Attitudes Toward Atheists Are Becoming Slightly Less Negative in the United States

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Toward the middle of March, the Pew Research Center released a study in which they reported evidence that the acceptance of atheists is growing in the United States. I enjoyed how the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) put it, "When you’re at the bottom, you can only go up." It isn't that attitudes toward atheists are positive; it is that they are somewhat less negative.

Americans continue to rate atheists more negatively than positively but atheists have edged up slightly above Muslims and Mormons in terms of favorability ratings. Only 20 percent of Americans have favorable opinions of atheists, and more — at 24 percent — hold unfavorable opinions.

I am not planning to hold out for news that attitudes toward atheists have become more positive than negative. That might happen someday, but I don't expect to be around to see it. No, I'll go ahead and celebrate this news that attitudes toward atheists are slowly improving. It may not seem like much, but it is something.

One surprise from the Pew data, when it comes to atheists, is that we are now slightly ahead of Muslims and Mormons. It seems like we've been close to Muslims for some time, so that was less of a surprise. Anti-Muslim sentiment seems to fluctuate based on what's in the news, so I wouldn't make too much of it. The finding regarding Mormons was the one that surprised me. I've heard lots of anti-Mormon sentiment from fundamentalist Christians, but it has been tame compared to what is often directed at atheists.

The biggest surprise of all was that 75% of Americans surveyed said that they know someone who is an atheist. That is about 70% higher than I would have guessed! If that's accurate, it suggests that we've got far more atheists who are open about their atheism than I would have thought. That seems like great news!

One other notable finding having to do with Christians wasn't much of a surprise.

The most significant revelation is that among Americans who are not born-again or evangelical Protestants, the balance of opinion toward evangelical Christians is negative (32 percent unfavorable vs. 18 percent favorable).

From what I've observed online, some of the harshest critics of evangelical Christians are other Christians. Many of us, Christians and atheists alike, find bigotry off-putting. Evangelical fundamentalist Christianity has become synonymous with bigotry. It isn't just atheists who don't want any part of that.

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