Americans Dislike Muslims and Atheists the Most But Hatred Not One-Way


The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project’s new study, “How Americans Feel About Religious Groups” reveals, unsurprisingly, that “Jews, Catholics & Evangelicals [are] rated warmly, atheists and Muslims more coldly,” by Americans.

According to Pew,

Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians…receive an average rating of 60 or higher (63 for Jews, 62 for Catholics and 61 for evangelical Christians). And 44% of the public rates all three groups in the warmest part of the scale (67 or higher).

Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons receive neutral ratings on average, ranging from 48 for Mormons to 53 for Buddhists. The public views atheists and Muslims more coldly; atheists receive an average rating of 41, and Muslims an average rating of 40. Fully 41% of the public rates Muslims in the coldest part of the thermometer (33 or below), and 40% rate atheists in the coldest part.


This is interesting and it is also at odds with the findings of the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, released in March, that shows just over half – 53 percent – of Americans believe it is “necessary to believe in God to be moral.” That means almost half – 46 percent – don’t think you need religion for morality. Evidentially, atheists are not disliked because of any apparent lack of morality, or at least, it is not the only reason.


Even so, the study shows, Americans are out of step with the rest of the West in placing so high a dependence on religion for morality.

Pew’s Religious Groups study related that,

Attitudes among religious groups toward each other range from mutual regard to unrequited positive feelings to mutual coldness. Catholics and evangelicals, the two largest Christian groups measured here, generally view each other warmly. White evangelical Protestants give Catholics an average thermometer rating of 63; Catholics rate evangelicals at 57. Evangelicals also hold very positive views of Jews, with white evangelical Protestants giving Jews an average thermometer rating of 69. Only Jews themselves rate Jews more positively.

This is quite different from colonial days, when Jews and Catholics did not find much warmth from their fellow colonials, and Thomas Jefferson thought Evangelicals were “fanatics” and they thought the unconventionally religious Jefferson an “infidel.” Distrust and fear of Catholics by Protestants persisted right up until John F. Kennedy’s election almost two centuries after the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence’s expression of toleration.

Now that Catholic/Protestant relations are warmer, atheists seem to have become the new Catholics. But don’t assume the contempt for atheists is one-sided.

AlterNet’s Dan Arel writes that atheists are “universally disliked by just about every religious group there is” but what he fails to mention is that this contempt is mutual, at least where white Evangelicals are concerned: according to Pew, atheist rate evangelicals at 28 while white evangelicals rate atheists at 25. Atheists also don’t like Mormons (44) and if the overall attitude toward atheists is a cool 41, atheists can’t complain much because their attidue toward Muslims is only 44, just north of the overall rating of Muslims at 40.

But it’s not only religion. As we can see, non-religion can birth some pretty negative attitudes as well. And let’s face it: Richard Dawkins was not the best ambassador for atheism. His forums seethed with hatred for religion when I joined, hoping vainly for some useful dialogue between the none and the many.

This is really not surprising given the approach of the so-called “new atheism” which is that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.” New atheists, at least, have no right to complain of the intolerance of religious people if they are not willing to exhibit tolerance themselves.

Interestingly, given Dawkins’ well-known contempt for religion, he doesn’t even get religion right, which makes you wonder if some of his hatred, at least, might be based on false premises. In Religion’s Misguided Missiles (September 15, 2001), he said, “Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.”

This is not true. Historically, afterlife has not been the end-all of all religions and Abrahamic monotheism should not be allowed to stand-in for religion in general, even if it is the atheist’s bogeyman.

Another New Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, has also done poorly by atheists by saying such gratuitously stupid things as, “Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.” This is, of course, not at all true. The fact that not all religions can be right does not preclude the possibility that one or more of them is right.

As Chris Hedges wrote at AlterNet back in 2008, “The New Atheists embrace a belief system as intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists.”

Might this be a clue, at least in part, as to why atheists in general are held in such low regard?

