Americans more divided by religion than race

Print More
Atheism-themed buttons. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Atheism-themed buttons. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Stop the presses!

In a follow-up to a study on anti-atheist sentiments they did a decade ago, a bunch of University of Minnesota sociologists found that those sentiments…have hardly changed at all.

About 40 percent of Americans still say atheists do “not at all agree with my vision of American society.” About 45 percent still say they “would disapprove if my child wanted to marry” one.

OK, sociologists do what sociologists do. Journalists can’t afford to bury the lede. Which is, as my colleague Kimberly Winston reported, that “Muslims surpass atheists as most unpopular group in US.”

Specifically, the study showed that over the ten-year period the proportion of Americans who think Muslims don’t agree at all with their vision of America jumped from a quarter to almost a half and the proportion who’d disapprove of their child marrying one went from a third to a half.

To their credit, the sociologists say they’re going to be looking next at anti-Muslim sentiments. I would suggest a few other findings for follow-up scrutiny as well.

But first, let’s think about whether a group’s perceived disagreement with one’s own vision of America means that one is hostile to that group. Isn’t having different visions what pluralism is all about? Hold that thought.

The study shows that for every group considered (except atheists and homosexuals), the percentage of Americans who think that group does not at all agree with their vision of America has at least doubled. (For African-Americans it quadrupled and for whites it quintupled.)

This, I propose, indicates not so much hostility to others as a growing sense that the country is divided into mutually distinct subcultures. Because if it really indicated growing hostility then the survey wouldn’t show what it does on the “disapproval of a child marrying one” front.

And there the trends diverge between religion and race/ethnicity. For every religious group except atheists — Jews and conservative Christians as well as Muslims — there’s a significant increase in marriage disapproval.

But there’s significantly less disapproval of a child marrying an African-American, an Asian-American, or an Hispanic. (Disapproval of a child marrying a white does jump, but just to 4.7 percent from 2.3 percent.)

Evidently, Americans have become more accepting of racial and ethnic differences even as they’ve become more wary of religious differences. Clearly, sociologists, more research is needed.

And while you’re at it, what about the finding that, in a country as purportedly religious as America, fully 60 percent think it’s either a good thing or neither good nor bad that increasing numbers of their fellow citizens are claiming no religious identity?

Just 13 percent of these folks — the Nones — identify as atheists. I’m guessing that many fewer Americans would disapprove of their child marrying a None than an atheist. Let’s find out.