‘Women Atheists Are Genuinely Considered Monsters’

Sep 19, 2016

By Emma Green

In general, Americans do not like atheists. In studies, they say they feel coldly toward nonbelievers; it’s estimated that more than half of the population say they’d be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who didn’t believe in God.

This kind of deep-seated suspicion is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. In his new book, Village Atheists, the Washington University in St. Louis professor Leigh Eric Schmidt writes about the country’s early “infidels”—one of many fraught terms nonbelievers have used to describe themselves in history—and the conflicts they went through. While the history of atheists is often told as a grand tale of battling ideas, Schmidt set out to tell stories of “mundane materiality,” chronicling the lived experiences of atheists and freethinkers in 19th- and 20th-century America.

His findings both confirm and challenge stereotypes around atheists today. While it’s true that the number of nonbelievers is the United States is growing, it’s still small—roughly 3 percent of U.S. adults self-identify as atheists. And while more and more Americans say they’re not part of any particular religion, they’ve historically been in good company: At the end of the 19th century, Schmidt estimated, around a tenth of Americans may have been unaffiliated from any church or religious institution.

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19 comments on “‘Women Atheists Are Genuinely Considered Monsters’

  • @OP – ‘Women Atheists Are Genuinely Considered Monsters’

    I think “considered” is the wrong word”

    “Consideration” is a thinking process, and usually a rational one, so it has little or nothing to do with uncritical sheeple acceptance of repetitive emotional, rhetoric based, propaganda, from “faith-thinking” ignoramuses in pulpits, disparaging the “ungodly”!

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  • Should be “women atheists WERE considered monsters” since he’s talking about the 19th century. And I doubt this surprises anyone. Possibly there are religious pockets in this country (U.S.) who still think so but I think in general, if anything, the stereotype is atheists are white males, probably liberal or radical politics, either social skills- challenged or, alternatively, ultra hip and cool and artist -y.

    I personally think there are tons of women atheists but they disguise themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.

    More interesting to me than the purported 3% is how fast it seems to be changing to an open matter-of-factness. Most people seem to know at least one person who is atheist.

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  • The position in the UK and some other European countries is very different!


    Between 2001 and 2011 there was a decrease in the proportion of people who identify as Christian (from 71.7% to 59.3%) and an increase in those reporting no religion (from 14.8% to 25.1%). There were increases in the other main religious group categories, with the number of Muslims increasing the most (from 3.0% to 4.8%).

    Some of the questions in these polls had biased wording due to political input, so some other polls give higher percentages of “no religion”.



    People of no religion outnumber Christians in England and Wales – study

    The number of people who say they have no religion is escalating and significantly outweighs the Christian population in England and Wales, according to new analysis.

    The proportion of the population who identify in NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey as having no religion, referred to as “nones”, reached 48.5% in 2014, outnumbering the 43.8% who define themselves as Christian – Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations. In 2011 the BSA survey found 46% identified as having no religion. The 2011 census gave a much lower figure of 25%, but phrased the question differently.

    “The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”

    The report did not examine data from Scotland or Northern Ireland. Last month a Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that 52% of the population said they were not religious, compared with 40% in 1999.

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  • @#4 – Some of the questions in these polls had biased wording due to political input, so some other polls give higher percentages of “no religion”.

    Once we start to analyse figures many religious claims are very much minority views!


    The English and Welsh Census uses the highly leading question ‘What is your religion?’ By assuming that all participants hold a religious belief, the question captures some kind of loose cultural affiliation, and as a result the 2001 Census recorded a far higher percentage of the population as ‘Christian# than nearly every other significant survey or poll on religious belief in the 21st century. The 2011 Census recorded a lower proportion as ‘Christian’, which is still very high. The placement of the question alongside questions of ethnicity and national identity only further compounded this issue.

    According to the 2011 UK Census, those of no religion are the second largest belief group, about three and a half times as many as all the non-Christian religions put together – at 26.13% of the population. 16,038,229 people said they had ‘no religion’ with a further 4,406,032 (7.18%) not stating a religion. 58.81% described their religion as Christian and 7.88% as some non-Christian religion. This represented a massive change from the 2001 Census, where 15.5% of the population recorded having no religion, and 72% of the population reported being Christian.

