughly and effectively exploited as the fear and hate that they did exploit — but that good stuff could have been "exploited" in a positive way, to foster stronger ties to the international stage and firmer bonds between Americans of every creed and color. Does anyone remember all of those articles in foreign periodicals pointing out America's history of aiding other nations, and suggesting that our country should be similarly supported in its time of need? How about those stories of Muslim Americans who firmly and categorically rejected the terrorists' actions, and the inspiring talks they gave at schools, in workplaces, and on the news? Yeah, all that good will was utterly wasted, wasn't it? Instead, Bush and the neo-cons chose fear and hate over cooperation and good will. And they've kept the fear and hate flowing ever since...so we feel that their sentiments have absolutely fostered the decline in tolerance across the boards, whether they inspired the initial reaction in the first place or not.

So no, it isn't all the neo-cons' fault, and we don't mean to suggest that; but the society that the neo-cons have helped to shape over the past decade is quite intentionally a less tolerant one — because fear and hate keep people in line and (even better) in need, and they think the neo-cons can fill that need. We firmly believe that in the absence of this fear-mongering administration, we wouldn't be quite as far down in the ditch of intolerance as we are today.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 16:48 [Link] »

Oh, and thanks, Tom Foss. We'd already posted our reply before seeing yours, but you hit our points (and more) quite succinctly.

John Morales, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 17:57 [Link] »

My take on this issue:

Theists consider that control of one's base impulses depends on one's morality, which can only come from deities, and therefore that atheists lack morality. This leads to a belief that atheists have no constraints on behaviour (other than its consequences to themselves in this world) and might do anything. Believing this, theists do not consider it prejudice to deny such dangerous people any influence.

gill, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 19:58 [Link] »

Wow. I might not be an atheist, but....ew. It's pretty damn sad to see that what god people may or may not believe in counts for more then what kind of a person they actually are. Shouldn't actions rank higher then what lable someone's under?

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.21 (Wed) 21:29 [Link] »

Well put, John, and something we've discussed in other contexts. We would offer one minor quibble: in the fanatical theists' stated belief system, we don't think that even "consequences to themselves in this world" provide any constraint on atheists' behavior. That's the scary part — in their minds, there really is no behavioral constraint, no moral or ethical compass in the world, other than an invisible magical man in the sky.

Of course, as we frequently find ourselves pointing out: in practice that's not how it works. In practice, of course most theists recognize the earthly consequences of their actions and behave accordingly, no matter what their moldy old books tell them. So not only are their "deeply" held beliefs completely off-the-wall, and not only do these beliefs contradict the observations we can all make of human behavior in our daily lives, but they're highly hypocritical as well. Despite their lofty propositions that their god is the only point of reference, they all know damn well that getting by in the real world requires an understanding of human judgment and interaction — the evidence really boils down to the fact that the human species still exists at all.

The few who truly follow their religious beliefs at the expense of all other sources of guidance are alternately frightening and entertaining, and frequently both; you often see them in the news. You know who we're talking about — people like the ones who kill their children because God told them to do it, or the ones who rush into the jaws of ferocious animals because they're positive their god will protect them. Sure, they're insane, but at least they really do practice what they preach. The rest are just paying lip service to their beliefs, and are actually deriving their behavioral choices from the same real-world reasoning that the rational folks do.

Tom Foss, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 00:13 [Link] »


Oh, and thanks, Tom Foss. We'd already posted our reply before seeing yours, but you hit our points (and more) quite succinctly.

That might be the first time anything I've written has been called "succinct." The price I paid for brevity there was the sort of eloquence you displayed in your post.

Theists consider that control of one's base impulses depends on one's morality, which can only come from deities, and therefore that atheists lack morality. This leads to a belief that atheists have no constraints on behaviour (other than its consequences to themselves in this world) and might do anything. Believing this, theists do not consider it prejudice to deny such dangerous people any influence.
And the problem with that Divine Command business, as the 2-percenters mentioned, is that it falls apart under scrutiny. Of course, that was the big debate of the last week or so, with regards to Vox Day and his idiotic comments on the subject.

John Morales, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 01:16 [Link] »

There is worse than hypocrisy. For example, I am sure that there must exist believers who genuinely are only stopped from committing criminal deeds due to "the fear of God".

