Survey: U.S. trust lowest for atheists

Jeannine Aquino

Atheists are America’s least trusted group, according to a national survey conducted by University sociology researchers.

Based on a telephone survey of more than 2,000 households and in-depth interviews with more than 140 people, researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, homosexuals and other groups as “sharing their vision of American society.” Americans are also least willing to let their children marry atheists.

“It tells us about how Americans view religion,” said Penny Edgell, an associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher. “Many Americans seem to believe some kind of religious faith is central to being a good American and a good person.”

The study will appear in the April issue of the “American Sociological Review.” Professor Joseph Gerteis and associate professor Douglas Hartmann are study co-authors. It is the first in a series of national studies conducted by the American Mosaic Project, a three-year project that looks at race, religion and cultural diversity in the United States.

Edgell said Americans traditionally have been a religious people and associate faith with being a good citizen. The survey results indicate that this belief hasn’t changed, Edgell said.

Those surveyed tended to view people who don’t believe in a god as the “ultimate self-interested actor who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves,” Edgell said.

Cole Ries, the president of the Maranatha Christian Fellowship said he does not agree with that perception.

“Atheists seem to be concerned with the human good,” he said. “Where I differ as a Christian is that I’m more concerned with God’s will than man’s will.”

Still, Ries said, “I don’t believe that anybody is really an atheist. I believe that deep down everyone knows there is a god.”

Robert O’Connor, a sophomore and member of Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, said he was not surprised by the survey results.

Americans generally are very religious, O’Connor said, and people usually are suspicious about those who do not share the same beliefs.

“People really strongly believe that religion and good morals are one and the same,” O’Connor said. “Increasing problems of society – for example, juvenile delinquency – are being blamed on lack of religious value.”

Joe Foley, co-chairman for Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, was not surprised by the results, either.

“I know atheists aren’t studied that much as a sociological group, but I guess atheists are one of the last groups remaining that it’s still socially acceptable to hate,” Foley said.

First-year pharmacy student Amanda Wawrzynia, however, found the study reasonable.

She said she would have ranked atheists at the bottom of the list of those sharing the same vision of American society.

“I would rather have my kids marry someone of a different religion than someone who has none,” she said.

Yet Benjamin Abrams, a member of the Jewish student center Hillel, said he was surprised people would have reservations about their children marrying atheists.

“I understand if people want to marry someone of a similar faith, but I don’t understand why it would be any different from marrying a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian,” Abrams said. “It’s another religious belief. I don’t understand why atheism would have negative connotations.”

Abrams said Judaism teaches that people’s actions, not one’s beliefs, are what matter most.

“(Atheists) should have the same rights to not believe as someone would have the right to believe,” he said.

First-year biology student Joe Reutiman calls the results a “sad state of affairs.”

“(Atheists) have the right to believe whatever they want, even if that belief is nothing,” Reutiman said. “They shouldn’t have to fit in with the clean-cut American life like a Norman Rockwell painting.”