    However, in a poll conducted by YouGov in March 2011 on behalf of the BHA, when asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’. When the same sample was asked the follow-up question ‘Are you religious?’, only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.

    Less than half (48%) of those who ticked ‘Christian’ said they believed that Jesus Christ was a real person who died and came back to life and was the son of God.

    Asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, most people in England and Wales (63%) had not attended in the past year: 43% of people last attended over a year ago and 20% of people had never attended. Only 9% of people reported having attended a place of worship within the last week.

    The Humanist Society of Scotland commissioned a separate poll asking the Scottish census question, ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’. In response, 42% of the adult population in Scotland said ‘None’. When asked ‘Are you religious?’ 56% of the same sample said they were not and only 35% said they were.

    The Office for National Statistics understands the religion question to be a proxy question for ethnicity. This is in order to capture the Jewish and Sikh populations, both of which are captured under equalities legislation as ethnic groups but are not included in the ethnicity category in the Census, as they should be, rather than the religion category. The result is that a very loose, cultural affiliation is ‘measured’ by the Census in terms of religion or belief, with particular over-inflation of the Christian figure, and an undercounting of the non-religious population. As a result, the census data on religion is most definitely not suitable for use by employers, service providers or politicians as a proxy for religious belief, belonging or practice.

    In the UK, the percentage of the population which describes itself as belonging to no religion has risen from 31.4% to 50.6% between 1983 and 2013 according to the British Social Attitudes Survey’s 31st report issued in 2014. Conversely, the report found that only 41.7% of people in the UK identify as Christians compared to 49.9% in 2008 and 65.2% in 1983. The Church of England has seen the greatest decline in its numbers; membership has more than halved from 40.3% of the population in 1983 to just 16.3% in 2014.

    Among people aged between 18 and 24, the incidence of religious affiliation is only 30.7%. It is only amongst the over 55s that the majority of respondents are religious. But even then, only 47% of English funerals in 2012 were performed by the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, and Methodist Church, down from 59% in 2005.

    A 2014 Survation poll found 60% of the British public describing themselves as not religious at all, compared with a third being somewhat religious and 8% very religious.

    A 2014 YouGov poll found that 50% of the population do not ‘regard themselves as belonging to any particular religion’, compared to 43% who do. It also found that only 3% of the population consider themselves to be ‘very religious’ and only 20% ‘fairly religious’, while 37% consider themselves to be ‘not very religious’ and 40% ‘not religious at all’.
    Belief in the tenets of religions

    Surveys also show an even lower level of belief in the core tenets of Christianity in particular than do measures of cultural affiliation or belonging. For instance, a 2013 YouGov survey found that just 27% of the population believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, just 26% believe in the Biblical account of the crucifixion, just 22% believe in the devil and just 33% believe in life after death. A 2014 YouGov survey found 10% saying religion is ‘very important’ to their own lives, 19% ‘fairly important’, 24% ‘not very important’ and 44% ‘not important at all’.

    Another question found that 41% endorsed the strong statement: ‘This life is the only life we have and death is the end of our personal existence’. 62% chose ‘Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong’, against 27% who said ‘People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong’.

    The 2014 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 58.4% of the population never attend religious services while only 13.1% of people report going to a religious service once a week or more. Of the 16% of people who define as belonging to the Church of England, 51.9% never attend services and in fact only 10.7% of people who identify with the Church of England report attending church at least weekly. More generally, the 2014 BSA Survey discovered that 58.3% of people who were brought up in a religion never attend services, and only 12.8% do so on a weekly basis.

    A 2014 Survation survey found that 55% of the British public think atheists are just as moral as the religious, while one in eight think they are more moral and 6% think they are less moral. A majority of Brits (including 45% of Christians and 70% of Jews) believe that religion does more harm than good, with a quarter taking the opposite view.

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  • Ep2016

    Most people seem to know at least one person who is atheist.

    This is an important goal. When this happens more and more then atheism will become ho-hum run of the mill and this is what I hope I live long enough to see some day. We could reach a critical mass some day here when a small minority of deluded theists try to impose their religion on all citizens and the push back from the majority secular public would shut them up once and for all.