As with many other issues involving religion, I think it likely that no amount of education or evidence will alter this belief. I can't imagine religious authorities allowing such apostasy, and they are the ones with influence over believers in these matters.

I consider this unfortunate.

Phony Montana, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 11:52 [Link] »

2%, if you really like steak as much as you profess you wouldn't share it with anyone, especially not one of those greedy mormons/blacks/catholics/jews/atheists. I can, however, recommend offering to share your steak with a Hindu. That way you get your moneys worth.

Tom Foss, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 12:32 [Link] »

They could share it with a Catholic on Friday.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 12:42 [Link] »

Yeah, we could share our steak with a Catholic on a Friday during Lent, but first we'd have to make sure that they weren't given a dispensation by the church to flout God's Law just so they can widen their menu possibilities. Then again, most Catholics that we know happily scarf down beef on "forbidden days" anyway, so scratch that.

Of course, we shouldn't have said that we'd like to share a steak with anyone. In the ideal scenario, everyone would get one (or more) of their own steaks, and no sharing would be involved. Except, of course, if we're talking about a Peter Luger porterhouse.

Eric, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 13:30 [Link] »

Speaking of steak, I don't believe that one can be "overly" fond of a good rare steak. All levels of fondness are appropriate, short of actual sexual intercourse with the steak (but that's not fondness, it's rape.)

Glintir, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 13:45 [Link] »

2%: Now that's more like the kind of comment I'm used to from you about the Bush administration. And on the points you make I agree. They administration has fostered a hateful and fearful environment. Other groups have then exploited that to help decrease tolerance further. Thanks for clarifying.

Tom Foss: What they said! (Grin) The only part I would have objected to in your argument was that it didn't put the blame where it lies. On the individuals.

So, more succinctly put, sure the Bush regime lit the fires and fanned them. But each individual has the choice to add fuel to the fire, or try to put it out. Society, as the collective, chose a small dip in tolerance numbers. Luckily, some of us, many of us by the numbers, chose not to hate gays because someone said we should. Or hate foreigners because of a US policy friendly to sending jobs overseas.

Guess we're all on the same screwed up page now.

Infophile, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 19:07 [Link] »

Sadly, there actually are people who are so religious they can't acknowledge any non-divine source for morality. RRyan brought this up on his blog a while back, and I left the following comment:

I always find it fun when someone says this to go back and ask them, "So, if someone convinced you the Bible weren't true, you'd abandon your morals and go on a murderous rampage? ...Excuse me if I've lost the urge to argue with you; I suddenly don't want to win."

Not too much later, the local whacko religious troll stopped by and replied with:

Actually, I would answer yes. The Bible would not be the best selling book for all these years because (as you would like to think) people are stupid.

I have yet to see "The Origen of Species" on the best seller.

His non-sequitur aside, he just admitted that he'd immediately go on a murderous rampage if he were convinced not to believe in something for which he really has no good reason to believe in. I wonder though, if he weren't brought up as Christian, would he have gained morals through some other means, or would he actually have turned into a mass-murderer?

TimmyAnn, 2007.02.22 (Thu) 20:40 [Link] »

That's really scary. It would be like me saying that if I knew I wouldn't be arrested, I'd grab the biggest knife in my kitchen and start knocking on my neighbors' doors. Then when one of them answered, I'd cut his/her throat and chop him/her up for my dinner (that way I could save the split pea with ham soup and the ham sandwich I was planning to have for tomorrow)

By the way, If this appears twice, I apologize. When I hit post the first time (about a half hour ago) the screen went blank and when I re-opened the page just now my post still wasn't here. Maybe it was the spam filter yet again (it hates me!!), but I don't know since it didn't go to the usual Spam warning screen.

Bagheera, 2007.02.23 (Fri) 15:08 [Link] »

Another good rant, and a lot of good comments. I don't have a lot to add.

About all I can say is that Humans have this tendency to fear what they don't understand, and often to hate what they fear. The one thing all the "believers" have in common is that they can't understand how Atheists can NOT believe. Not just not believe as they do: but not believe at all. They don't understand, which leads to fear. Fear leads to hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side - no, wait, Hate leads to Polls that show Athiests are unlikely to win elections.

