What Is it Like to be Atheist in America?
What is an Atheist?
Atheism: The disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
Atheists often receive many negative perceptions and stereotypes that are not true, and people judge them solely based upon their beliefs (technically non beliefs). So what is it like being an atheist? How different are they from everyone else? As atheist Richard Carrier said, "I cannot imagine being happier than I have been already. I live a very spiritual, fulfilling life, and am filled with an abiding love of being and thinking. I find love, reason and a practical, humble approach to life to be more than enough for me" (Carrier). Atheists are the same as any other person aside from the fact that they do not believe in a God or gods and they do not fit the stereotypes that are placed upon them. Being an Atheist in America is not what people think it means, and is not that different from how other people live.
Society's View on Atheists
Society has created many negative perceptions on atheists and thinks poorly upon them. But being an atheist is nothing as society thinks it is. Atheists are one of Americas most distrusted groups, and society's perception of them is based around distrust, rather than dislike (Winston). According to The study of Will Gervais at the University of British Columbia, atheists are as equally distrusted as rapists (Grewal). This distrust in atheists may be caused by the rumors spread about them by society. One of the most common stereotypes that people put on atheists is that they hate god. This might be because some atheists protest religion in America, and this is broadcast onto social media, and all people ever see about atheists are these protests by atheists on social media. This excerpt by Scott Alexander better helps sum this idea up.
"On the other hand, consider the average person’s experience with atheists. They may know many atheists. Their next door neighbor, or boss, or close friend might be an atheist. But they don’t hear about it. It rarely comes up in random conversation. Atheists don’t all go to one specific building, they mostly don’t wear necklaces, they don’t have holidays where they eat special atheist foods or dress up in special atheist costumes, and there’s no St. Lucretius’ Atheist Hospital. Pretty much the only time you ever hear about atheists, unless you go looking for them, is when an atheist is criticizing religion or standing up for some kind of atheist cause. And so the reasoning goes: “Atheists must be bizarrely obsessed with religion, all the atheists I know about seem really into attacking it. But this is about the same reasoning pattern as “About half the medieval Europeans who I’ve heard of are kings; therefore I estimate medieval Europe had about one king for every two people.”My guess is that most atheists, in the sense of people who don’t believe in God, rarely talk or think about it. But they don’t get much attention, and if they do, it’s not as atheists." (Alexander)
As you can see, society's perception of atheists is based off of untrue reasoning, and atheists do indeed function normally within society and do not fit these extreme stereotypes.
Atheism has become more common as time has progressed, and each generation had different views on what it was like to be atheist, therefore causing the meaning of being atheist to change. Modern atheism first came about during the 18th century when the church was at large and strictly controlled the beliefs of society at that time. During this time period, the atheist theory was violently opposed by Christian churches (Humphry). During the 1950's, atheism was just under two percent of the American population and was not widely accepted. Since then the population of atheists has grown up to about 16% in 2010 (Glenn). Because of atheism becoming more popular, it causes the younger generations to be more lenient of the acceptance of atheism and the older generations to still be skeptical of the atheist population. We can see proof of this in Richard Dawkins' book when a mother reacts to her daughter being atheist and reacting by saying "but an atheist! An ATHEIST?" (Dawkins 4). What it means to be atheist has changed dramatically from what it used to be, but since the population is still mostly religious today, it is still being seen as something foreign and not normal, even though in reality, it is. Hopefully soon enough atheism will progress even further and people will realize it is not at all different from how the majority of the population lives today.
In conclusion, being an atheist is hardly a different lifestyle from anyone else in society. It is easy to tell by looking at the history of atheism and at how atheism is viewed in society today, that atheism will continue to remain a strong controversy in religious backgrounds and will hopefully improve in the future so people can realize that atheists are perfectly normal people, and hopefully they will not associate them with the common stereotypes.