We all have ideologies and worldviews and we are not always sufficiently tolerant of views different from our own. This is human nature since people tend to fear that which they do not understand. Many of us who espouse non-conventional views have experienced this first hand. It is something we must all be careful of. After all, toleration is not agreement. Tolerating means being willing to accept things we not only do not agree with, but things we might think wrong, and that offend us on some level.

Dan Arel, lamenting negative attitudes toward atheists wrote on AlterNet the other day that “Religious tension is nothing new in America. Hatred between religions, distrust and downright anger are the everyday norm for anyone with a television set or access to the Internet.” He should not have ignored the hatred of non-religion.

The religious tensions of today are reflections of far older tensions, and Dawkins is certainly not wrong in saying the U.S. lives in a “theocratic Dark Age.” But blaming all members of a group for the sins of a few is, again, exactly what organized religion has done in the past – and been justly criticized for by atheists.

There have been, and continue to be, Christians who are tolerant and loving. Atheists, then, should be careful about their own degree of contempt for believers, because believers come in all shapes and sizes and not all of them hate atheists.

In the final analysis, there is a whole lotta contempt going around, and not just against atheists, but by some atheists towards the religious amongst us. I don’t want to say everyone does it, but a lot of people do it, and it is as dangerous to lump all religious people together as it is all atheists.

In the end, I find it puzzling as to why any atheist who holds religion in contempt would complain because religions hold atheists in contempt. There are a great many people out there who need to be taking a good hard look in the mirror.

54 Replies to “Americans Dislike Muslims and Atheists the Most But Hatred Not One-Way”

  1. I have a real struggle with religion. I sometimes think I’m an atheist, and at times I think I’m probably more of an agnostic.

    My real problem is with people who think they have all the answers, and that their beliefs are the only valid beliefs, and everyone else should believe just like them or they are evil.

    I am facing my mortality these days, I have some serious medical issues and I have been doing a lot of soul-searching lately. I can live for several years yet, or not, it is kind of up in the air at this moment.

    I am one quarter American Indian and have been researching the spiritual beliefs of the Illini and Cherokee people, I Have Illini from my mother’s side, and Cherokee from my father.

    I have a difficult time with Christianity because I have been exposed to evangelical thinking, all my siblings are evangelical Baptists.

    I like the idea of Kiche Manetow, the Great Spirit, who is neither male nor female, nor in the image of man. I am looking for some peace…

  2. where did you get the votes from Conservatives, you reported a very untrue statement. Americans don’t trust any religious group, they DO NOT hate them but the Christians do hate them, The Christians hates everyone who does not have the same beliefs as they, so for now on report on fact not just polls that only reach 1 group of people

  3. The extent to which peace can be found in ancient fiction is a proposition I’ve become dubious of, to say the least. The extent to which the blogger echoes the unreasoned sentiments of the religious against the nonreligious – and toward Mssrs. Dawkins and Hitchens in particular – causes me to suspect he has never truly read either completely, or with understanding.

  4. I was raised in a severely religious Baptist environment. I grew to despise it. For the longest I carried a lot of animosity towards those types.

    As I grew older and a little wiser I accepted atheism and I am quite comfortable with that. I now have no real hate toward anyones religion. Except when they try to impose their beliefs upon me.

    I don’t mind them hating me. As long as they’re focused on me they are leaving someone else alone.

  5. James,

    Grammatical issues aside, please support your own contention that Christians hate everyone who aren’t Christian. Are there any studies or other polls you could point to?

  6. Do I despise religion? YES.

    The main reason is that Christianity’s more zealous acolytes are attempting to influence the legislative and judicial process in the US, and they are succeeding.

  7. I like fellow commenter Huckleberry, was brought up in a religious environment. My primary education was in a Catholic school. Once I was exposed to other cultures and religions in a public high school and then college, I formed my own opinions about life in general and they didn’t include religion. I embraced the scientific and logical rather than the spiritual and theocratic.

