Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the social cost of atheism. Based on an online survey, most atheists said they believe they suffer at least some stigma for not believing in God from their family, community and workplace.
By a wide margin, atheists in the U.S. were more likely to feel a sense of stigma, highest among those living in the south. For instance, 57 percent of U.S. respondents said they felt they would suffer at least minor social repercussions in the workplace if they came out as an atheist, compared to only 35 percent of respondents in Canada, 24 percent of Australians, 15 percent of residents of United Kingdom, and 12 percent of Western Europeans.
The post sparked a great discussion in the comment thread from readers. Many of the comments were from atheists and non-believers who told poignant stories about being ostracized by family members once they came “out of the closet,” so to speak.
So, recently a family member, who is a devout Christian, read the post and told me that she was upset that I didn’t also write about Christian stigma in America. When I asked this person to identify how she feels Christians are stigmatized in this country, she couldn’t articulate beyond the fact that sometimes she and her fellow Christians hold back from witnessing to people because they’re not sure how they’ll be received. I pointed out to her that she’s confusing rude behavior with stigma.
Nonetheless, my relative insisted this is persecution and she envisions a day when she goes to church and the government will have locked all the doors.
Not too long ago, two Jehovah Witnesses knocked on my door and told me that End Times are coming and they sincerely wanted to know what I believe. I said I couldn’t believe any God worth worshiping would be so concerned with what goes on in the bedrooms of consensual adults and until their God rethought his position on gay marriage, he and I really didn’t have much to talk about.
At that point, the lead Witness delivered a rather snippy lecture to me that I really need to be more tolerant of her faith. (And this woman knocked on my door!)
It seems to me that Christian complaints of social stigma come from their evangelical belief that nothing should get in their way of converting lost souls. Any resistance equals discrimination against them—including refusing to accept Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior when he’s delivered directly to your door along with a handful of pamphlets.
Which is why I love this video of an atheist filmmaker who decides to turn the tables on those who knock on his door early in the morning telling him he’s going to hell. (Note: the filmmaker gets a few facts wrong about evolution and I don’t buy his assertion that Charles Darwin is the messiah of atheism. But I’m willing to grant him the artistic license to make his broader point.)
I have no doubt that many Christians, particularly fundamentalists and evangelicals, in this country believe they suffer stigma for their religious beliefs. It’s built into their identity, going all the way back to to the cross. But in a country where 77 percent of the population identifies with Christianity, and only one member of the House or Senate has publicly declared himself an atheist, such claims seem a bit spurious.
But then maybe I’m wrong. So in deference to my relative, I told her I’d put this out here for discussion. I’d like to hear what others think. Do Christians face social stigma in America today?