Friday, December 31, 2010

America's Most Distrusted Minority

Yesterday I was talking to one of the surgeons at work - a good friend and super nice guy - about religion. He knew I was LDS, and asked me if I had watched General Conference over the weekend. This launched an interesting conversation about religion. He told me he has a sister who joined the LDS church when she was 21, who is now happily married, active, and living in Mesa.  We were having this conversation in a crowded area of the OR. But before he told me what he thought about religion, we moved into an uncrowded supply room, and in a hushed voice, he told me: “I’m agnostic - but lean mostly toward atheism.” He said this like it was some kind of murder confession!  He also said that “if people here knew what I thought about religion, I would be totally ostracized.” I told him I’ve had the same thought. 

So I wondered if there was any data to support that feeling we both had. According to recent scientific opinion polls, there is:

For example, a 2006 University of Minnesota study found that “Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry." 

In addition to not being good Americans or good future sons or daughters-in-law, atheists are not viewed as qualified to be President either. According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, when asked if their party nominated “an otherwise well-qualified person for president”,  only 45% said they would be willing to vote for them if they were an atheist - the lowest ranking minority group in the study. More Americans would be willing to vote for a black candidate (94%), a Jew (92%), a woman (88%), a Mormon (72%), or a homosexual (55%), than for an atheist.

So if atheists are America’s most distrusted minority, the next question would be “Why?”  Why do people think nonbelievers do not share “their vision of American society?” Why wouldn’t someone want a nonbeliever to marry their son or daughter? Why would it be virtually impossible for a nonbeliever to be President  (even though many of our forefathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine were non-Christian Deists who were rather critical of religion)? I mean, who wouldn’t want John Adams or Thomas Jefferson to be President again? :-)

In short, why the prejudice against a minority group based solely upon their religious views?

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