Xtians, Muslims, and Jews, will all argue endlessly over the interpretation of their common diety. But they can all agree "those godless heathan Atheists" are horrible and wrong and blah, blah, blah.

It's just sad those who "Believe" have so much sway in the world. What's even sadder, is how fragile their world view is that without their religion they'd come completely unglued.

Fan-man, 2007.02.26 (Mon) 16:04 [Link] »

It's ignorance. That's almost always the answer when dealing with the masses. As stated above, Atheists aren't able to be identified by the color of their skin, the sound of their name or the company that they keep. We're mysterious beings to most folks. I was raised Methodist and my family doesn't know that I'm an atheist. If I told them, they would probably stage an intervention. No kidding. I don't openly speak of being atheist, and I imagine most atheists don't. It's not that I'm ashamed, it just doesn't come up in everyday conversation. Of the categories listed in the poll, only atheists and folks married for the third time have no formal, organized representation in society. If they did, maybe people would be more tolerant. Instead, people fear what they don't know.

xiangtao, 2007.02.26 (Mon) 18:24 [Link] »

There is at least one group in that poll that I would typically not vote for, no matter how qualified. Having lived most of my life surrounded neck deep by mormons, it is my observation that they are (for the most part) incapable of separating their religious beliefs from their political doings. I would say that Utah and southern Idaho are about as close to a theocracy as this country has and I would hate to see the rest of the country go that way.

The Two Percent Company, 2007.02.26 (Mon) 21:41 [Link] »

Exactly, Fan-man — ignorance (what we're calling "lack of exposure") is a primary problem here. We just find it hard to see how this can be overcome on a large scale, with respect to atheists.

I don't openly speak of being atheist, and I imagine most atheists don't. It's not that I'm ashamed, it just doesn't come up in everyday conversation.

See, to us, this is an extremely valid point, if not the point that we're struggling to explain to believers so often. It just doesn't come up in everyday conversation. While believers' very lives seem to revolve around their god-beliefs, our lives do not revolve around our lack of god-beliefs — it's secondary, or tertiary, or more likely much, much further down on the list of important subjects to us. The believers, though, can't see it that way. Since the issues of a god's existence, motivations and capabilities are the focus of their lives, they assume that — even though we take an opposite stance on that issue — the issue itself must still be central to our lives. It really seems as if our thought processes are totally alien to them; they simply can't grasp the idea of not thinking about gods all the time (whether you think about their existence or non-existence).

And, to be fair, blogs like our own don't help that perception very much, because believers — who themselves usually have varied interests and ideas, just as we do — think that the opinions, views, and research we display on our website comprise the sum total of what we think about 24/7. Which is quite silly, and a casual glance inward, at their own varied interests, would go a long way toward suggesting that maybe...just maybe...atheists do more than just think about atheism all the time, too.

As a note, we're not saying that all religiosos are interesting people with eclectic interests, any more than we're saying that all atheists are. However, we've met plenty of believers who are into science fiction, or billiards, or track and field, or something — and, more often, a variety of somethings. We admit that we've yet to meet an atheist whose only interest is atheism, but that may only speak to our own sample size (or, more likely in our opinion, it may speak to the idea that most humans — believers or non — have a variety of interests, rather than being single-minded automatons, which is what believers seem to paint us atheists as).

Of the categories listed in the poll, only atheists and folks married for the third time have no formal, organized representation in society. If they did, maybe people would be more tolerant.

Unfortunately, this goes back to one of the very problems we were discussing in our Rant: exactly what kind of formal organization can atheists — or folks in their third marriages, even — form? Other than atheism, what do "all atheists" share in common? Not much, really. (By the same token, people who just so happen to be in a third marriage likely share very, very little with other people in third marriages, aside from that one element.)

