PEW Survey on Atheist In-Law January 21, 2010

PEW Survey on Atheist In-Law

by Jesse Galef –

You guys love polls about religious attitudes, right?  Of course you do, how silly of me to ask – everyone loves polling data!  It’s so intoxicating to go digging through the numbers, finding information about the world… that’s not just me, right?  …Guys?

I was thrilled to read that Religion News Service reports the PEW Research Center has a new poll asking how Americans would feel if a family member married an atheist.  Unfortunately, my perverse pleasure will have to be put on hold until they publish the full report on the PEW website.  For now, I’ll have to do with the information RNS is releasing:

Seven in 10 Americans associated with a religion said they would either be bothered, but come to accept [a relative marrying an atheist] (43 percent) or not ever accept (27 percent) it, the poll found.

Meanwhile, slightly more than a quarter of religious Americans (27 percent) said they “would be fine” with a relative marrying a person who did not believe in God.

In general, people who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to approve of marriage to a nonbeliever: 16 percent of weekly worshippers would be fine with a marriage to an atheist, compared to 36 percent of people who attend less frequently.

It looks like the survey can tell us about how various ethnicities and levels of religious involvement answer the question, and most polls include age. I’m dying to dig into the data to see how various groups feel about their relatives marrying an atheist.

I’m not troubled by the 43% of Americans who would be initially bothered by the notion of having an atheist in-law. I can understand that religious parents could be bothered by their children marrying someone who doesn’t seem to share the same values and traditions. I’m sure some of the negative feelings stem from the “in-group/out-group” drive to be wary of people who are different and unfamiliar.

The solution? More interaction between religious individuals and nontheists. We need to change their misconception that we’re all horrid, malicious baby-eaters (just some of us *cough* Hemant *cough* … just kidding). If that’s their view of us – and it often is – of course they’ll be uncomfortable with the idea of us being part of the family! Hopefully, as more Americans realize that we’re decent human beings who share most of their values, they’ll come to see us as less of a strange “other.”

Of course, it’s not quite that simple (it never is, is it?) I’m sure there are some deeply religious Americans who would still be horrified by my values after learning who I am. I trust in science but not a God, I believe abortions should be legal in many circumstances, and I think gays should be allowed to marry. These are legitimate differences.

But I would hope that everyone would be able to accept an atheist in-law because it’s who their relatives love and choose to marry.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • nan

    I can definitely sympathize with their attitude. All I have to do is imagine my son or daughter coming home with a Christian Fundamentalist and I break out in a cold sweat. I would probably “come around” eventually…I hope.

  • Recently, I saw the classic film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” about a liberal couple who tries to accept their (Caucasian) daughter’s upcoming marriage to a black man.
    I agree with Nan, tho, in that I, too, would freak if the situations were reversed, but at least wouldn’t damn my kid to hell.
    .-= Sarah Trachtenberg´s last blog ..Atheists who swing to the right =-.

  • I have to agree, nan.

    I married into a very religious family, but my husband is atheist, too. (And that’s what pushing religion down one’s throat gets you, parents!)

    In talking with them regarding another “in-law”, I found that they are more disturbed about the son that married a Unitarian than the one that married a non-believer. Apparently, it scarier to believe in the ‘wrong thing’ than nothing at all.

    Go figure.

  • Phaz

    I believe that data is from page 28 of this poll

  • Color me as another who experienced a bit of a shudder at the thought of my sons marrying fundamentalists. I’m trying to imagine them introducing their two moms to the prospective in-laws.
    .-= Mouse´s last blog ..Green: And baby makes four =-.

  • nan

    I think the difference is our fears of a potential Fundamentalist in-law is grounded in experience and reality. We have seen and read for ourselves what they are about. (Yes,of course, there are “nice” Fundamentalists)Fear of atheism is usually grounded in ignorance.

  • Ron in Houston

    I’ll bet lots of folks already have this situation and don’t know it.

  • aerie

    Being a former fundie, I would guess that many fundie parents would reluctantly accept an atheist with the mindset that they could eventually proselytize & pray enough to ‘convert’ the poor little non-believer and all would be good again. I’m sure a lot of us know how they think having been on that side at one pt. in our lives.

  • muggle

    I too have to confess that I would not be cool with a fundy son/daughter-in-law (my daughter’s bi). They would have to win me over.

    My daughter dated a very religious Catholic man for a while and I somewhat withheld judgement because I promised to when she asked. Told her I smelled trouble and then let it go which is saying something for me because it was her choice. Um, trouble didn’t take long. Because he didn’t stay cool with either her nonbelief (he definitely wasn’t cool with mine from the get-go but I sat back and let him do all the open hating and hang himself with it) or her expecting to be on equal footing with him rather than a submissive woman. Frankly, I think that’s what he lost her with in the end. That and the open hostility towards her Mom.

    My Christian in-laws (exception: one aunt and uncle who were cool with me to the day he died, far as I know she still is but we were shut out of the funeral and not sure she even got the condolences we sent for her husband, they were married around 50 years) were definitely not cool with his marrying an Agnostic but seemed to accept until baby made three and we refused to Baptize her. Gave that fight up but when we divorced I became the devil’s daughter, of course. LOL!

    I didn’t give a hoot about that after all blood is thicker than water and all that but it did piss me off that they threw my daughter into being the spawn of Satan category too pretty much. After all, she too was blood.

  • Veronica

    Someone on the thread included Unitarians as believers, but what I’ve read is that although they may believe, what do they believe in? Anything they want is the answer. But anything is not God.