    I think that when most people came to know one person who is gay, that’s when things started turning around for them. I think this same thing will happen for atheists too.

    Women atheists of my age (fifties) are pretty rare in my experience (in the US). I only self-identify as atheist when I’m pretty sure it will go alright. I’m much more forthright when in the company of the younger set. Plenty of them think it’s unusual and (may I hope…?) a little bit cool.

    spiritual but not religious”

    You can’t trust the word “spiritual” at all. These women who self-identify as spiritual are all over the place with that. It could really mean anything. They wear the label as a badge of pride, like they’re really, really deep and wise. Earth mothers in touch with forces of nature and realms beyond. It’s a bunch of bullshit. ~eye roll~

    I can tell you from experience that when I bluntly announce to these women that No I am not spiritual – I’m an atheist.” they look at me like I’m a knuckle dragging troglodyte that wandered into their crystal reading tea party.

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  • @LaurieB

    Laugh or cry Laurie?

    Get thee to a nunnery where that monster in you can be excised!!

    I suggest the little sisters of the poor, Mother Teresa’s operation. With her being a saint now you should get a great treatment for your monster!

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  • Neo

    A nunnery? Even the Unitarian Universalists won’t have the likes of me amongst them. A nunnery inviting me into their midst is like the three little pigs inviting the big bad wolf in for dinner. A terrible mistake.

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  • My family is almost entirely made up of devout Catholics. I have coached twenty teams for the church (all teams one of my kids played on). i have bent myself to their rituals and “turned the other cheek” because the welfare of my kids was/is at stake.

    Anyway, i have been friendly with half a dozen Catholic priests and even a few Monsignors. On several occasions i have been in a position to talk some pretty deep shit with a few of these fellows and i have to tell you that the construction of “god” that the parish folks carry is drastically different than the construction of god that the educated priests carry around. I’d dare say that the priests that I’ve engaged are closer to atheist than most believers ever are. As a matter of fact, I’d bet dollars to donuts that the one fellow that I was closest to is as atheist as me.

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  • Laurie B – that was funny! I know what you mean about the “crystal reading tea party”. That’s also what I meant by “in disguise” – I know a few women who use that self-description when what they really mean is “I don’t know how you’ll react so I’ll just give you this vague I believe there’s something greater than ourselves b.s.”. Then of course there’s the whole sage burning crystal believing reiki practicing whatever whatever true believers. I told a group of them once, politely. That I was “not a believer”. The group seemed a little taken by surprise. They looked at the group leader, who said does it matter [if it’s true/real] as long as it works? I didn’t argue, just left early. I bet some women heard that exchange and thought “but it doesn’t work”. So maybe I made a couple people change tracks. I like to think so, anyway.

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  • EP2016

    It just can’t be good to keep sighing and nodding to these people when they talk about energy fields and purification of toxins in the body by foot baths and goddamn kale n shit. At some point we have to just say that this is all hokum and be done with it. So a little self dignity for us and yes, the other thing is that there could be someone in the crowd who is afraid to speak up to the snake oil salesmen/women, ignorant airheads and magical powers wannabes, and these poor shy types must be bowled over to see someone else do it for them!

    I say it’s setting a good example.

    In fact, I think women in social situations are startled to hear another woman declare herself an atheist and then proceed to expound upon ethical issues including what is right and wrong, valuable and not valuable, and what is good and what is bad and unacceptable.

    We need to grab the high moral ground away from those who claim it now but are little more than charlatans and misogynistic control freaks.

    I think that one of the most important statements we can say to women is that they should not herd their children into religious membership just by default. They are NOT doing those kids any favors. They don’t need it and they can do much better on their own. These statements take women by surprise. Somehow they haven’t even thought of striking out on their own. I always assure women that they are excellent mothers and they know very well how to teach their children right and wrong all by themselves.

    We don’t need old men in lace dresses telling us how to raise our kids or how many kids we have to have. Go light some stinking incense, ring a ding your bells and count how much money you got in the collection plate last Sunday. Bizarre people. Fade away into the dust of time and do us all a favor.

    It used to be that family social activities were all organized around the church but now that’s not the case. Women can have totally secular social lives so I think it’s a hopeful sign for more women leaving the church.