It's the "stamp collecting" dilemma all over again, really. Stamp collectors gather together because of their interest in stamp collecting. What possible motivation would non-stamp collectors have for gathering together — a lack of interest in stamp collecting? By such logic, there would be an infinite number of time-wasting clubs, for every possible permutation of interests and non-interests across the spectrum of hobbies! Not only is that overkill, it's incredibly unrealistic. It may also be counterproductive, as perhaps the only reason that the stamp collectors may see for non-stamp collectors to form such a club is specifically to fuck with the stamp collecting clubs. While stamp collectors may enjoy the superiority they feel over those who can't grasp the beauty of stamp collecting, non-stamp collectors just don't...really...care. You know? Non-stamp collectors are not defined by not collecting stamps — that hobby makes no difference to them — but rather by what hobbies they do indulge in, whether it's baseball cards, or weightlifting, or macramé, or whatever. Why would a bunch of folks with completely different interests and hobbies come together specifically to form the non-stamp collecting club? Why should we expect them to? To finish the analogy, only the stamp collectors would think philately is important enough to warrant such an anti-club; people who don't collect stamps don't even think about collecting stamps enough to want to form the club.

For any believers who are having difficulty here, replace "stamp collectors" with "believers," "non-stamp collectors" with "atheists," "stamp collecting" with "religion," and "philately" with "god" — and then assume the hypothesis that the stamp collectors want everybody else to collect stamps, interests be damned. We'd love to know if any of this makes an impression on you — we're not even snarking and saying "we doubt it," we would just really love to know if such an analogy clears up what, to us, is an exceedingly transparent point. That point: rock on with your religion, but understand that we really don't dwell on it as much as you do. We've examined it, we've found it lacking, and we've moved on. We don't demand that you do the same, but we would appreciate it if you would recognize our utter lack of interest in your beliefs, and behave accordingly — just do your thing, and don't bother the rest of us who have other interests we'd like to pursue.

Jason Spicer, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 00:52 [Link] »

All well and good, 2%Co, except that some of the stamps have hypnotized the stamp collectors into being militant evangelists. Worse, since many of their stamps are hateful lies and anti-intellectual rantings, the stamp collectors are awfully busy trying to undo centuries of progress by non-stamp-collectors. Ceding the field is not an option.

Atheists band together to improve their odds of holding out against the forces of ignorance. Or they should. The only way to improve our standing in future polls is to speak out, exactly as you are doing, and to stand up and be counted. If people hate atheists because they think they don't know any, maybe they should be introduced to the ones they already know.

And it's not like you have to bring it up in conversation. Just put a Darwin fish on your car before you go to your next extended family gathering. I did. No fireworks. A couple questions. Not too bad. (OK, it's not like they didn't have any idea before, really, but that's probably true for most closeted atheists.) Of course, some relatives are more psycho than mine, so act accordingly.

The fact is, atheism represents a slowly growing percentage of the US population. It certainly isn't growing because atheists are outbreeding the theists. I'm one of nine kids from a devoutly Baptist family. Four of us kids rejected that old time religion (and three others converted to Catholicism, go figure). Religion doesn't stand up to scrutiny. And at least some in each generation abandon it. I don't think the conversion business is so good in the other direction. Who wants to give up their Sundays?

The poll you quote above is a disheartening snapshot, but the trend is actually quite promising. According to the site you got the table from, the same poll in 1958 said only 18% would vote for an atheist for president. From 18% to 45% is progress. Granted, 27% in five decades is too slow for my tastes, but we are gaining acceptance. If we were more open about our atheism, I'm pretty sure we'd stumble out into the mainstream. And we'd encourage a lot of others to step forward, as well. And maybe even bust loose some brains that have never been really challenged by the prospect of living without gods.

Is atheism the centerpiece of our lives? Probably not. But it's too important to hide it. If you keep it under wraps, the theists win by forfeit.

TimmyAnn, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 01:58 [Link] »

A Darwin fish really wouldn't do it, though, since some people who don't believe in creationism still believe in the man in the sky with the long white beard. They just think that he set evolution in motion.

dikkii, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 07:05 [Link] »
A Darwin fish really wouldn't do it, though, since some people who don't believe in creationism still believe in the man in the sky with the long white beard. They just think that he set evolution in motion.

Get yourself an FSM "fish".

That ought to do it.

TimmyAnn, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 13:02 [Link] »

That is too funny! I almost came back and said, "An FSM fish might work, though", but I didn't want to post twice in a row. I ('ve done that too many times already.) I wondered if someone else would point that out. Well done, dikkii!

