Social Question

downtide's avatar

Is America's old fear of Communism the reason why the nation is afraid of atheists today?

Asked by downtide (23515points) January 13th, 2011

This thought occurred to me yesterday when I was discussing the links between atheism and communism with a friend. In the past, to declare oneself an atheist in the US would have created the automatic assumption that one is also a communist (even if it wasn’t true, people would tend to jump to that conclusion). Now I don’t think people consciously make that connection today, but could this explain why America seems so afraid of atheists whereas European nations are not?

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34 Answers

Nullo's avatar

In both cases, it is more likely the godlessness and the necessary difference in moralities.

jaytkay's avatar

I don’t think the connection is between atheism and communism. I think the connection is that conformists fear lots of things. Doesn’t matter much if it’s atheism, foreigners, other religions, vegetarianism, races – if it doesn’t fit the worldview they learned as children, they lash out.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I don’t think that America as a nation is afraid of atheists. I think there is a vocal minority who are afraid for the simple reason that if the atheists are right, then their own closely held faith is wrong, and they’re not going to die and go to heaven for eternity. The fear is in one’s own mortality. The notion that death is the end sends shivers down the spine of many.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Surely, some people make that connection. But for others, it’s all about the godlessness of it as @Nullo put it. They really don’t get it.

whitenoise's avatar

@Nullo what do you mean with “the godlessness and the necessary difference in moralities.”?

mammal's avatar

Religious fundamentalism in America is a de facto anti-communist front, that is their modus operandi, these guys are more interested in the Hatred of Communists than the love of God, but wait a minute, they also have similar issues with other Abrahamic faiths, well one other in particular, because they are quite the paragon of Christian charity when it comes to their Judaic Brothers during these troubled times :)

marinelife's avatar

I agree with @hawaii_jake. I don’t agree with the premise of your question.

thorninmud's avatar

It’s complicated.

One factor is that religious people often assume that a connection with God is the only true basis for morality, so anyone who eschews belief in God will have no moral compass. That’s seen as a sure ticket to social breakdown.

On top of that, religion acts as a coping mechanism in dealing with our mortality. A challenge to the belief system that supports that coping mechanism is seen (on a subconscious level) as an existential threat, and provokes a strongly antagonistic response. This has been demonstrated by some very interesting psychological studies.

Those same psychological studies demonstrated that our identification with our national “tribe” also serves as a coping mechanism against mortality; through nationalism we see ourselves as part of a larger entity that transcends our own mortal limits.

Communism made us uncomfortable on two levels: first it challenged the validity of religious belief, and secondly, it challenged the validity of our socio-economic structure. So Communism appeared to undermine the two greatest guarantors of our immortality. We lashed back.

Atheists do the same thing: they clearly call belief into question, and they call into question the premise that America is secure under God’s wing.

aprilsimnel's avatar

American religiosity is of much longer standing in our history. I think the first great Protestant Revival here was in the late 18th Century, with recurrences every 40–50 years.

Americans who claim to be Christians are working from an old script, so they don’t like communists because in Communism, atheism is a given, not the other way around, not that atheists are de facto communists. I’m not a communist by any stretch, for example. I in no way favour putting the state on the same pedestal as a god, which is what Soviet-style Communism (that China and Cuba adopted for a while) appeared to do.

Qingu's avatar

Weren’t people in the 1950’s scared of communists because they were atheists?

I think there is probably a feedback cycle.

iamthemob's avatar

I don’t think that Americans are afraid of atheists in the same way they were afraid of communists back in the day. Being gay was also equated with communism…and I don’t think that there’s a real connection leading to the reason for the fear today.

The point is we need an enemy. I don’t think it’s atheists at all like communists. Today…I think it’s more likely Muslims.

crazyivan's avatar

That’s an extraordinarily good question. I’m sure that people had issues with atheism far before communism (that much is certainly not in debate), but if you look at the scope of atheist-aphobia in the US compared to other nations it seems a good hypothesis that the red scare still enters into it.

IHateMusic's avatar

My answer to your question is no.
Hardly anybody is afraid of atheists. People are afraid of communism because they associate it with Stalin, Castro, and others I’m forgetting.

jaytkay's avatar

Hardly anybody is afraid of atheists.

Gallup poll

“Generally speaking, do you think Americans are ready to elect atheist as president, or not?”
84% respond no, not ready

IHateMusic's avatar

“Vast majority think country would not accept atheist or gay president”

The wording of this poll is very poor. According to this poll, if you think others won’t except it, you are part of that 84%.

jaytkay's avatar

@IHateMusic “Vast majority think country would not accept atheist or gay president”

No, that is not the poll question. They were asked separately.

”...atheist as president?”
”...woman as president?”
”...Jew as president.?”
etc.

bkcunningham's avatar

I don’t know anyone who is afraid of atheists in any sense. I think most people would associate communism with taking away freedom and rights. Perhaps they may think religion is one of those rights. Maybe somehow you are making the association because of that. I just know, for me personally, I have never met anyone who afraid of atheists.

