News > The American Melting Pot – Atheists Keep Out?


  • The American Melting Pot – Atheists Keep Out?

    Posted on: July 20, 2011

    It’s startling to read the poll results about how much Americans distrust atheists. The reasons aren’t obscure, but let’s consider the numbers first. An ABC News survey asked more than 2,000 people if they would disapprove of a child who wanted to marry an atheist. Almost half (47.6 percent) said yes. The move toward inclusiveness has been more successful with every other group that this question was posed about. Comparatively, a third of respondents would disapprove of their child marrying a Muslim and just over 27 percent an African-American.

    Is this a statement about how the American melting pot is faring? Or is it more about the fact that atheists, who didn’t use to have a very public face, are loudly represented by gadflies like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins? Abrasiveness rarely wins friends – or in-laws apparently. When it comes to marrying someone from other minorities – Jewish, Hispanic, Asian – the disapproval rating falls below 20 percent and plummets to 6.9 percent if a child wanted to marry a conservative Christian. That figure is especially telling, since dogmatic atheists chiefly draw vocal opposition from Bible-believing fundamentalists.

    For a politician the indicators are clear: don’t step on God’s toes. And why should a presidential candidate take an atheist position, or any position outside the mainstream? We are a secular republic, but what politicians want, basically, is approval. Turning God into a political issue will never be a pure or clean issue. Believers and nonbelievers cover a wide spectrum of American opinion. Although statistically we are among the most church-going countries compared to Britain and Europe, for example, we are also free-thinking. In the context of rationality and scientific inquiry, no faith can claim that their version of God has been validated through rigorous proof or scientific evidence, just as atheists cannot claim that their position has been validated.

    Which opens a wide field for reinventing faith on a higher ground, above rancorous prejudice and inflexible belief. Thomas Jefferson held such a position, and so do forward-looking spiritual movements today. Or should we say inward-looking, since religion has steadily found a more tolerant home outside organized faiths, with people seeking their own God by walking the spiritual path as individuals. Officially, we are a nation of believers, but if you examine the social fabric more closely, I think we are more a nation of seekers, on all fronts and not just religion.

    The ABC poll asked a second question, about which groups did not share the responder’s view of American society. Atheists led the pack with almost 40 percent, the next highest number being 26 percent for Muslims. Even a more outspoken gay community campaigning for same-sex marriage rated only 22 percent. This is nowhere near perfect by the standards of political correctness, love thy neighbor, and the melting pot but to my mind surprisingly tolerant except about atheism. Of course, it’s not as if atheism is seeking to be popular. It’s an embattled, contentious minority by choice, so far as public relations go, and I imagine that in more restrained circles, such as universities, nonbelief is respectable and widespread. After all, Darwin, Marx, and Freud head the long list of modern minds who jettisoned the God of organized religion more than a century ago, and most of the founding Fathers wouldn’t pass a Bible test given in Southern Baptist Sunday school.

    Polls and casual observations cannot determine whether God exists or not. The arrogant reputation of outspoken atheists may derive, at bottom, from their disdain for the world’s great sages, saints, and intelligent believers who experienced some kind of divine presence. The fact that this is a lively question is the most encouraging sign. Better to live in a society with a healthy mix of belief, skepticism, curiosity, argument, and confusion than one where God, or godlessness, is officially sanctioned and woe to anyone who doesn’t toe the line.

    Published by the Washington Post OnFaith


john of england | July 20,2011

america was built from a melting pot of people,,,those who had the courage to travel to new lands,mostly didso on the back of strong religeous convictions,,,,you are a nation of religion,,learnt behaviour,,,,an athiaest is ok in the eyes of the creator,,,,but is not in the eyes of religion,,,,,we are all equal,we are all made of the same stuff, might is not always right

annie | July 20,2011

dear john, that melting pot of people included those imported as goods from Africa and those who lived here before the white man showed his face and drove them off their lands. later it included chinese who built many of our railroads, and many others from different walks of life by whose hands this country was built. so many did not believe in the judeo-christian god, unless and until they were indoctrinated in the christian religions. furthermore, many came to america out of fear, poverty, or to escape a bad past or bleak future rather than out of courage, desire for freedom of religious expression, or desire to explore a new world.

ironically, many americans are unaware that there are major religions that are atheistic. what they truly fear is not atheism, but the person who is willing to shun organized religion and stand on their own to say “i believe something different” – in a country known for its admiration of rugged individualism. this is a country of diversity, hypocracy, and extreme contradiction. embracing contention surrounding religious belief as an encouraging sign is wise given the human nature. but idealistically, one would hope those who embrace religious teachings would have learned tolerance and love for humanity, too, and would embrace those who differ from them in belief. you are right, after all – we are all made of the same stuff.

Perri | July 20,2011

I have some issues with the polling. If the poll was fair, what was the demographic makeup? Are African-Americans or Muslims part of this poll that says that “they” would not want their child to marry one of their own? The people who take these surveys are generally people who have the time to take them and the surveys that come to them don’t go to everyone. Who are they? But, that said, there is a complexity in all this that depends on where you live and who you associate with. Interesting that the founding fathers would not pass a Southern Baptist Sunday school test, but then neither would most Southern Baptist Christians. I remember the man who called a show I was on and told me, “If the King James version was good enough for Jesus, it oughta be good enough for you.” Think on it.

Dark Star | July 20,2011

“those who had the courage to travel to new lands,mostly didso on the back of strong religeous convictions”

Let’s not forget that “strong religious convictions” includes Columbus, Ponce de Leon, Panfilo de Narvaez, Hernan Cortés, Francisco Pizarro… all Christians, all well-known murders and enslavers of uncountable numbers of indigenous people.

Dr. Michael McDonnel wrote in The ‘Conquest’ of the Americas:
conquistadors regarded plunder, slaves, and tribute as the just desserts for their efforts in forcing pagans to accept Christianity and Spanish rule. After all, the conquistadors did scrupulously adhere to the Spanish law of conquest by reading the requerimiento, which ordered defiant Indians to immediately accept Spanish rule and Christian conversion, or face punishment in a “just war”. The requerimiento announced that “The resultant deaths and damages shall be your fault, and not the monarch’s or mine or the soldiers”. Attending witnesses and a notary usually certified in writing that the requerimiento had been read and ignored by the usually uncomprehending Indians, thus justifying the death and destruction that so often followed.

And if you aren’t familiar with the requerimiento:

It was “used to justify the assertion that God, through historical Saint Peter and appointed Papal successors, held authority as ruler over the entire Earth; and that the Inter Caetera Papal Bull, of 4 May 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, conferred title over all the Americas to the Spanish monarchs”

And Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent – a divine sanction for the near genocide of an entire continent of people.

And looking to the south, Bernal Diaz wrote of the sack of the Aztecs, that “When the Christians were exhausted from war, God saw fit to send the Indians smallpox, and there was great pestilence in the city.”

I wonder, if Jesus had known just how “strong” those Christian religious convictions would become, would he have bothered to try to tell people to be good to one another?

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