    Plant the seeds of ideas. Even if they don’t accept the ideas right away, the ideas will sit in the back of their minds until a time that they may come to fruition.

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  • @ Ep2016: Should be “women atheists WERE considered monsters” since he’s talking about the 19th century.

    Ep makes a point we should not ignore in this discussion. Until the middle of the 20th century nearly everyone in the world was “religious” with the exception of small pockets of intellectuals and eccentric freethinkers mostly emerging in the 18th and 19th centuries. While it is true that many folks cared little for worship services, active church affiliation, or troubling their minds much thinking about God and the afterlife, nearly all accepted the theological premises of the Christian Faith. God created the world, Jesus died for our sins, and Divine Judgement awaited us after death. No matter how indifferent, profane or libertine the ordinary person acted in life, it was crucial to get right with God on one’s deathbed.

    Often overlooked, religion played an integral role in constructing identity with family, ethnicity, community, society, culture, and tribe or nation state. Modern atheists regard “Christianity” as a bundle of propositions to be debated; the traditional inhabitants of what used to be called Christendom before the 20th century regarded “Christianity” as a holistic identity that enfolded their being. What we atheists often fail to realize is that when we gratuitously attack a Christian, whether the pious or more cultural variety, we are not just criticizing a belief system – we are threatening personal identity with foul, evil insults of their God.

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  • ‘Women Atheists Are Genuinely Considered Monsters’

    We could expect no less from god-delusions!

    Atheist mothers, have not only have killed off any god-delusions in themselves, but in all likelihood, will actively oppose any god-delusions which are trying to possess and dominate their children!

    This is a “monstrous genocide of the god-memes”, and a threat of their extinction! –
    Think of all the extinct gods from history which no longer have human hosts to live in!
    In many cases their hosts were killed by the mind-slaves of rival god-delusions, or forced to hand their children over for indoctrination and possession.

    Of course these parasites are offended and threatened, by the very existence of such atheist people who have resistance or immunity!

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  • 16
    Pinball1970 says:

    Get Francesca Stavrakopoulou over to the states for a few interviews and debates.

    The theists will struggle making a monster label stick to her.

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  • Before 1900 and predominately before the 1960s, atheism had few representatives in human
    populations (exceptions are noted). Most people were either staunch believers or in solidarity with them. Partially for the reasons cited in the article, women expressed more religious devotion and active affiliation than men. Charged with the procreation and nurturing of children in large families, women tended to confine themselves to the domestic sphere, homemaking, household chores, cooking, childcare, etc. To be sure many women worked or had to work outside the home but mostly in lower level jobs to “put food on the table.”

    It seemed intuitively obvious to the religious consensus of societies in prior centuries to privilege Christian institutions and the Divine commandments church teaching promulgated as crucial to maintaining social order, cohesion and progress. Legislatures and courts acted to promote righteous Christian values through laws, sanctions and subsidies for the “good of the community” and viewed atheism as “ungodly” (evil) subversion of social order.

    Women in particular had to be “protected” – kept pure within the bounds of Holy Matrimony for procreative and Christian-guided child rearing purposes. (This was the “official” ideal of course).

    Ironically, we modern atheists have turned this historical dynamic on its head. Historically, traditional Christianity equated atheism with moral depravity. Christians did not entertain the intellectual content of atheism at all. Only after Newton, Darwin, Einstein, et, al. revealed nature and the cosmos to be founded on observed or mathematically operative empirical processes devoid of supernatural intervention, did consensus change to accept scientific explanations of phenomena instead of scriptural accounts based on Divine authority.

    In my opinion, believers (Christians, Muslims, etc.) should not be given the impression that we are out to “get them,” silence them, persecute them or merely ridicule them. Atheism is an intellectual project drawing on evidence and inference from a scientific approach to understanding how the world and the universe works. Over time, scientific explanations will penetrate human consciousness more and more, gradually substantiating the atheist worldview and eroding what made “intuitive” sense for millennia in the faith conditioned mind.

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  • 19
    Pinball1970 says:


    And Marie Curie?

    Not many Nobel prize winners in two different scientific disciplines.

    If they are monsters then they are smart ones

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