« Skeptics' Circle #54 • The Rants • Duck 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:
|Married for the third time||67%||30%||3%|
|Seventy-two years of age||57%||42%||1%|
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.
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