More On "Hostility to Atheists"

I remarked (not particularly seriously) below on Professor Eugene Volokh's "Hostility to Atheists" post. He's followed up with another article on the topic. He begins:

Quite a few of the comments to my earlier posts suggested that there isn't that much wrong with people saying that they had an "unfavorable" view of atheists, or that they wouldn't consider voting for an atheist candidate. Let's say that the posts were instead about Jews, not about atheists, …
Whoa. Let's not say that. It's simply not illuminating to set up a parallel between an ethnic group and a group of people who simply share a belief (or, more accurately I guess, disbelief).

Even if (as Eugene clarifies in an update) he's specifically trying to "focus this on attitudes towards people who are Jewish by religion, rather than by ethnicity," it's a parallel that generates more heat than light.

Look: generally speaking, it's OK to dislike a person based on his beliefs. And by extension, it's OK to dislike a group of people based on their shared beliefs. It may not be nice to do that, but it's OK. Needless to say, it's usually not OK to extend this principle beyond mere dislike.

This is, of course, distinct from bigotry, which generally bases dislike on features over which the target has no control (race, ethnicity, physical appearance, etc.). It is, at worst, stereotyping, betting that an individual shares the (perceived) typical properties of the group to which they belong. That's not great, but it's not a call to break out the drum and bugle corps of moral indignation, either.

I can't help but be reminded of George H. W. Bush's semi-famous interview with Robert I. Sherman of (I am not kidding) American Atheist Press back in 1987. (Source here.)

"Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?"
"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
"Do you support as a sound constitutional principle the separation of state and church?"
"Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists."
Now Bush's first response is (to my mind) thoughtless and stupid. But his second response, I tend to smile at. Just not very high on atheists. Heh.

I say all this as someone who's not particularly religious himself. And I get along OK with a lot of atheists myself. But of all the things Prof Volokh might worry about, this would seem as if it should be pretty far down the list.

Last Modified 2006-01-06 2:48 PM EDT