    Today I have no use or need for religion. But I do not despise those who are religious. I despise those who wish to force their religious beliefs on other people. Religion should be as private a matter as their lifestyles within their own homes. If praying and faith are what you need to live your life, who am I to disrupt that? Likewise believers have no business publicly disparaging anyone else’s faith or rejection of faith. Most of all religion has no place in government. Once religion has influenced government, can sanctioned racism be far behind?

  8. The only *intellectual* position possible is agnosticism, because the existence or nonexistence of anything that could be called godhead is not subject to scientific proof. The rest is actually a matter of fsith.

    Nonetheless, they have photographed the neurons of Space…

  9. Looking at the chart with all the other countries what struck was the big disparity between the U.S. and all the other modern, 1st world countries, but then I figured the numbers for the U.S. are off, not because of mistakes by the poll takers but because of the way people tend to answer questions, in this country. There is a serious lack of honesty, due to fear of being perceived to be out of the mainstream. So, you have a lot of people who will identify as ‘Christian’ in order to be seen as religious, but who do not attend church, and don’t live a Christian lifestyle, they merely identify as Christian in order to receive the ‘benefits’ this country seems to place on a religious background. Christian is the most vague, undefined religious form in the U.S.. It’s a joke as things go.

  10. I don’t mind being hated for my hatred of religion. I don’t hate religious people. I see people as individuals and all I care about is how they treat others, not their philosophy. Religion is just an excuse for the elite to control others. Mankind has always given human qualities to nature and the entire outside world. God was created in man’s image. How is worshipping Poseidon or Jupiter any different from “modern” religion? Still giving human qualities to the universe! And “one or more of them might be right” is a self contradictory statement!

  11. As an Atheist, I’m confused as to why the author looked to Richard Dawkins for answers. Why the need for a like minded group? How is that different from religion?

  12. I am a agnostic Jew with Miami, Blackfoot & Cherokee ancestry.

    Agnostic is NOT “fence sitting” as many rigid atheists think. I’ve had enough experience with things that go bump in the night, so has my grandmother, mother, sister and daughter to know that there is SOMETHING on the other side. Our souls go SOMEWHERE. Many Deni say “they are in another room”

    What I don’t believe in is a single over Lord that is waiting to smite us at every minor transgression. I think more in line with the Deists: what forces gave us souls is also leaving us to figure it out for ourselves, although with built-in “Jiminy crickets” that give advice, & that “danger sense tingle” that most people choose to ignore.

    What rankles me about Dawkins is that genuine “well explain this spirit I saw” is automatically dismissed as a childish fancy. Many of these experiences. I’ve had were seen by others too, so I have witnesses.

  13. The final analysis shows religious country’s doing the worst things. The evangelicals in America are now liars and completely incomprehensible people. African christians are killing people for being gay.

    In fact the more religious a group claims to be, the worse their actions.

    I dont care who is religious, but I retain the right to laugh at the weakness

  14. Like you, Terry I believe in Great Spirits that are neither male nor female and numerous.

    I wish you recovery in this trying time for you.

  15. I see you have very little understanding of what atheism is and why atheists want to educate people as to the false nature of religion. It’s not about hate, it’s about uncovering the truth. Dawkins and Hitchens are not wrong, nor are Maher or Gervais, comedic atheists. The fact Americans are scared of atheists means only one thing: ignorance. But that is changing quickly..

  16. The biggest problem plaguing most religious groups is both their inability to live up to their own doctrine, and their desire to legislatively impose their beliefs on others. The perfect example of this is the fact that American Christians of all denominations cleave to the conservative view based on their assumption that conservatives are the more moral political affiliation. The FACT that the conservative agenda is wholly opposed to the teachings of Christ somehow escape them entirely. Whereas Christ spoke in length about the virtues of compassion, charity, and caring for the less fortunate, conservatives speak about the laziness of the poor, the virtue of unbridled greed, and basically how we should all adopt an every man for himself attitude. Though many atheists and agnostics are willing to tolerate those who cleave to a spiritual faith, they are equally appalled by the aforementioned dichotomy under which too many religions operate. Tolerance is a two way street.

