The number of people who consider themselves religious is on the decline, but intolerance towards Atheists still reigns.
I remember walking to high school one day, freshman year. A sleep-deprived teen, I was the perfect target.
Someone handed me a green, leather-bound book.
Oh, cool. A dictionary, I thought.
It was actually a book of psalms. I saw a couple of kids throw theirs in the trash during lunch.
That was my first taste of religion as a polarizing force. And according to some recent studies, even if you denounce religion altogether, you could still face incredible amounts of bias.
In the United States for instance, there are at least seven states where atheists cannot hold public office. In Arkansas, atheists can’t even testify as witnesses on trial.
This seems unconstitutional, and yet it happens.
It does not seem like this bias will disappear anytime soon. In a study published in 2011, psychologists found that, in certain circumstances, people distrust atheists just as much as rapists, if not more so. This prejudice stems from moral distrust, the study found.
That’s funny. I didn’t realize being a rapist was moral.
Even if you don’t believe in God, He (or She) is a major presence in all our lives. God makes it into discussions about reproductive rights, gay marriage and a myriad of other legislation topics, pop-culture and even chicken, as evidenced by the Chick-fil-A controversy earlier this year.
Atheists are a rapidly growing minority. The number of atheists in the U.S. — those who do not believe in God and are non-religious — has jumped from 1% of the population to 5% in just seven years. Furthermore, the number of people who consider themselves religious dropped 13%.
The question we always seem to ask each other is: What do you believe?
We want to know how to categorize each other. Even in college, religion — or lack thereof — helps us find our niches. By sophomore year, you’ll have your church group, your Muslim crew, you’re pals from synagogue. Or maybe not.
The truth is, there’s something attractive about ascribing to a label and having a community available as soon as you arrive.
For me, religion has been a hot topic at dinner, at religious services, in school, in relationships, in prayer groups where I was the wrong religion and in the books I read for class.
Religion is also a journey I have been on since my teen years. And on this journey, I’ve been informed by some that I’m on my way to Hell and by others that it is silly for me to try and find religion. I have heard insults aimed at virtually every religious group.
As the population becomes larger and more diverse, there’s evidence that we’ll become even less tolerant. On large, diverse campuses, for instance, groups tend to self-segregate, and cliques tend to be more racially and religiously homogeneous.
I find this upsetting. Each person is a wonderfully nuanced individual. As religion becomes more and more divisive in this country, we owe it to each other to develop some tolerance.
As college students, we are in the best position to do this. We are still at an age in which our beliefs are either starting to float or are just getting cemented. And most likely, we live on the same floor as members of all the main religions — and non-religions.
Chances are, the only thing standing between you and me is God. So instead of pushing Him away or in each other’s faces, maybe we could introduce Him into the conversation.
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