I often joke, in reference to a black person, woman or gay complaining about some reference or joke in society or in the media about them, that I am all five groups every one of them jokes about, stereotypes and ridicules without any liberal guilt at all; a white, Catholic (not so much these days but you get the idea), Republican (66% of the time), male who was raised in the South. Seriously, when is the last time anyone felt bad ridiculing any of those?
Turns out I am not quite complete in my persecuted state. Atheists can't catch a break either. Long after it became a cultural taboo to ridicule Jews, for example (the Holocaust will do that), or black people or homosexuals...heck, Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and every other girl in pop keeps hitting each other in the kneecaps trying to create a gay anthem so gay people are so culturally hip they could be the new Prius...it is still apparently completely okay to sneer at atheists.
And it isn't just jokes. When is the last time an atheist got elected to high office? Even John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, managed to become President of a Protestant country, and we've had a black man for two years. Atheists are less moral, we are expected to believe, and that is a bad thing in a leader.
Writing in the Washington Post, atheists and sociologists Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman reference a study by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi,who did a psychological profile of random atheists and, while the study was too small to be conclusive - heck it was too small to even be inconclusive - they reference it anyway and say it didn't show that atheists believed in torture or anything else ethically suspect more than religious people. Fair enough, they don't like torture but it doesn't speak to why, or if, atheists are stereotyped. They seem to instead be doing an advocacy piece.
So are atheists stereotyped? Hard to say. Being in science media, I am going to know plenty of atheists - AAAS surveys say 60% of their members are atheists - but I wouldn't know if they are atheist, unless they are walking around conferences with some ridiculous red 'A' on their chests. It may not come up because I don't bring it up and it may not be that people dislike atheists any more than they dislike religious people, they just generally want people to shut up about it. Go to Church or be an atheist, but please don't argue with us at a party about why we should be you. And atheists can be darn militant, just like their religious counterparts.
Zuckerman and Paul cite the usual suspect "atheists are awesome" list of things like that atheists are smarter and nicer, but also "value freedom of thought", which is the kind of meaningless statement that makes intelligent people, atheists or not, want to slap sociologists - so atheists value the freedom of thought for people to be religious? Go to TAM and show me all the people so accepting of religion. No, the common refrain among atheists is that religious people are intellectually immature and, from the religious side, that atheists are moral relativists with no ethical compass who are the same as Hitler and Stalin and Mao. Oh, and Marx and Freud.
Neither is true, of course, and the Paul and Zuckerman claim that 20% of America is secretly atheist and lying about it (all of their stats cite other sociologists, which means other surveys, so who knows) is as suspect as citing "use more birth control" as a way of being superior to religious people, who have a lower rate of unwed pregnancy because they have less unwed sex. 24% of American adults are Catholics and don't use birth control so 'freedom of thought' atheists should not label them culturally defective because their 'freedom of thought' made them decide to not use condoms. But if you survey a group of people at random and take some meaningless average, you can make meaningless sweeping predictions, like that atheists are smarter or that religious people do more charitable work and are therefore nicer.
We won't make cultural progress for atheists establishing meaningless correlations, like more religious people in Mississippi and Tennessee compared to Vermont is the cause of more murders in those states - a different sociologist can claim the income differences in those states are to blame and, well, you get the problem with sociologists and picking an agenda and then mapping some data to it and calling that science.
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