Glintir, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 13:32 [Link] »

Hmm.. perhaps the stamp collector argument would work better if you made it the football argument. And by football, I mean the European variety. Those fans are fairly rabid, and willing to beat the crap out of you if you root for the wrong team. Plus, Americans on the whole don't care for soccer any more than stamps.

TimmyAnn, 2007.02.27 (Tue) 13:43 [Link] »

Oh, 2%, I forgot to mention that, in an ironic twist, my AOL has started putting some of my e-mail notifications of new posts on these rants in the SPAM folder! So I guess my SPAM filter hates you as much as yours hates me!

The Two Percent Company, 2007.03.07 (Wed) 16:49 [Link] »

Jason said:

Is atheism the centerpiece of our lives? Probably not. But it's too important to hide it. If you keep it under wraps, the theists win by forfeit.

We certainly aren't advocating inaction on the part of atheists. We just think that it seems weird to expect atheists to "organize," when, in essence, there's no "there" there (with apologies to Gertrude Stein). We're all for speaking out and getting known; we just find the "organization" aspect of it to be somewhat odd and artificial, at least, when it comes to atheists.

In all honesty, we think that it would be far more important to band together as rationalists — whether atheist, believer, or whatever — who understand that if we want to make progress, religion (or any other irrational belief) can't be placed in the driver's seat of civilization. The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State get it, and they're religious. Hell, plenty of religious folks we've met would be able to get behind a rationalist organization, although they aren't atheists at all. Frankly, organizing as rationalists instead of as atheists might help to alleviate some of the fear that more than half of America seems to have when it comes to atheists: it wouldn't be the E-ville atheists organizing "against religion" — it would be lots of people from various walks of life with varying beliefs organizing against zealotry, bigotry, and insanity. And no, this would not calm the fundamentalist Christians — they hate moderate and rational Christians anyway, and would probably be sure that atheists are just brainwashing the "soft" Christians. The same would be true of radical believers of any stripe. But we've always known that the true nutbags are beyond reason and logic. The middle-Americans — the ones who like their Christianity, but don't spooge over Jesus' stigmata every day — they might see that it's not some "atheist agenda," but simply an effort to make all people aware that rationalism is a good thing, something that can help us all out if we give it a chance.

And let's not forget that there are some moronic atheists out there. Some that we've encountered or read about are not rationalists...not by any stretch of the imagination. Larry Darby, the anti-semitic asshat formerly of the poorly-named Atheist Law Center, is a perfect example. Larry-boy is another reason why we don't advocate saying "All atheists, front and center, let's get organized!" Instead, how about seeking out those people — whatever their beliefs — who demonstrate rational and logical thought in the form of reasoning from observation through evidence to a solid conclusion? We've seen lots of those folks since we started our site (just one excellent example of a wonderfully rational human being who also happens to embrace his religion would be ***Dave), and we're proud to call any one of them "like-minded." That is simply not true about all of the atheists we've met. So these rationlists, these skeptics, these critical thinkers, these are the people we would organize with, if any.

And in a way, we already have — we've met all of you, if only online, and we've amassed a large and growing list of Usual Suspects that give us confidence in the potential of rational human thought. And while that's a good thing, what's important now is simply getting some of these rationalists into positions of power. This is, of course, the tricky part, because the non-rational folks have a stranglehold on government right now. And we're not just talking about the Republicans here — the Democrats tend to pander to religion as well (if you think the Democrats' recent comeback is going to change the religious landscape any time soon, we've got bad news for you). What we need is some kind of "chain reaction," either explosive or slow and steady (we'll take either at this point), which will fill seats in Congress, the Supreme Court, and the executive branch with people who — no matter their personal feelings about religion — realize that they must make rational decisions based on observations and evidence, despite any personal feelings or popular opinion to the contrary. A tall, tall order, to be sure.

But if this is at all attainable (and we don't know that it is), we don't think "organizing atheists" will get us there. We think "breaking down the walls," as clichéd as that might sound, will do that, in exactly the way we (and Jason, and others) have described — by getting the word out. Yes, people need to understand that there's nothing wrong with atheism, but more importantly they need to see that, whatever atheism is, the rationalists are their friends. None of us are interested in fucking with the religious people at all, as long as they don't fuck with us. So for our dime, rationalism is truly the perfect guiding force of government, because it looks out for everybody's interests equally. There's no prejudice, there's no unfounded fear, and there's no favoritism — it is, by definition, rational. In practice, sure, human foibles will add a few wrinkles; but we think that rationalist control of a system of government like ours — with an excellent system of checks and balances — should be able to iron those out.

