U of M study says we still dislike the atheists most; we're just not sure why

Atheists may lead the league, but Muslims, gays and conservative Christians are giving them a run for their money.

Atheists may lead the league, but Muslims, gays and conservative Christians are giving them a run for their money.

America’s brazen experiment in cultural and religious intermixing has always had its growing pains.

The Know-Nothing Party of the late 1900s openly trashed Catholics to grow its membership. The KKK beckoned the anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic in addition to those who hated blacks. Wiccans who died serving the country couldn’t get the pentagram on Arlington headstones because mainstream Christians associated it with the devil.

Now recent immigrants of all stripes face a continuum of blame from older immigrants for taking jobs and overcrowding welfare.

But there remains one group disliked above all others. Step aside, Muslims, because the atheists still hold the crown.

The University of Minnesota recently came out with a study that sampled 2,500 adults to get a taste of which “other” makes them tick. Respondents were given a list of 15 minority groups in random order and asked whether the people in these groups “agree with YOUR vision of American society.”

The results show that despite atheism’s dramatic rise in America – growing from only five percent in 1972 to 33 percent by 2014 – 40 percent of adults disapprove of the godless. According to those who take issue with it, atheism seems to go hand in hand with criminality, materialism, and “an elitist lack of accountability.”

However, “Americans can name few specific material or political problems that they associate with atheists,” the authors concluded. “Rather, it seems that the term “atheist” denotes a cultural category that dignifies a general and diffuse sense of moral threat.”

They noted that more visibility for minority groups is not necessarily a good thing, especially if that additional attention comes in the form of politicizing the whole group. Post 9/11 America was not a terribly welcoming place for Muslims – nor for Sikhs, whose turbans incited the outrage-prone to people who couldn't separate them from Muslims.  

The U reports that as of 2014, about 30 percent of Americans believe Muslims don’t share mainstream values, compared with 27 percent who believe the same of atheists.  

Hardline conservative Christians who have a tendency to blur religion and nationalism – undercutting that old separation of church and state adage – turn a lot of Americans off as well. They rank after Muslims, atheists, and gays with a disapproval rate of about 27 percent.

Recent immigrants follow shortly after that at about 26 percent. Take that, Bachmannites of Minnesota.