Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the studys lead researcher.
Edgell also argues that todays atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the pastthey offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common core of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that core has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the studys respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.Of course, not all Americans would prohibit their children from marryin' an atheist. The study found, not surprisingly, that intolerance of atheists is inversely proportional to one's education and exposure to diversity.
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