Atheists have just gotten a shout-out from the last person you’d expect: Pope Francis.
It is unusual for atheists to encounter such open arms, at least in the U.S. “Every single study that has ever looked at the issue has revealed massive amounts of bigotry and prejudice against atheists in America,” who make up between four and fourteen percent of the population. Americans believe that atheists are about as trustworthy as rapists, and less than half of Americans would vote for an atheist for President.
“The most recent data shows that atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority.” More specifically, that data shows that 47.6 percent of Americans would disapprove if their child wanted to marry an atheist, and 39.6 percent believe atheists do not share their “vision of American society.”
Even the lead author of the study that made these findings was surprised by the level of animosity towards nonbelievers. “We thought that in the wake of 9/11, people would target Muslims. Frankly, we expected atheists to be a throwaway group.” TSA may not share this view, but for other Americans, atheists are the real threat.
The study showed that fear of atheists isn’t limited to people with generally bigoted views. “Dislike of atheists doesn’t correlate very highly with dislike of gays, immigrants, or Muslims.”
Even those who are not hostile to atheists may assume that everyone believes in God. Wolf Blitzer embarrassed himself on national television by making this mistake when interviewing a survivor of the Oklahoma tornado, Rebecca Vitsmun.
First he told her that she, her husband, and her child were each blessed. She played along. Then he pushed it a step further. “You gotta thank the Lord, right?” he said to her as she stood surrounded by the ruins of homes. “Yeah,” she said, giving him yet another pass. But he had to push the point, which is not even a newsworthy one. “Do you thank the Lord?” he asked again, as though administering a test of her gratitude and worthiness.
Finally she told him, with grace and good humor, that she is an atheist. She added “I don’t blame anybody for thanking the Lord.” Blitzer quickly answered “‘Course not!”
Now if only Pope Francis could do something about the American mail. A German shoe company called “Atheist” discovered that packages sent through the mail with their brand name on them arrive much more slowly, and disappear much more often, than otherwise identical packages without the name, as Care2 Causes’ Steve Williams reports.
One homily acknowledging that atheists can be good people is but a drop out of the ocean of hatred for the secular. Let’s hope that the Pope and other religious leaders follow up with a bucket brigade. It would be particularly nice if they would do it without patronizing. Saying atheists are redeemed by Jesus is like telling them you are praying for them — it implicates them in a system of belief they want nothing to do with. But it is nicer than not sending them their shoes.
Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales)