Sociology of "atheism is un-American" view

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Irving Berlin's song God Bless America is a popular American patriotic song written by Berlin in 1918.

The 2013 Freedom of Thought report published the International Humanist and Ethical Union indicates: "...the U.S. has long been home to a social and political atmosphere in which atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans or non-Americans."[1] See also: American atheism

Charles Louis Richter declared in his interview with the International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism (ISHASH) about American atheism:

The turn of the century ended the golden age of nineteenth century freethought with two events: the death of Robert Ingersoll in 1899, and the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. The lack of a widely popular voice for irreligion, combined with the murder of the president by an anarchist, led to a backlash against not only anarchism but also atheism. From that point, Americans tended to see irreligion in terms of whatever ostensibly foreign ideology seemed most threatening. So for the rest of the century, we see atheism and atheists associated with anarchism, fascism, socialism, and of course Soviet-style communism. By the late seventies, secular humanism became the buzzword for a whole suite of threats not only to religion, but to Americanism. It’s important to note that this phenomenon is not limited to the political or religious right; liberals also framed irreligion as un-American.[2]

The sociologist Phil Zuckerman, who is an atheist, wrote in his Psychology Today article Why Americans Hate Atheists:

1. Americans equate a lack of religiosity in general – or atheism specifically – with immorality.

2. Americans equate a lack of religiosity in general – or atheism specifically – with being un-American and/or unpatriotic.

3. There is no stigma concerning the expressed dislike of the non-religious. While there is a stigma (to varying degrees, depending on one’s social milieu) attached to being racist, or anti-Semitic, or Islamophobic... – there has never existed a social or cultural backlash against people who openly express disdain for secular folks. So people simply feel much more comfortable expressing their dislike for atheists than, say, Latinas/os or women.[3]

The abstract for the 2011 journal article An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms”: Religion, Civic Belonging and Collective Identity in the United States published in the European Journal of American Studies indicates:

Through the analysis of the status and perception of atheists in American history, from the colonial times to the beginning of the 21st century, this article explores the importance of religion in the structuring of Americans’ national and civic imaginaries. Starting from the assumption that atheists have always tended to be a distrusted minority in the United States, this essay seeks more precisely to explain how and why not to believe in God came to be regarded through the centuries not only as a moral and social deviance, but also as essentially “un-American” behavior. It further demonstrates that the historical “otherness” of the atheist tends to indicate that religion has functioned as one of the “moral boundaries” of a certain American “imagined community”, perceived as an essential warranty of both individual virtue and “good citizenship” and as a basic attribute of the American “self”.[4]
The American atheist Sam Harris said concerning the label of atheist, "It's right next to child molester as a designation."(see also: Distrust of atheists)[5][6]

Joseph Farah wrote:

Pastor John Hagee, senior pastor of San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church, is making People for the America Way very angry with some comments about atheists.

Here’s what he said in a talk captured on YouTube by the group: “This nation was not built for atheists or by atheists. It was built by Christian people who believed in the Word of God. To the atheists watching this telecast, if our belief in God offends you, move. There are planes leaving every hour on the hour, going every place on planet earth. Get on one, we don’t want you and we won’t miss you, I promise you.”

That may sound harsh, coming from a Christian minister of a mega-church with 20,000 members.

But let me take what Hagee said a step further.

Atheists can’t be real Americans in the truest sense of the word – and People for the American Way should be renamed People for the un-American Way.

Let me explain why.

America was founded on a creedal statement. It can be found in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”[7]

Atheism, communism, capitalism and the cold war

See also: Atheism and communism and Atheism and politics and Soviet atheism

According to the University of Cambridge, historically, the "most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power."[8]

Atheism was an integral component of Marxist-Leninist/Maoist communist ideology (see: Atheism and communism). In 1955, Chinese communist leader Zhou Enlai declared, "We Communists are atheists".[9] In 2014, the Communist Party of China reaffirmed that members of their party must be atheists.[10]

The Cold War was a period of suspicion and distrust between the US and its alliances and the Soviet Union and its more or less puppet allies after World War II, and was started by Josef Stalin.[11] It persisted due to the natural enmity between Communism and most other forms of government, especially Capitalism and the incompatible goals the two sides held. Film critic Atherine de la Roche, noted in 1955 that Hollywood and others believed that the Cold War was "fundamentally a conflict between Christianity and atheism and that religion is therefore a strong weapon against Communism".[12]

William F. Buckley wrote in his book God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom': "I myself believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level." [13] See also: Atheism vs. Christianity

Atheism and socialism

See also: Atheism and socialism

American Protestant cultural heritage and capitalism

See also: Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Much of American culture's unique cultural characteristics stems from its Puritan-Protestant heritage.[14] The majority of America's founding fathers were Protestants.

Due to the history of the Protestant Reformation, significant Protestant populations can be found in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the northern part of Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the east, north and west of Switzerland.[15] The United States has close ties to the United Kingdom and has received many immigrants from the other Protestant countries.

Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson, who is an atheist, declared: "Through a mixture of hard work and thrift the Protestant societies of the North and West Atlantic achieved the most rapid economic growth in history."[16]

For additional information, please see: Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Americans, Europeans and the importance of religion

See also: Atheism and morality and Religion and morality and Secular Europe

In 2005, the Pew Forum reported:

According to a 2002 Pew Global Attitudes survey, there are striking differences in public opinion between the U.S. and European countries on issues such as the importance people attach to religion in their lives and the linkage they perceive between belief in God and morality. The survey shows that a large majority of Americans consider religion important in their personal lives and closely associate religion and morality. Furthermore, Pew Forum surveys over several years show that Americans are generally more comfortable with religion playing a major role in public life. In contrast, Europeans generally place much less importance on religion in their lives, and general indicators show that major churches in Europe are declining in terms of membership, recruitment of clergy, financial contributions and overall public influence. The Pew Forum convened distinguished experts Peter Berger, John Judis and Walter Russell Mead to analyze these differences between the U.S and Europe and to assess their impact on transatlantic relations.[17]

Study: Americans distrust atheists as much as rapists

See: Study: Americans distrust atheists as much as rapists

Political weakness of the secular left in the United States

See: Political weakness of the secular left in the United States

American atheists and loneliness

American evangelical Christian view of atheists

In 2015, Pew Research indicated that Evangelical Christians were 25.4 percent of the American population.[18]

Pew Research did a study on American views towards various religious groups where 100 was the highest possible score in terms of favorable views.[19]

According to Pew Research:

When asked about other non-Christian groups, evangelicals tend to express more negative views. White evangelicals assign Buddhists an average rating of 39, Hindus 38, Muslims 30 and atheists 25. The chilliness between evangelicals and atheists goes both ways. Atheists give evangelical Christians a cold rating of 28 on average.[19]

For more information, please see: Growth of evangelicalism in the world and in the United States

Secular left, conservatism and patriotism

See also: Nationalism

The agnostic Fredrick Edwords wrote about the United States:

In the last few years, we have witnessed a number of patriotic celebrations in the United States — celebrations that have taken on an almost religious expression. In 1976, it was the glorious bicentennial of our independence. In 1984, American jingoistic displays associated with the opening and closing of the XXIII Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles were televised around the world. On July 4, 1986, amid hoopla and fireworks rarely equaled, the Statue of Liberty was rededicated in New York Harbor. Finally, on September 17, 1987, we celebrated the bicentennial of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Festivities commemorating the final ratification of the Constitution on June 21, 1788; the passage of the Bill of Rights on September 25, 1789; and the ratification of the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791, were comparatively subdued but recognized nonetheless.

That these are more than just anniversaries in political history is made clear not only by how we tend to celebrate them but in the reactions we receive from people abroad: they simply cannot understand our fervor. Whether we admit it or not, even if we claim we are not religious, we frequently tend to operate according to the prophetic vision, dogmas, and rituals of a generally unacknowledged religious tradition. Our behavior belies this as we take pilgrimages to its shrines, view its relics, sing its songs, celebrate its holy days, show respect to its saints and martyrs, and respond to its symbols. The United States is indeed a religious nation...[20]

The majority of American atheists are politically on the left side of the aisle (see: Atheism and politics and Secular left).

Joseph Knippenberg wrote at the website First Things:

Conservatism pairs God and country, observes the legendary Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., while cosmopolitan liberalism chooses “universal empathy rather than patriotism and human rights or humanity rather than God.” The cosmopolitan liberal pairing is perhaps more consistent than its conservative counterpart. Universal empathy pretty easily serves humanity or human rights, but God does not necessarily serve country...

Yet the self-described “progressive” might actually reject Mansfield’s contrast between conservative religiosity and liberal humanism. Au contraire , the progressive (who of course speaks French) might say, universal empathy is precisely what God calls us to; the “liberal” stance is the genuinely religious stance. Thus saith Valerie Elverton Dixon, a colleague of Jim Wallis writing on the Sojourners blog:

When the nation is the object of one’s highest concern; when national documents are considered holy scripture; when the nation’s founders and historical figures are lifted to the status of demi-gods; when citizens of the nation consider themselves to be God’s chosen nation, that they are especially favored by Divine Providence; when citizens conflate greatness and goodness; when patriotism becomes religion, we see civil religion at work . . . . .

In my opinion civil religion is dangerous because it is a subtle form of idolatry. The nation is ultimate . . . . We live within a universal rather than a national moral horizon, and we ought to shape public policy to conform to universal claims of justice.

Without any sort of qualification or limitation, so the argument goes, patriotism is idolatry. If you regard your fatherland as your father, you are an idolater.

Fair enough, but the “God and country” patriotism treated with such contempt by the cosmopolitan liberal isn’t obviously and necessarily idolatrous. Consider, for example, the formulation “one nation under God ,” which has its roots in the most faithful versions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. A nation under God acknowledges that it stands under God’s judgment, that its sovereignty is conditional and earthly, not absolute.[21]

American military and the phrase "There are no atheists in foxholes"

See also: There are no atheists in foxholes

The phrase "There are no atheists in foxholes" originated within the United States military by Reverend William T. Cummings, who served at Bataan.[22] In addition, Lieutenant Colonel Warren J. Clear, who also served at Bataan, used the expression in an interview printed in U.S. newspapers in the middle of April.[22]

President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared in remarks broadcast from the White House as part of a February 7, 1954 American Legion Program:

As a former soldier, I am delighted that our veterans are sponsoring a movement to increase our awareness of God in our daily lives. In battle, they learned a great truth-that there are no atheists in the foxholes. They know that in time of test and trial, we instinctively turn to God for new courage…Whatever our individual church, whatever our personal creed, our common faith in God is a common bond among us.[23]

American atheism and race

The atheist Sikivu Hutchinson says that atheist organizations generally focus on church/state separation and creationism issues and not on the concerns the less affluent African-American population faces.[24]

Hutchinson also mentioned that church organizations significantly help poor African-Americans.[24] See also: Atheism and uncharitablenss

See also: Western atheism and race

In 2015, BloombergView reported concerning the United States:

According to a much-discussed 2012 report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, only 3 percent of U.S. atheists and agnostics are black, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are Asian. Some 82 percent are white. (The relevant figures for the population at large at the time of the survey were 66 percent white, 11 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian.)

...Craig Keener, in his huge review of claims of miracles in a wide variety of cultures, concludes that routine rejection of the possibility of the supernatural represents an impulse that is deeply Eurocentric.[25]

In the United States, blacks have the highest rate of religiosity.[26] Among Hispanics, religion has traditionally played a significant role in daily activity.[27]

Atheism and Latino Americans

See: Atheism and Latino Americans

Atheism and African-Americans

See: Atheism and African-Americans

Americans with "no religion" and American patriotism

See also: Nones

Although some American atheists like to claim the unaffiliated (unaffiliated with organized religion), "nones" or "no religion" on religious surveys as one of their own, fewer than 15% of the "nones" consider themselves atheists.[28]

CNN reported:

Christianity Today crunched data from a Pew Research Center poll that asked more than 1,500 Americans for their views of the United States.

“Nearly all Americans think they live in the best country on Earth. While a majority of Americans believe there are other countries just as great, nine in 10 say no nation is better. Within this high view of America, there are differences between different religious groups,” the magazine noted.

To this end, Christianity Today suggested the existence of a “patriotism God-gap in America.”

Among those surveyed, evangelicals were the most likely to think the United States is No. 1.

“Other Christian traditions were less enthusiastic about America's position in the world, but they still saw the U.S. as one of the best on the planet. About 40% of other Christians said the U.S. stands alone as the greatest country; around 55% said it and some other countries were equally great. As with evangelicals, only a few said there were greater countries in the world.”

“Those with no religion, however,” hold a much less favorable view, according to the magazine.

"Only one in five of those without religious beliefs said the U.S. is the best country in the world, an equal percentage agreeing that 'there are other countries that are better than the U.S.' ”[29]

Atheist organizations against requiring football players to stand during American national anthem

KTBS News reported in a story entitled Atheist organizations call on Bossier school system to end National Anthem policy:

Six organizations dedicated to the separation of church and state are calling on the Bossier Parish schools superintendent to reverse a policy that orders students to stand during the National Anthem, saying he overstepped his authority.

Bossier Schools Superintendent Scott Smith last month ordered all Bossier Parish students to stand during the National Anthem or face discipline. The consequences would be decided by individual schools' principals, coaches or sponsors, Smith said in a statement. Smith's letter was a mixture of policy directives and comments about patriotism.[30]

See also


  1. 2013 Freedom of Thought by International Humanist and Ethical Union
  2. ISHASH MEMBER INTERVIEW: CHARLES LOUIS RICHTER, International Society for Historians of Atheism, Secularism, and Humanism
  3. Why Americans Hate Atheists by Phil Zuckerman
  4. An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms”: Religion, Civic Belonging and Collective Identity in the United States by Amandine Barb, European Journal of American Studies , Spring 2011
  5. Roberts, Jessica, et al. (June 19, 2007). "Interview with an atheist". News21. Retrieved on July 30, 2014.
  6. NEWSWEEK Poll: 90% Believe in God, Newsweek 2007
  7. Why atheists can't be real Americans by Joseph Farah
  8. Investigating atheism: Marxism. University of Cambridge (2008). Retrieved on July 17, 2014. “The most notable spread of atheism was achieved through the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which brought the Marxist-Leninists to power. For the first time in history, atheism thus became the official ideology of a state.”
  9. Noebel, David, The Battle for Truth, Harvest House, 2001.
  10. - U.S. Honors Stalin on Hallowed Ground – Will Saddam Hussein Be Next?
  11. Review of the book Religion and the Cold War by Dr Merrilyn Thomas University College London
  12. God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom', by William F. Buckley
  13. RUNNING HEAD: AMERICAN MORAL EXCEPTIONALISM: American Moral Exceptionalism: Eric Luis Uhlmann, Northwestern University; T. Andrew Poehlman, Southern Methodist University; John A. Bargh, Yale University
  14. Predominant religions,
  15. The Protestant Work Ethic: Alive & Well…In China By Hugh Whelchel on September 24, 2012
  16. Secular Europe and Religious America: Implications for Transatlantic Relations
  17. America’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research. 2015
  18. 19.0 19.1 How Americans Feel About Religious Groups
  19. Take Your Hat Off (part 3), PLYMOUTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
  20. Moderating Patriotism by Joseph Knippenberg, First Things
  21. 22.0 22.1
  22. Dwight Eisenhower: There are No Atheists in Foxholes
  23. 24.0 24.1 Atheism has a big race problem that no one’s talking about by Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson, Washington Post June 16, 2014
  24. The Atheism Gap By Stephen L. Carter, BloombergView, Mar 27, 2015 4:26 PM EDT
  25. Gallup: Blacks Most Religious Group in U.S.
  26. Understanding Hispanic culture
  27. Meet the 'Nones:' Spiritual but not religious
  28. Patriotism and the 'God gap', XNN, 2011
  29. Atheist organizations call on Bossier school system to end National Anthem policy, KTBS News