A 2006study in American Sociological Review shows that, while both divisions among American Christians and negative perceptions between people of different faiths are eroding, there is still one group that Americans don’t trust: those who choose to remain outside of communities of belief. Further research shows that atheists are perceived about as favorably as Muslims. Not believing in God constitutes a social mōs on par with one of the most maligned religious groups in the current American zeitgeist. (At least one op-ed has called for a political alliance between Muslims and atheists on the grounds that much of the current vitriol in American politics is aimed at these two groups.)
The most fascinating question here falls outside of quantitative analysis: what does an atheist look like?
Toward the end of last semester, a student walked through the door at St. Francis House, the campus ministry I serve, and abruptly stopped, standing inside the entryway. Frozen. I was passing through the space, which connects the chapel and the lounge, and stopped to introduce myself. "What brings you in today?" I asked him.