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Atheism and Discrimination
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Is Atheism a civil rights issue? I'm not sure I even understand that question, but Matthew C. Nisbet says no.

There's little doubt that atheists are not viewed very favorably in American society. Here's Eugene Volokh's post on a study last year showing some depressing results.

When asked to identify the group that "does not at all agree with my vision of American society", atheists lead the pack:

Atheists (39.6%)
Muslims (26.3%)
Homosexuals (22.6%)
Conservative Christians (13.5%)
Recent Immigrants (12.5%)
Jews (7.6%)

In another depressing finding, in response to statement: "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group" atheists also topped the charts:

Atheists (47.6%)
Muslims (33.5%)
African Americans (27.2%)
Asian Americans (18.5%)
Hispanics (18.5%)
Jews (11.8%)
Conservative Christians (6.9%)
Whites (2.3%)

So Atheists as a group don't seem to be very well liked. But as I chimed in on the Nisbet thread, part of this is because atheism is not a belief system, but a position statement on non-belief in god. I think the average religious adherent thinks of an atheist as someone who has absolutely no foundation for morals or meaning in their life, and that somewhat justifiably that leads to mistrust.

This isn't "blaming the victim", but trying to identify the causes. I don't think it's reasonable to expect people to like or understand you if all they know about you is that you don't believe in god. The logical follow-up is: "Well, what do you believe in?"

If most atheists could agree on that question (which probably a majority can), and articulate it on a fairly large scale (which is also probable), then I think some of the distrust and latent bigotry might disappear.

Until then, I don't necessarily blame my fellow Americans for such responses. Atheism is an ideological vacuum. Unless there's a well-articulated secular belief system(*) that people can identify themselves with that give some indication of the foundations of their behavior and sense of purpose, I'm not sure atheism has earned any degree of respect or trust.

(*) Of the ones I've seen, Objectivism is probably the most systematic and comprehensive, but it's somewhat cult-like, and the tenants of rational self-interest and radical egoism do not appeal to me (although some of the other tenants do). Naturalism doesn't do it for me either. Their source of values are "human needs." Hm. Ditto secular humanism.

I'm in the process of trying to articulate my own value system, and it might become a short book. We'll see.

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