Casey Cep, reviewing some new books on atheism (and atheism_s_), considers the American attitude toward atheism.
Particularly notable to me was this passage, identifying one of the core charges levied against atheists, that to not believe in God means you can’t be moral.
Lack of belief in God is still too often taken to mean the absence of any other meaningful moral beliefs, and that has made atheists an easy minority to revile. This is especially true in America, where an insistence on the idea that we are a Christian nation has tied patriotism to religiosity.
Two more excerpts:
Few, if any, of those prosecuted for violating Sabbatarian or blasphemy laws actually identified as atheists, but that didn’t stop their critics from denouncing them as such. Indeed, the charge of atheism became a convenient means of discrediting nontheological beliefs, including anarchism, radicalism, socialism, and feminism.
Christians ignorant of their own history, for instance, will be surprised to learn that their earliest ancestors in the faith were themselves ridiculed as “atheists” because they refused to participate in polytheistic worship: in Greek, atheos means “without gods,” not anti-God. Meanwhile, those who came to atheism via the new atheists might be startled to find that many of their intellectual forebears did not wage war on religion, or even feel any distaste for it.