I'm Your Boogy Man
This line: "Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public," really jumped out at me. It's knee jerk reaction at its most base. "We don't know who you are, what you believe and couldn't pick you out of a crowd but we sure as hell don't like you."
Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.
Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past-- they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them trustworthy-- and in America, that 'core' has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. "Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens-- they share an understanding of right and wrong," she said. "Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good."
Which is odd, seeing as how atheists don't throw bombs into abortion clinics (That would be Christians) strap bombs to their chests and detonate restaurants (Muslims and Jews), hijack planes and crash them into buildings (Muslims), trample people to death in a religious ceremony (Hindus), throw acid in the face of woman who turn you down for a date (Muslims, Hindus), or ritually scar young men (every religion believes in the utterly useless procedure, circumcision*). We atheists just question you're fairy tale-derived "wisdom" and want a concrete explanation for why things work. And for that we are even more distrusted than Sadr (Muslim Cleric), Robertson (batshit crazy Fundamentalist) and Hitler (German Catholic)?
It's a funny world.