“JUST DON’T MARRY AN ATHEIST, OK?”….The final frontier:
From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers 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.
….?Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,? says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study?s lead researcher.
That 3% number is tricky, though. The real number seems to be in the range of 3-9%, and if you count “nonreligious” as the same thing it’s more like 15%. What’s more, if I had to guess, I’d bet the number is more like 20-25% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously.
As for trends toward increasing social tolerance, though, I’m not sure atheists really count as a “glaring exception.” It’s true that we generally can’t get elected to high political office, but aside from that I suspect we don’t suffer much serious social ostracism as long we don’t insist on making obnoxious nuisances of ourselves. I never have, anyway, but maybe I’ve just been lucky. (And a Californian.)
UPDATE: Of course, it’s true that making an obnoxious nuisance of yourself is generally considered a social faux pas no matter what you believe. On the other hand, it’s also true that religious people seem to get away with it an awful lot more than us nonbelievers:
Robert Sherman: Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?
George H.W. Bush: No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.
I don’t think he ever apologized for that even after the election was over and the Christian Right had abandoned him.
UPDATE: Andrew Sabl emails to say that he tried to fact check this quote a year ago and was unable to verify it. Apparently nobody but Sherman heard Bush say this, and although Sherman says he has a tape of conversation he’s never released it.
I don’t know how reliable Sherman is, but for now it looks like this should be taken with a significant grain of salt.
UPDATE 2: I’ve exchanged several emails with Sherman, who says he took notes during his exchange with Bush but didn’t tape it. The tape, he says, is an “urban legend.” More here.