So we would never advocate keeping atheism "under wraps." We're just saying that atheism shouldn't be the focal point, because, well...really, it isn't, to us. Rationalism and civil liberties should be the focal points, because even devout Christians — the ones who haven't crossed the zealous line to fanatical theocracy, at least — can get behind that, even if they don't understand (or agree with) all of the actual things we're rational about. At the very least, they are certainly capable of understanding how important civil liberties are, and may simply not have thought through the consequences of having Christianity firmly ensconced in government; because (to be fair to them) without deeper and more objective consideration, a Christian theocracy may seem to be in their favor (though historically, whenever the "big tent" finally gains control, it suddenly starts shrinking and uninviting lots of people who used to have a seat at the table).

We just don't see the point of forming an organization based on such a minor thing as atheism — and to us, it is a minor aspect of our lives. The reason for this is because atheism is simply a result of critical thinking — of rationalism and skepticism. Why would one result of our much larger approach to life be a (let alone the) defining aspect of our lives? To us, atheism alone is no more important than a lack of belief in unicorns (or ass gnomes, of course) — really! It's merely another incidental consequence of our rational view of the universe — it's only become a key topic of discussion because the religious fanatics have made it so. But what's important is that view, that approach itself — the rationalism and the critical thinking. And unlike atheists, most rationalists and skeptics do share a lot in common. In our opinion, those are the lines to organize along and, frankly, we think that many have already started doing just that in various venues — including the blogosphere, where we ourselves have joined them.

So we certainly aren't talking about ceding the field, not in the least. We're talking about taking a very different approach. We're not going to march across the field as an army of atheists and confront the opposing army. We're going to spread out, visit other fields in other villages and counties, and start talking to people, so they don't have to be afraid anymore and so they understand that a rational approach still allows for religion to be practiced, while at the same time safguarding the rights of everyone equally. Eventually, these people will look at the battlefield, and that opposing army, and say: "Huh? What the fuck are you guys doing there, ready to fight?" And when the fanatically religious, rather than the atheists, become the "scary ones" to the average American, that's how and when rationalism will win. Not by wasting valuable time and energy on a bunch of stupid zealots who are looking for a fight, but by concentrating on the people who can be reached, and who — together with those already in the rationalist camp — would vastly outnumber the zealots, making the zealots' opinions completely powerless in the long run.

George Lind III, 2007.03.23 (Fri) 06:29 [Link] »

As I'm sure some of you already know...finally, a Congressman comes out of the "Heathen closet".


Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2007.03.23 (Fri) 13:51 [Link] »

Thanks for the reminder, George — I'd read about it when the buzz hit the blogosphere a short time ago, but time (to post Rants) has been sparse around here lately (like none of you have noticed).

I find it funny that the Secular Coalition for America (not to be confused with the same-acronymed Society for Creative Anachronism, I hope) offered a $1000 prize for finding the highest-ranked elected official who didn't buy into fairy stories. Maybe we could be seeing the start of X-Prizes for atheists, or a new reality show centered on competitive blasphemy and the Unforgivable Sin.

To put it in perspective, though, Stark only said he doesn't believe in "a supreme being" — he may still be pondering the existence of ass gnomes. Let's pray that he does.

On another note:

[Pollster Ben Tulchin] said his firm's long work in polling has repeatedly confirmed that the West Coast is less religious than the East Coast, "and California in particular, is probably one of the most nonreligious states in the country -- maybe the most nonreligious state.''

Damn. I think I may need to move back to California immediately.

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2007.03.23 (Fri) 14:01 [Link] »

Methinks you're forgetting the plethora of woo in good old California. And the heavy concentrations of Scientologists. The grass is always greener, my friend

Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2007.03.23 (Fri) 14:06 [Link] »

Well, I did say "may."

The fantastic weather does have the unfortunate side effect of baking more than a few brains. Or maybe it's all the coke.

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