@jaytkayl also, the poll doesn’t say anything about fear. The 2006 Gallup poll question was, “Generally speaking, do you think Americans are ready to elect a/an [RANDOM ORDER] as president, or not? The selections were: Woman
African American or black
Jew
Hispanic
Asian
Latter-Day Saint or Mormon
Atheist
Gay or lesbian

jaytkay's avatar

If people aren’t afraid of atheists, why would they not want one as President?

bkcunningham's avatar

@jaytkay the question that was asked wasn’t even if they didn’t want any from the list to be president. The question was, “Generally speaking, do you think Americans are ready to elect a/an [RANDOM ORDER] as president, or not?”

It is a poll question. A small sampling of the public. Polls are subjective to many things like the bias of the interviewer or those who analyze the data. You can read what you want into it and take what you want away from it.

I know it is difficult for some people to believe, but not everyone has the same opinions, values, views and such as you. Doesn’t make them right or wrong. Doesn’t make them uneducated or stupid. Doesn’t make them bigots or haters. Just makes them humans.

YARNLADY's avatar

I believe it is because those who need religion to define their ethics can’t imagine a godless person also lives by a similar set of ethics.

jaytkay's avatar

I know it is difficult for some people to believe, but not everyone has the same opinions, values, views and such as you. Doesn’t make them right or wrong.

Yeah, I I don’t like racism and bigotry.

How intolerant of me. I am Hitler.

ETpro's avatar

Great answers from @jaytkay, @thorninmud and @hawaii_jake

Surely, not all Americans hate or fear atheists. But as an atheist, I can assure @bkcunningham from my own personal experience that there are plenty on the Christian right who do.

I heard an interesting talk from Christopher Hitchens recently in which he debunked the fantasy that Fascism and Russian Communism were really godless ideologies. Quite the contrary, in fact. He wanted to get into North Korean beliefs and Chinese beliefs as well, but time didn’t permit in this talk. If aI can find a link to the debunking of those myths I will post it as well.

downtide's avatar

@jaytkay , @IHateMusic is right about the poll. The problematic wording is “Do you think America is ready…” etc. I would vote No to that, because I don’t think the rest of America is ready to vote for such a president, even though I would vote for one myself (if I was American). This makes the poll biased towards the negative response.

jaytkay's avatar

@downtide @IHateMusic I understand now about the poll, I was not reading it carefully enough

crazyivan's avatar

@bkcunningham I’m sorry but the assertion that people aren’t afraid of atheists is either willfully ignorant or a semantic argument about what it means to be “afraid”. I agree that @jaytkay‘s poll might not be the best evidence of it but your response was:

(a) factually nonsensical
(b) largely a personal attack.

Very poor debate tactics indeed.

bkcunningham's avatar

@crazyivan I wasn’t forming a debate argument or being willfully ignorant or participating in a semantic dispute. I was stating facts when I said, I don’t know anyone who is afraid of atheists in any sense. I just know, for me personally, I have never met anyone who afraid of atheists.

After comments from the poster defending the poll, and after taking a closer look, the person who posted the poll said they were not reading it correctly. That is all I was attempting to point out with any response to the poll.

crazyivan's avatar

But the very statement “I don’t know anyone who is afraid of atheists in any sense” is a clearly unknowable assertion. Even if you went out and asked every single person you ever met if they were afraid of atheism or atheists (and I’m guessing you haven’t) it still wouldn’t be a very reliable stat.

That’s what I meant when I say it was factually nonsensical. All the crap about “I know it is difficult for some people to believe, but not everyone has the same opinions, values, views and such as you. Doesn’t make them right or wrong. Doesn’t make them uneducated or stupid. Doesn’t make them bigots or haters” is clearly a strawman argument that had no purpose in the debate.

bkcunningham's avatar

@crazyivan it’s just about as nonsensical as you picking out for my statements instead of any of the others on this thread who gave their thoughts without a discussion on the numbers they had personally polled or posted polls they didn’t fully understand and argued to back up their erroneous beliefs.

What is your position or opinion or knowledgeable assertion or debate on the original post? All I’ve seen is your critique of my posts. If I overlooked something you posted on the thread besides that, point it out to me please. I’d love to read what you think.

crazyivan's avatar

@bkcunningham There is absolutely no substance in that post. You posted something that is demonstrably incorrect. I pointed that out. I really don’t know that I can make sense out of your first sentence, but if I could I’d respond to it.

As for your second paragraph, well, if you’d love to read what I think that much, you probably would have scrolled up and read what I thought. If all you saw was my critique of your point then that’s all you were looking for.

bkcunningham's avatar

@crazyivan yes you are right. I’m sorry I was wrong.

Nullo's avatar

@whitenoise Communism elevates the State to a sort of godhood, likely in hopes of attaining the same kind of cohesion. Christianity already has a God, Who is functionally different from any State, lacking human flaws and having different goals.

ragingloli's avatar

@Nullo
Communism, by definition, has no state because one of the stated core goals of communism is the abolition of the state as an entity.

GracieT's avatar

I’m a Christian, but I’m also a Democratic Socialist. I don’t hate communists. I also don’t feel it is fair to paint any group with such a broad brush!

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