Millennials Feel the Same Way About Atheists, Muslims, and Evangelicals

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According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, younger Americans rate atheists, Muslims, and evangelical Christians at roughly the same level on a “feeling thermometer” between 0 and 100. While every single faith group mentioned in the survey gets higher marks than in 2014, atheists and Muslims have risen particularly sharply in popularity, and among young people they are roughly as popular as evangelical Christians and mainline Protestants.

Young people (ages 18-29) rate Buddhists highest (a score of 66), with Catholics and Hindus tied in second place (64) and Jews a close third (62 percent). Atheists, evangelical Christians, and mainline Protestants all scored a 59, with Muslims slightly behind (58). Mormons were the least popular, at 54.

The elderly (65 plus) put mainline Protestants at the top (75), with Jews right behind (74), and Catholics in third (71). They rate evangelical Christians (67) more than twenty points above Muslims and atheists (each 44). Mormons (59), Buddhists (58), and Hindus (56) took middle rankings.

Since 2014, Americans’ perception of each group has increased, with the exception of evangelical Christians, who remain at 61. Atheists and Muslims each enjoy a large leap, from 41 to 50 and from 40 to 48, respectively. Overall, Jews (67), Catholics (66), and mainline Protestants (65) enjoy high marks, with Buddhists (60), Hindus (58), and Mormons (54) still ranking higher than Muslims and atheists.

Perhaps most remarkable is the divide between those who identified as Democrat or lean Democrat and those who said they were Republican or lean Republican. Among Republicans, evangelical Christians rank highest, at 71. Among Democrats, however, they take second-to-last, at 53. Only Mormons rank lower, at 52.

Democrats view atheists and Muslims as above average positive (57 and 56, respectively), while Republicans place them at the bottom of the religious spectrum (43 and 39, respectively).

When broken down by religious affiliation, a clear anger dynamic emerges between white evangelical Protestants and self-described atheists. White evangelicals give atheists their lowest score, a 33, while atheists give evangelical Christians their lowest score, a 29. Meanwhile, evangelical Christians find their highest rating from white evangelicals (81), and atheists find theirs among other atheists (82).

Interestingly, agnostics rate Buddhists (73) higher than atheists (70). Besides this, every group views their own best. Also, white evangelicals gave Muslims their lowest score (37), while black Protestants gave them their highest (60). This racial disparity makes sense in light of the racial activism of prominent black Muslims such as Malcolm X.

Americans, like everyone else, have difficulty understanding the faith of others, but it may not be surprising to find that the largest disparities in outlook come between the young and the old, and Republicans and Democrats. These differences are important to keep in mind, given America’s increasing polarization.

Democrats and young people need to learn the virtues of evangelical Christians, while Republicans and the elderly might need to warm towards atheists and Muslims. Not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all atheists are a threat to religious faith. Similarly, not all evangelicals supported Donald Trump.

Americans should strive for mutual understanding, even though there may be some divisions which cannot be bridged.