  17. I think that is how I am feeling. I don’t think I can honestly deny the existence of things beyond our perception, or comprehension, I am just trying to figure out what that is for me. Thanks for your reply.

  18. Sure, one of the world’s bazillion religions may–just possibly–be right, but since none of them has ever provided even the merest shred of objective evidence for its truth claims, I’ll just continue to disbelieve them all equally. I don’t hate or despise believers, though, but criticism of their ideas is certainly fair game.

  19. Your comment about Christopher Hitchen’s statement being untrue is , well, stupid. Everybody thinks everybody else’s religion is wrong than Hitchens is correct in assuming they are all wrong. If god existed and wanted to be worshipped universally, doesn’t he have the power to demand that worship? Afterall god knows everything that has ever been and ever will be so whatever will be has be god’s will.

  20. The drug that religion sells is self-righteousness. Hence the oh-so-convenient belief that religion is the source of morality – with a worse corollary that it’s OK to harrass and persecute non-believers. For their own good, doncha know.

    Rather than a source of morality, religion works best as a justification for warfare, torture, misogyny, cruelty and sexual insanity. Think of all those little Victorian kids who were mutilated because of the religious belief that masturbation was a sin, transmogrified into a “scientific” belief that it led to insanity. And of course, that’s a mere pecadillo in the history of religious crimes against humanity.

  21. The one thing all gods have in common is their persistent refusal to prove or objectively demonstrate their own existence. It would prove very inconvenient for their earthly spokesmen if they ever did.

  22. I am an atheist and I don’t hate anyone. When people try to impose their beliefs on me, I can only assume they feel threatened.

  23. This article has left me purely dumbfounded. I’m having a hard time reconciling the overt, daily barrage of religious BS over every airwave imaginable, screeching about everything from abortion to Zionism, entire networks devoted to religious BS 24/7/365, more religion-obsessed fanatics trying to change everything from textbooks to rewriting history, from the establishment of a creationism museum to the hijacking of American jurisprudence by the SCOTUS fascist five to the Greens’ proposed bible museum in Washington D.C. to organized hand-in-glove TP fanatics/religion-obsessed trying to outlaw contraception to threats to murder government officials who don’t toe the line to….whatever, there are soooo many more.

    All I can say is, I think you’ve lost your mind. Calling for ‘tolerance’ in the face of this outright balls-to-the-wall assault on everything decent in this country? Count me out.

  24. This is a good start. There is plenty of contempt due to an incomplete understanding of the super complexity of religious culture,tradition, & mindset. Atheism is right to criticize religious tradition that insists on a historical literal truth that is demonstrably false. Yet the mythological, metaphorical truth of spiritual narrative, when presented as such by religious culture, is of great benefit socially & is not deserving of same criticism.
    Just as religious cultural conservatives face a challenge to evolve up from a need for their version of religion to be the Sole Truth, it’s helpful for atheists to accept that many religious people across all faith traditions–all of which are regional cultural manifestations–have evolved to see a single spirituality at the core of every religion, & among the non religious as well.
    That we are a minority should not be justification for blanket prejudice, nor should we be equated with the dangerous forces seeking…

  25. I can’t be so diplomatic when it comes to those who believe in things that go against ALL the laws of physics. The thought that there is something beyond or souls or paranormal is to me just ridiculous. And all those things that “go bump in the night” or seem un-explainable are just the LAWS OF PHYSICS in the REAL world. Get a grip people, there is NOTHING!! beyond….

  26. I am an atheist when it comes to every deity I have ever heard of. Beyond that, the logical default position for any prime mover beyond a nameless personless being is agnosticism. I dont see hate coming from most. What I do see is contempt coming from the fringes of the belief systems. I dont hold Christianity or Islam in contempt no matter how illogical they are but I certainly have a great deal of contempt for people who intrude upon govt with their teligious fanaticism. I can tear every religious argument to shreds but I save it for religion in politics because its game once it is in the poltical arena.

