Why America Hates Atheists

Following up on comments to a previous post, I’d say there are two America-specific factors helping drive ordinary Americans’ distrust of atheists.  First, in American popular rhetoric, Communism was always associated with atheism (as in "Godless Communist"). 

Second, a bunch of marginal publicity-seekers, foremost among them Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the American Atheists, came to embody atheism in the U.S.  They filed controversial lawsuits, hooked up with fringe political candidates, and were always finagling to appear on television and trade witless insults with equally-belligerent foes. 

In America, it’s often not the smartest or most eloquent people who become famous, but rather the people who "give good television."  And, alas, that’s what O’Hair did.

2 thoughts on “Why America Hates Atheists

  1. “marginal publicity-seekers, foremost among them Madalyn Murray O’Hair ”

    What a bizarre career. Not least among the alientated was her own son, Bill Murray, who became a Christian and a minister. He called her evil. Not because she was an atheist but because she stole ‘tens of millions of dollars’.

    She and two other family members disappeared in 1995 with a large sum of money. A former employee named David Waters later confessed to having kidnapped the three and extorted $500,000 from them, then murdered and buried on a Texas ranch. He stored $20,000 in a locker, which was subsequently stolen by a gang of thieves.

    Andrew is correct about O’Hair’s influence. She filed a number of the lawsuits against religious practices in schools and religious displays on public property which have caused a lot of continuing rancor. These lawsuits have given atheists the image of being nasty busybodies always telling other citizens what they cannot do, even in their own communities.


  2. There’s another potential reason.

    Traditionally many of the institutions were run by or connected to the church. For example schools, hospitals and charities. I would suggest that a positive perception of religion is linked to the public image of it doing good within the community in various spheres. Limit the number of avenues where that might occur and add a historical examination of church misdeeds and the positive perception of the church will decline.

    In Europe, the advent of the welfare state plus the general increase in the role of government has meant that many institutions that previously were private have increasingly been run instead by the state. This has obviously impacted the church, but not exclusively. For example, trade unions were involved in education and welfare too. Quite clearly, the US and Europe have reached different stages regarding the legacy roles of the church. Not surprisingly therefore, the US public still associate the church with providing beneficial services and link this to the religiosity of the church. ie to not being atheistic.


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