A revelation of sorts.
Beyond just the quantitative findings, however, are the more qualitative results. Edgell et al. find that atheists are viewed as combining two features. First, they are seen as a sort of cultural/intellectual/economic elite. A dominant, high-status group that calls an unusually large portion of the shots. As one of their respondents comments:
These people aren’t very religious, you’ll notice that. There’s a real, “I’m an atheist” attitude among people with major money.
If you’re going all through life, “I’m an atheist, I don’t believe in anything except the almighty dollar,” this is definitely a destructive attitude and the rest of the world sees it.
So, it would seem, at least this one respondent views the wealthy as being unusually likely to be atheists. Obviously, she's not thinking of John Templeton or Rupert Murdoch but that's hardly the point. It seems that atheists are viewed as some sort of elite.
At the same time, however, atheists are also viewed as amoral in the extreme. It is thought that, without the "foundation" of a religion atheists are free to behave however they want and do so on a regular basis.** Or, as a different respondent put it:
...I would say...the prisons aren’t filled with conservative Republican Christians. The prisons are probably filled with people who don’t have any kind of a spiritual or religious core. So I don’t have to worry about..., a conservative Christian, you know, committing a crime against me, chances are.
So, somehow, atheists are both a societal elite and make up a disproportionate number of street criminals. My, my, my, what does this all mean? Well, after thinking about it I think I've finally come to a conclusion. Ladies and gentlemen, based on Edgell et al.'s findings, I think it is clear that the American public believes that atheists are super-villains.
Think about it. Part of a cultural/intellectual elite? No morals? No sense of the common good? What does that remind you of?
Now, we atheists could take this negatively, but I don't think we should. There's a lot to be said for being a super-villain. Interesting locales, nice living conditions, fascinating help... what's not to like? If we're going to really take advantage of this opportunity, however, we're going to need a few things.
(1) Some sort of impressive name. We can just call ourselves "Atheist Man" or something. For the time being, I suggest we raly behind Richard Dawkins and just start calling him... "Dawkins," but in a really dramatic voice. Later, we can try to get him to change his name to something like "Richard von Deathstrike."
(2) A seemingly inexhaustible supply of henchmen. This will be a little harder to come by since, as a general rule, atheists aren't as into the blind obedience thing as some others are.*** That said, I think there is an easy solution: unemployed philosophy graduates. It's not like anyone else wants them and, hey, they're disaffected enough they just might go for it.
(3) A totally pimp hideout. Volcano lairs have been all the rage for years, but I think we know they're too easy to identify on satellite imagery. Fortunately, corrupt casinos also appear to be coming back into vogue.
(4) A right-hand-man with some sort of gimmick. There's "Odd Job" with his razor-sharp bowler hat or "Jaws" with his cybernetic teeth, but that really doesn't do it for me. I think we should take the most competent**** of the above unemployed philosophy students and train him or her in martial arts. Then, we rename our champion "Occam" and teach him or her to use specially manufactured straight-razors in battle. The gimmick writes itself from there.
(5) An attractive but disillusioned female associate who can be seduced by a secret agent. My vote is for Uma Thurman. I know, I know: she's not an atheist as far as we know, but is in fact Buddhist. I'm just saying, maybe she'll be willing to pitch in. Besides, seriously, have you seen what we atheists look like? We can't be too choosy.
(6) Some sort of laughably absurd way to dispose of meddlers. I think my vote is for sharks with lasers on their heads but I'm open to discussion.
Certainly there are hurdles to be overcome, but I think that we can do it as a team. Or, alternatively, maybe we can help people develop a more realistic perspective on atheists?
Nah, you're right. The super-villain thing will be a lot easier to pull off.
* I've been thinking about it, partly, because of an interesting discussion going on in the comments to a post over on Brad Wright's blog. Dr. Wright asks, among other things, whether atheists control a disproportionate amount of publc space.
** As I've discussed previously, I seriously doubt that even religious folks get as much moral guidance as they typically claim.
*** All kidding aside, I'm not calling all Christians idiots here, but I think it's pretty hard to argue that the faith doesn't encourage a certain amount of blind obedience.
**** This is, of course, a clear violation of Super-villain standard operating procedure but we're atheists: we're not known for going along with what everyone else does!