Atheists remain most disliked religious minority in the U.S.

By College of Liberal Arts, Research | 12 September 2016
University of Minnesota

In general, Americans do not like atheists. In studies, they say they feel coldly toward nonbelievers; it’s estimated that more than half of the population say they’d be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who didn’t believe in God.

Ten years ago University of Minnesota sociologists conducted research showing that, among a long list of racial and religious minority groups,  atheists were the most disliked group of people in the United States. Last month they followed up with new research that shows that Americans still have negative opinions of atheists and the non-religious—and now they have a good theory about why that is.

Their findings are available online in the article “Atheists and Other Cultural Outsiders: Moral Boundaries and the Non-Religious in the United States” (Social Forces). The research team comprises Department of Sociology professors Penny Edgell, Douglas Hartmann, and Joseph Gerteis and graduate student Evan Stewart.

Survey data collected in 2014 shows that, compared to data collected in 2003, Americans have sharpened their negative views of atheists, despite an increase in people identifying as non-religious and an increase in public discussion of non-belief.

The findings of this most recent survey support the argument that atheists are persistent cultural outsiders in the United States because they are perceived to have rejected cultural values and practices understood as essential to private morality, civic virtue, and national identity. Moreover, any refusal to embrace a religious identity of any type is troubling for a large portion of Americans.

Forty percent of Americans view the non-religious—atheist, agnostic, no-religion, and spiritual-but-not-religious—as problematic, even though 33 percent of the survey respondents identify with those categories.

By the numbers, researchers found that:

  • 40% of Americans disapprove of non-religion
  • 33% of respondents fall into a broad “religious nones” category: 3.8% as atheist, 3.5% as agnostic, 7.1 % as “spiritual but not religious,” and 18.5% as “nothing in particular.”
  • 27% of Americans say that atheists “don’t share my morals or values.”

Comparing the “religious nones,” respondents had less negative views of people who say they have no religion, and feel more positively about those who are “spiritual but not religious.”

These attitudes are strongly driven by a belief that religiosity is central for civic virtue, that societal standards of right and wrong should be rooted in historic religious traditions, and that Christianity underpins American identity.

Some measures of the respondents’ attitudes show that Muslim-Americans are as distrusted, and in some cases more distrusted, than the non-religious. Analysis of these attitudes will be the subject of another paper by the same research team forthcoming later in 2016.

“There are no mainstream, cultural expressions or depictions, on television for example, to present atheism to the general public,” says Edgell. “It’s only in the last decade that a secular coalition of American atheist and non-religion organizations have gotten together. I expect that in the near future we’ll see more effort on their part to change perceptions and lobby to change policy,” regarding the role of religion in everyday life.

The survey was conducted by GFK Group, with just over 2,500 people participating.

Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers (2015)

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The Future of World Religion (in 2050)

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  1. I am an atheist but I am not part of a "religious minority". I am simply not religious at all. My view of the universe is based on observation, testing and data. We atheists are disliked because we force believers to admit that they believe in magic. We are disliked because we force modern educated people who call themselves "rational" to admit to the irrationality of their magical belief systems. They cry that FAITH is all the proof they need to be convinced that their magical worldview is correct. I say that faith is belief in the unbelievable – how is that a virtue??? How can we atheists become a majority? Make this country more rational. Remove the generous tax subsidies provided to religion in this country. Exclude religious teachings from all taxpayer supported schools. Remove "God" from our money and Pledge of Allegiance. Remove prayer from the halls of Congress and other governing bodies. In other words, stop taxpayer funding of religious belief in this country!

    • That's almost word for word for the response I was about to write. And being an atheist most certainly does NOT mean living an immoral life without a code of ethics or a sense of spirituality or having compassion for fellow human beings. Atheism is intellectual honesty – which for some is hard to hear with the responses invariably including ostracism, ridicule, mistrust – and in extreme cases, death at the hands of the believers.

  2. If you believe that a child is born into the world in a state of sin then, yes, we don't share the same moral values.
    If you believe that eating pork, wearing linen and wool together or donating body parts after you die somehow diminishes your worthiness as a human being then, yes, we don't share the same moral values.
    If you believe that killing in the name of "God" is a good thing for which you will be rewarded in an imaginary after life then, yes, we don't share the same moral values.

  3. Atheism is LACK or religion. I think religious people don't DISLIKE aheists as much as they fear them out of ignorance and untruths they are taught about atheists by their religious leaders.


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