Think of the word Atheist. What does the average American think of?
According to national polls, likely a negative opinion.
Polls are pretty consistent on this. According to a 2006 Newsweek poll only 37% would vote for an “otherwise qualified atheist candidate” in a Presidential election. In a 2002 poll by the Association of Religion Data Archives and a Pew study from 2005 show that only 34-35% of those surveyed had a positive opinion of atheists. The Pew study also showed that 50% of those interviewed have a negative view of them.
In contrast, in October 2001, just one month after a group of Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center buildings and killed thousands of people, only 39% of people had a negative view of Muslims.
The Atheist Population
Atheists (and the “Nones” – which includes agnostics, secular humanists, and those who simply claim no religion) make up 15% of the U.S. population and that number is rising. That means 1 in every 6 people that you meet on the street does not believe in religion and/or is an atheist. A majority by no means, but considering that the Hispanic population in the U.S. is right around 16%, it is a population worthy of respect.
What can an Atheist do?
Atheists as a whole need to get out there and demonstrate that they can, indeed, be “good without God”. The more that the general public sees them as “just normal people”, the less negativity and distrust will be associated with the word.
In Duluth, there is a group called the “Lake Superior Freethinkers” which welcomes Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, Skeptics and other Freethinkers. All are welcome to attend their meetings, which feature a social hour and a presentation. It is a great way to socialize and meet other like-minded people.
This article has been edited and links added for clarity. There will be a follow up article on this issue soon addressing the definitions of the word “Atheist” and explaining why Atheists are a hard group to count.