  27. Religion is divisive, causes people to act irrationally and in many cases breeds an unparalleled level of arrogance in our world..

    The belief that the earth and all is creatures were made for us.

    That because of a story about an apple women are considered to be subservient to men.

    That there is an after life to live for instead of the here and now(also leads to a lack of respect for the lives of others)

    Name one thing in our history that has started more wars…

    Religion breeds ignorance, subjecting an impressionable young mind to those lies is nothing short of brainwashing.

  28. You are the one Mr. Haraldsson who needs to take a hard look in the mirror after writing such a poorly argued essay. It is actions in the end, not philosophical contempt, that is the true measuring stick. Name one atheist who has worked to create a law of intolerance and hate, used their beliefs to create and support violence against anyone ever, while those who are religious – well …um, they kind of do that a lot.

  29. During my life I have studied many different religions. As a youth I was very curious what religion had to offer. But after all the years I studied them, reading the texts associated with the various religions, what I found was a wealth of intolerance and hypocrisy. And the intolerance I found was just as vehement towards the believers as it was towards “unbelievers”. To be fair, the texts of many religions are not the intolerant part, its the believers that tend to be intolerant. Whereas the vast majority of the Atheists I know were not the same, as the author of this article would have people believe. Yes Atheists tend to be intolerant of religious institutions, but not so much against the believers. In fact most of them, myself included, simply feel sorry for those who need the crutch.
    Frankly I found the authors comments terribly misinformed and full of blanket statements. And I am kind of curious why any editor (if there are any) would allow this article to go to “print”.

  30. Fair enough but the story headline says ‘America’ so was limiting my comments to America. But if you choose to include Stalin and the entire history of the world I’ll guess the score to be .01% to 99.9% for whose have spread and murdered so many in the cause of imposing their beliefs.

  31. I would say it’s far more *intellectual* to not believe that the fairy tales of religion is possible. Being agnostic means you think its just as possible that it is true as it is untrue. Atheists realize that all of religion is a farce and don’t even bother to waste time using the scientific method on it.

  32. The author’s premise that disdain/dislike of religious beliefs and dislike of atheism are a two-way street and on equal footing does not hold water in a rational mind. Atheism accepts truth based on evidence while religious beliefs are accepted on faith, without evidence. Where would we be if acceptance of the evident is not valued more than acceptance of the imagined? Accepting something as truth without evidence is rationally unsound, while withholding belief until evidence is produced is rationally sound, and consistent with a healthy and reasonable mind.

  33. Maybe Atheists are angry because the religious right are saying things like “This is a Christian nation”, “The founding fathers’ believed in Christ”, so maybe because Atheists were quiet all those years, the religious right have now fooled a large portion of the population into believing we are a “Christian Nation”. Don’t blame Atheists for being angry, blame the religious right for trying turn America into a theocracy.

  34. I work with several women who consider themselves religious and Christian. It is very hard for me, at times, to separate my respect for them and my disrespect and hatred for what I see is done in the names of their gods. As for Uncle Joe Stalin, think of the slaughter that would have resulted if the Spanish (among other) Inquestion (pardon the misspelling) had had the same methods of mass destruction that has been available in the past 100 years. Not to mention Stalin was a paranoid, power hungry dickhead and atheism is simply assumed.

  35. Who created god? What was before god? Until I figure this out through my own comprehension or someone gives me an answer that sends chills through my body I will remain an Atheist.

  36. Has it dawned on you that the Religious Right has used the charge of atheism as a shield against criticism of its decidedly unChristian actions, hiding behind the Bible while bastardizing Christianity to the point it is no longer recognizable? This is how they’ve managed to get so far down the road of faith fascism without being challenged. You might want to look in the mirror and ask yourself if pitting Christians against non-theists is in our collective best interests.

