Why do religious people hate atheists?

According to a 1999 Gallop poll, half of the electorate automatically would vote against a political candidate if he was an atheist. That’s roughly the same percentage of people in 1958 who would have voted against a black candidate. There’s obviously a great deal of mistrust, hate, and bigotry going on here. It’s so carefully masked and seemingly invisible most people don’t think about it. Still, one has to wonder why do religious people hate us so much?

To answer this, we need to return to the 1970s during a time of great political and social upheaval. During that time, many powerful movements were beginning to take shape, notably anti war protesters and black activists. One group in particular was known as the Weathermen, and felt radical action was needed in order to reform society. They believed if they could show how weak and corrupt the system had become, the population would turn against that system and have a revolution.

Despite the fact the population was indeed experiencing a great deal of civil unrest, the truth was the majority of Americans were still comfortable and happy enough with the system that they did not feel the need to abandon it. The Weathermen felt as though their noble ambitions would be enough to convince the populace there needed to be drastic reform. However, the campaign of violence and destruction worked to further alienate them from the mainstream. During the 1970s, people were tired of fighting the government, and simply wanted life to return to a quietly predictable monotony. They feared and hated the Weatherman, for they represented the very dissent they now wanted to avoid.

There are countless examples of failed revolutions throughout history. These failures were generally met with swift and powerful retribution. In the case of the Weathermen, however, their punishment was not as severe as some might have thought. Intelligence agencies did not want their own illegal and shameful tactics exposed, and they handed out sentences we would consider light today. This is a relatively rare moment for governments, who usually take the opportunity to make an example of people who wish the destruction of their authority (one needs to look back to Tiananmen Square for a proper example of how rebellions are crushed).

What few people are willing to admit is their level of complacency in the face of this type of brutal punishment. People who have something to lose if a system is dismantled are just as blood thirsty as those controlling it. There is ultimately a need people have to protect themselves and their families from uncertainty. This can often lead people to behave in strange and savage ways if their security is threatened. They would view any individual or movement that could dismantle it as the embodiment of everything wrong, evil, and corrupt that their own systems fight against. The more they love their system, the more powerful the feeling of hate.

Atheism represents a revolution in the religious sense. It is the rejection of the divine; of values and ethics derived from the concept of a supreme being. To those who have a strong vested interest in this system of belief, atheism represents as powerful a danger as any revolution. It does not concern them that our actions are intended to help free mankind of the sick and diseased idea of religion. For them, they will continue to despise anything threatening the safety and certainty of their ideas. Although religions often fight amongst each other, they view these conflicts as merely growing pains of faith. The complete abandonment of religion, however, represents the greatest threat to their values, especially considering the power of the arguments against them. The more atheism gains acceptance, the more they see the erosion of their belief structure.

In a sense, I can understand their position. They are trying hard to maintain a system they believe is important. At the end of the day, their hatred is not a product of bigotry but rather a product of protectionism. Atheism is not seen as civil rights issue, because the values and ideas it espouses are incompatible with the paradigm of religion, which our current society feels is more important than individual liberty. We will continue to feel the force of their assault as religious people become increasingly desperate. This is why the percentage of people who would vote against an atheist candidate are likely to rise instead of fall. For them, accepting the idea of atheism is akin to abandoning their religion.

I am not defending hate here, but I am trying to make people see it is based on fear, not bigotry. People who hate atheists are not bad people; they are, however, terribly misguided. If they really wish to examine the worthiness of their ideas, they must consider how their belief system effects those who do not share their views. So far, it doesn’t look too good.

Comments (1)

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    I’ve found this anti-atheist sentiment to be the strongest outside North America, especially in countries facing great instability or poverty. There, religion is seen by most as the anchor people’s social and moral lives.

    Before traveling extensively in this part of the world, I had never heard so many people say “it doesn’t matter which god you believe in, as long as you believe in one.” Atheism is so taboo, most people would be hard-pressed to admit that they even know an atheist!

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