AMP in the Blogosphere

The American Mosaic Project, the project in our department that sent me to Boston two summers ago, has broken into the blogosphere thanks to the publication of a paper on atheism (in the April issue of the American Sociological Review) based on the results of a nationally-representative telephone survey the AMP did a few years back. Blogs discussing the paper include The Washignton Monthly, Majikthise and Pharyngula. Here is the press release on the paper. The paper is based primarily on the responses to the following two questions:

First, People were asked the following, “Now I want to read you a list of different groups of people who live in this country. For each one, please tell me how much you think people in this group agree with YOUR vision of American society — almost completely, mostly, somewhat, or not at all?” Here’s the frequency of respondents who said that each group does not at all agree with their vision of American society:

Second, People were also asked the following question, “People can feel differently about their children marrying people from various backgrounds. Suppose your son or daughter wanted to marry an _____. Would you approve of this choice, disapprove of it or wouldn’t it make any difference at all one way or the other?” Here’s the frequency of respondents who said they would disapprove if their child wanted to marry a member of each group:

Penny Edgell, one of the authors of the paper, explains the findings like this:

Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society.“It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.

Edgell believes a fear of moral decline and resulting social disorder is behind the findings. “Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures with their fellow citizens—they share an understanding of right and wrong,” she said. “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”