Two academic researchers, writing in the Washington Post, raise the question about and suggest the answers to why Americans give atheists such a hard time.
The atheists I know tend to be more willing to question authority and -- above all -- question themselves, something that's healthy in a democracy or any place where respect of others is valued. In my view, the more America has become militantly fundamentalist, the less democratic it has become. If you believe you've seen the way, the truth, and the light, you can't help but believe those who don't agree with you have to be wrong and maybe evil. Granted, that is due in part to America's Christianity not being seriously Christian. And, of course, let's leave out Catholics who (at parish level albeit not so much above that level) tend to take their duty to others very seriously.
But aren't Christians basically more ethical than atheists? Fuggedabahtit.
A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.
This is less a condemnation of Christianity than a condemnation of American fundamentalists for being poseurs. Atheists and the rest of us non-religious folk as well as many genuine Christians are letting unethical American churches get away with their intolerance and obsession with power. Many nonreligious respect Christianity in its essence. We really ought to be coming out clearly and in force against the scammers.
It looks as though ground is being regained, if past decades are a sample of what to expect.
As with other national minority groups, atheism is enjoying rapid growth. Despite the bigotry, the number of American nontheists has tripled as a proportion of the general population since the 1960s. Younger generations’ tolerance for the endless disputes of religion is waning fast. Surveys designed to overcome the understandable reluctance to admit atheism have found that as many as 60 million Americans — a fifth of the population — are not believers. Our nonreligious compatriots should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.