Godless heathens

Hey, I’m part of a distrusted minority. Finally! It may even give other minority groups something to be pleased about, relatively speaking, since: ‘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.”‘

Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that strongly religious people distrust atheists. At some fundamental level you’d almost expect it, though it needn’t necessarily be the case. To be honest I’m perfectly happy with the notion that people with equally strong – if opposing – religious beliefs have more in common with each other than with atheists. It’s all about the way you view the world and your place within it, and religions do indeed have a great deal in common on that level.

I do wonder, though, whether this result isn’t influenced by other factors. Atheism is also one of those forgotten minority groups (and how sad that it’s a minority!) in that there’s no sense that denigrating atheists is discriminatory in any way; no sense of guilt at having transgressed a cultural boundary. People will tend to be honest about their feelings towards atheists where perhaps they would not towards Muslims.

But still – to distrust atheists on principle – as if they were a homogenous group defined solely by their scepticism about the Almighty – indicates some fundamental assumptions which go hand in hand with distrust of science. It’s that feeling that scepticism is the same as believing in nothing or having no moral values. The feeling that to demand scientific evidence for belief is to be contrary and closed-minded. That’s more worrying to me.

I’m also struck by those minority groups mentioned in the quote; particularly their incredible diversity. They are all regarded as “other” by some kind of majority definition, but they share almost nothing else in common. That implictly says a lot about the very limited definition of social normality used by the people participating in the poll (or possibly by those conducting it, depending on how the quotations were phrased.) It’s sad that there’s any question of whether minority groups share a vision of society in common with other people: after all, any group is composed of individuals with their own beliefs, people who are not solely or even mainly defined by some arbitrary notion of “minority”. And if there is any sense that those groups don’t agree with the mainstream vision of society, it’s almost certainly because that society treats them with suspicion and intolerance and seeks to disenfranchise them. So standing up for your rights leads you to be seen as a threatening outsider: talk about a vicious circle.

All of which is just the tip of the iceberg of a very complex issue, but there’s nothing like a ridiculous poll to get your brain working.

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