The Least-Liked Minority Group? Atheists.
As I reported a couple of years back, research shows that believers trust atheists about as much they do rapists. A new study published in The Journal of Applied Social Psychology reports that atheists are the most disliked minority group. From the abstract:
Prejudice against atheists is pervasive in the United States. Atheists lag behind virtually all other minority groups on measures of social acceptance. The sociofunctional approach suggests that distrust is at the core of anti-atheist prejudice, thus making it qualitatively different than prejudice against other disadvantaged groups. Accordingly, this research examined political bias against atheists, gays, and Blacks and the affective content accompanying such biases. Results indicated that atheists suffered the largest deficit in voting intentions from Christian participants, and this deficit was accompanied by distrust, disgust, and fear, thereby suggesting that the affective content of anti-atheist prejudice is both broader and more extreme than prejudice against other historically disadvantaged groups.
Distrust, disgust, and fear? Surely, that's a bit of an overreaction to intellectual smugness. As an out-atheist since my teens, I have, to my knowledge, never experienced any prejudice on account of my non-belief. (Well, there was this one dinner party at our house during which the wife of one of my wife's colleagues expressed considerable shock upon learning that I am an atheist. Apparently, I was the first atheist she'd ever met. On subsequent social occasions, she has never been in the same room with me again. Perhaps that's just a coincidence.)
Will anti-atheist bigotry abate in the future? As I have previously noted:
Time magazine in 2012 listed "The Rise of the Nones" as one of the biggest trends in the United States. It turns out that the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. is Americans who list their religious affiliation as "none." A 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 16 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any religious group; about half of them could be described as secular unaffiliated. Twenty-five percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are unaffiliated with any particular religion. If this trend toward nonbelief continues, it's going to be harder and harder for believers to continue to practice bigotry against atheists. Nonbelievers are their children, their relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
I suspect that "othering" atheists will fall out of fashion as growing familiarity with non-believers eventually breeds acceptance.
See also Reason TV's report on the biggest atheist gathering in history in March, 2012 below: