Apparently, Atheists are the group that surveyed people would least like to see marry into their family. They beat out blacks, gays, Hispanics, Martians, midgets, and serial killers, presumably.
I actually feel pretty good about that. It's fun to know that I'm at the top of a list about what makes people really uncomfortable.
A few points, one, this only comes from the end of a conversation on NPR, which can be found here, that wasn't even about atheists. There is no source cited, so we have to take it with a grain of salt.
Two, if this is entirely correct, I don't find it too surprising. The "battle" between faith and reason, or God and atheism, depending on how you want to frame the argument, has been brought to the forefront in ways not seen since the early 1900's.
George W. Bush pandered to the extremists; we've seen a jump in evangelical fundamentalists teaching their kids at home; the war between Intelligent Design and evolution seems to crop up at least once per year; and we have militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens roaming about telling people that they're stupid for believing in God.
When you think about what religion means to most people, it's a sort of psychological glue that gives them certain givens off of which they can build a sense of self-identity, right and wrong, and of society and other people. I matter. Something cares about me. Right and wrong exist, and I will do what's right. These are incredibly basic concepts! To try and strip people of these concepts would be crippling to someone without the mental priming to accept them.
By priming I don't mean brainwashing or indoctrination, but providing a sense of self separate from society and something different from their amoeboid ideas of morals and culture. They need to be introduced to ideas like secular humanism, whereby right and wrong are of our own making, but that doesn't make the concepts any weaker.
Because, without those, most people who aren't specifically religious and don't think about it every day are forced to face concepts, ideas, arguments, and truly, fears that they don't usually ponder. For the average person, I can imagine this to be a trying experience that they would rather just avoid. The last thing they want is a constant, living reminder of the possibility that they are wrong.
Depending on what has happened in the news at the time, my thoughts on how to best discuss atheism change. Sometimes, I support Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins in calling people who believe in God total idiots. If extremists haven't done anything recently to piss me off, I'm much more measured. Most people live their lives as reactive creatures, interacting with their environments and each other with little thought of cosmic significance. Religion, even if they go to church regularly, plays little part in their day-to-day existence.
They're good people, and they would basically live identically whether they were atheistic, theistic, deistic, or agnostic. So, really, whether their beliefs on the nature of reality are fully formed or not makes no difference whatsoever. This is the way I've felt recently. Maybe it's because nothing has happened, because I haven't watched Jesus Camp for awhile, or because I'm starting to set aside my righteous indignation for something a bit more level-headed. Regardless, it gives me some ideas on where the atheist/theist debate should go.
Namely, most people use religion for those things I outlines above. They use it as an excuse for bake sales and gatherings. They use it to answer really difficult questions about existence and reality that don't matter too much. In a very cosmic sense, they use it to feel good about living every day.
Instead, atheism should be most interested in the places where the concepts espoused by atheism: reason, logic, measured behavior; are most needed. Atheism is needed in science, in universities where the very purpose of the higher education is to bring up the tough questions, and importantly, in religious extremism.
People's fear and ignorance is what allows idiocy like the ID/Evolution debate to come to fore. These are the battle grounds that matter. Whether people "believe" or not is of utterly no importance.
Poll: Blacks Optimistic About Their Future (NPR.org)