  37. Who was it that said we are not obliged to tolerate the intolerant?

    Whoever it was, I agree wholeheartedly.

    I’m a live and let live sort, but start using religion to justify state-imposed injustice and political corruption, then I start getting a real hate-on for 1) the people behind it 2) the people who excuse it in the name of “religious freedom” and “religious tolerance.”

    As a matter of fact, its thanks to the Palins, Bachmanns, DeMints, Robertsons, Dobsons, Pauls, Kochs, Devoses, etc., ad infinitum that I no longer identify as Catholic. Religion is dead to me and the religious have only themselves to blame when people turn their backs on it.

    P.S. You’re using the Religious Right’s very own argument as to why we should tolerate the Religious Right’s decidedly unChristian hate-mongering and violence. Hell no.

  38. Correction to previous reply: THE AUTHOR is using the Religious Right’s argument for tolerance of religious hatred (not you) – sorry about that.

  39. Perhaps we could limit the cope to fundamentalist religions/followers. They actively hate anyone who isn’t part of their tribe and I have a really hard time with your attempt to confuse the line between tolerance and respect for others with tolerating divisiveness, hate, and violence. It’s coming out of the Christian RIGHT on a 24/7 basis or had you not noticed?:

    Before you get your panties in a was, I’m a former Catholic turned atheist fully in support of the mission of organizations/movements like Faithful America and Moral Mondays:) – as are the vast majority of those aligned with social justice atheism and humanism.

    A word about your chart… had you noticed that the U.S. is aligned in its disregard for science and aversion to progress with third world nations? Food for thought.

  40. This op/ed is poorly written and contains more than a few examples of outright intolerance of religious freedom. In one sentence, the writer lambastes atheists for that which required a strawman in order to place the blame, and then in the next sentence attempts to whitewash it by saying something clearly disingenuously positive in order to cover it up.

    Religious people are the arbiters of intolerance and the masters of self-professed victimhood. Attempting to paint atheists in such a way that declares them whiners & hateful Human Beings across the board is spurious & demonstrative of
    precisely that for which we have unmitigated contempt.

  41. I’ve given up on any religions….they are made up, to make someone, directly or indirectly wealthy beyond imagination.

    Islam….to me is in no way a religion, it is almost like the US republican party in it’s beliefs, except in lieu of Allah, the dollar is the ultimate goal.

    Yes…man is animal enough, without compounding it by joining an established entity, with it’s own life, as to how it is to be served and who to bow to.

    Death is a private matter and who the devil knows what is waiting for our soul after that happens?

    I could go on…..but???

  42. From the body of your previous posting, I kinda figured that was meant for the author, but thanks for clearing that up.

  43. ….. Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, released in March, that shows just over half – 53 percent – of Americans believe it is “necessary to believe in God to be moral.”

    That’s interesting because only a psychopath can possibly believe that

  44. I am a non-American atheist, and I dislike American theists, because you’re the bigotted assholes who actively try to make my life worse.

    For example you guys send your evangelicals overseas, to tell our business leaders that they shouldn’t hire atheists.

    Even your most liberal voices come overseas to discuss how the fall of religion is making the world less moral in our universities.

    Then you whine when atheists complain about it. Oh, its not all the religious – no, its actually mostly the American ones.

    And not just a sector of your religious. Consider the so-called moderates, they write articles like this, in which atheists being annoyed with the religious somehow excuses the religious treating atheists like crap.

    Why it is pretty much exactly like the sort of shit you read from racists talking about reverse racism – or misogynists talking about misandry.

  45. All you really need to know about religion is that when the Cunard Line sought a prelate for the christening of the “Titanic” they reached all the way to Rome and got the old boy himself: the Pope. I think you know what happened to the Titanic on its maiden voyage. William S. Burroughs said it best: “Pray in one hand, shit in the other; see which fills up faster.”

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