Monday, March 27, 2006

Atheism in Europe and the US.

While more Europeans (other than the Poles of course) tend to be wary of religious people, the Americans seem unable to understand atheism and even tolerate it. Here's a study in the University of Minnesota’s department of sociology which says that:
“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.
Overall, over 90% of the respondents thought whites and African-Americans at least somewhat share their own vision of our society. Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and conservative Christians all received scores in the 80s, meaning that over 80% of respondents thought that each of these groups at least somewhat shared a common vision of our society. Recent immigrants and homosexuals received scores in the 70s overall. At the bottom of the list were Muslims and atheists.
After 9/11, we assumed that Muslims would fare the worst. However, this was not the case. Atheists received the lowest scores by far. While only 64% of respondents thought Muslims shared their vision of society, this was still 10 points higher than atheists, who received the lowest score of only 54%.
54% is a majority of people even though it is at the bottom of the list. I think Karen Armstrong (in her famous Battle for God) wrote something quite interesting which may partly explain the difference between Europe and the US:
In Europe, religion was becoming increasingly identified with the establishment, and ordinary people were turning to alternative ideologies, but in America, Protestantism empowered the people against the establishment, and this tendency has continued, so that it is difficult to find a popular movement in America today that is not associated with religion in some way.
So I think the view of atheism and religion is all much more cultural and historical than actually religious - whether in Europe or in the US. A lot of French people have a hard time understanding the positive role of religion in the American society (as a crucial unifying and socialising element). The same can be said about the role of the secular ideal of the French republic. Now 'secular' is different from 'atheism' but it may help make it more acceptable. The reverse is most likely also true, the importance of religion in the US probably makes the American people more tolerant towards other religion than the French.
All that seems pretty self-evident but it's a good reminder for better understanding our societies.

NOTE: I would also add that two destructive World Wars in Europe have made the idea of a benevolent much harder to believe for a lot of people.


At 05:01, Anonymous Abie said...

the idea of a benevolent...god, I guess?


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