Despite the declining salience of divisions among religious groups, the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong. This article examines the limits ofAmericans' acceptance of atheists. Using new national survey data, it shows atheists are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. This distrust of atheists is driven by religious predictors, social location, and broader value orientations. It is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds. We demonstrate that increasing acceptance of religious diversity does not extend to the nonreligious, and present a theoretical framework for understanding the role of religious belief in providing a moral basis for cultural membership and solidarity in an otherwise highly diverse society.The shift from 'ethnic and material' to 'moral and symbolic' logics is particularly interesting here; since atheism is not identified with any particular ethnic or national groups. But there is also, presumably, a sense in which atheism is the necessary abjection of any predominantly religious community; the apparent contradiction of the collective ethos that secretly speaks to its hidden fears and anxieties.
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
People Trust Atheists Least Of All
Woman, as John Lennon once put it, is the nigger of the world. But atheists, according to Penny Edgell, Joseph Gerteis and Douglas Hartmann ('Atheists as "Other": Moral Boundaries and Cultural Membership in American Society', American Sociological Review 71:2 2006, 211-234) are currently, at least in America, an even more comprehensively abjected group: