Things are looking up for atheists

A recent survey by the Pew finds that feelings towards atheists and Muslims are getting warmer, with younger people leading the way.

While Americans still feel coolest toward Muslims and atheists, mean ratings for these two groups increased from a somewhat chilly 40 and 41 degrees, respectively, to more neutral ratings of 48 and 50.

However, the mean ratings given to particular religious groups still vary widely depending on who is being asked. For example, young adults – those ages 18 to 29 – express warmer feelings toward Muslims than older Americans do. Moreover, young adults rate all of the groups in the study within a relatively tight range, from 54 degrees for Mormons to 66 for Buddhists. By contrast, older Americans (ages 65 and older) rate some religious groups, such as mainline Protestants (75) and Jews (74), very warmly, and others, such as Muslims and atheists (44 degrees each), much more coolly.

Pew atheists

Not surprisingly, people who have a personal connection with someone from a particular group tend to rate that group more warmly than those who do not know anyone.

Across the board, Americans express warmer feelings toward religious groups when they are personally familiar with someone in the group, consistent with findings from the June 2014 survey. Those who do not know anyone who is Buddhist, for example, give Buddhists an average rating of 56 degrees on the feeling thermometer, compared with a much warmer 75 among those who do know a Buddhist. People who do not know atheists or Muslims rate these groups on the colder side of the scale, but those who do know someone who is an atheist or a Muslim rate these groups on the warmer side of 50.

I was having a conversation recently with a friend (who is himself not that religious) about the shocked reaction I got from some very religious people when I told them I was an atheist. I do not gratuitously tell people that I am an atheist but they had asked, upon meeting me, what church I went to. He said that maybe my response was more ‘in your face’ than saying something along the lines of “I am not very religious” which was his option. But I told him that my choice of label was deliberate because I wanted people to know that atheists were not some exotic species but part of the mix of people they would encounter in their everyday life, though they may not know it.

Meanwhile Pope Francis has delivered a kind of backhanded compliment to atheists, saying it is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian.

Pope Francis has delivered another criticism of some members of his own church , suggesting it was better to be an atheist than one of many Catholics who he said lead a hypocritical double life.

In improvised comments in the sermon of his private morning mass in his residence, he said: “It is a scandal to say one thing and do another. That is a double life.

“There are those who say, ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to mass, I belong to this and that association’,” the head of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic church said, according to a Vatican Radio transcript.

He said some of these people should also say “‘my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my employees proper salaries, I exploit people, I do dirty business, I launder money, [I lead] a double life’.”

“There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”

Less than two months after his election, he said Christians should see atheists as good people if they do good.

Since there is no person, Catholic or not, who is not a hypocritical in some way, that means that the pope thinks that atheists are better than all Catholics, no?


  1. jrkrideau says

    they had asked, upon meeting me, what church I went to

    To a Canadian, this is totally bizarre.

    Who would ask what church you attended? It would be seen as rude, unpardonably nosey and rather weird. Well, actually, really weird.

    Heck, it was only after one of our Prime Ministers retired that some throw-away comment in a newspaper enlightened me to the fact that the PM apparently did go to church.

  2. Shanti says

    The Pope should never have made such a comment that people who do not do the correct thing should call themselves Atheists. I think most Atheists are good
    Intellectual people who are against religious people who are hypocrites

  3. Mano Singham says


    In the US this question asking about your church is quite common, especially in less urban communities where the church often defines your social circle. It is seen as a ‘getting to know you’ question, like where you work, and less of a theological question.

    A friend of mine is a Buddhist and said that in her small town she was asked this question all the time. They were a bit flummoxed by her Buddhism but generally took it in stride.

  4. machintelligence says

    What seems fairly surprising to me is the high score of the Jews among all age brackets. This has certainly changed in the last half century.

  5. Mano Singham says

    I was also a bit surprised that Mormons ranked relatively low in general and even lower with young people.

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