July 16, 2014

U.S. evangelical Christians are chilly toward atheists – and the feeling is mutual

White Evangelical Protestants, Atheists Give Each Other Cold RatingsThe feelings that members of America’s religious groups have about one another run from warm to neutral to cold, but some of the chilliest attitudes found in a new Pew Research Center survey were between evangelicals and atheists.

We asked Americans to rate eight religious groups on a “feeling thermometer” from 0 to 100, with higher numbers indicating warmer, more positive feelings and lower numbers indicating colder, more negative feelings. On average, Catholics give atheists a rating of 38, and Protestants give them a frosty 32 – lower than either group’s ratings for Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Mormons or Muslims. White evangelical Protestants express particularly cold feelings toward atheists, with an average thermometer reading of 25.

For their part, atheists are similarly chilly toward evangelical Christians, who receive an average rating of 28 from atheists. (Respondents were asked to rate “evangelical Christians” on the feeling thermometer. White evangelical Protestants analyzed here are a subset of this group.) Overall, atheists express somewhat more positive feelings toward Catholics (47). Atheists give Hindus a relatively warm rating of 58, Jews a 61 and Buddhists a toasty 69. Granted, these groups are, like atheists, small minorities in the United States, and atheists may feel especially close to Buddhism because it often is viewed as a nontheistic religion that does not require belief in a divine creator. Some mutual warmth between atheists and Jews also is apparent: While atheists give Jews a 61, Jews give atheists a 55 – the warmest rating that atheists get from any group other than agnostics, those who claim no particular religion and atheists themselves.

While a number of religious groups harbored cool feelings toward atheists, Muslims are the only religious group that received uniformly negative ratings of 50 degrees or fewer from all the groups large enough to analyze. (The survey’s nationwide sample of 3,217 adults does not include enough Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Mormons to be able to tell how members of those faiths feel toward U.S. religious groups.) 

When Americans consider religious groups other than their own, Jews receive the warmest overall ratings – an average of 63 – followed by a 58 rating of Catholics by all non-Catholics. One-in-ten Americans (10%) rate Jews coldly (33 or below), which is lower than the percentage who give similarly cold ratings to all of the other groups. Among all the religious groups in the survey, white evangelical Protestants express some of the most positive feelings toward Jews, an average rating of 69. The feeling, however, is not mutual. Jews give evangelical Christians a 34 – among the lowest they give any group.

Evangelicals’ positive feelings toward Jews may not be surprising, given the role of Judaism in the history of Christianity and the place of Jews in the Bible. Born-again or evangelical Christians tend to express a strong belief in the Bible as the word of God, and in a survey we conducted last year, a substantial majority of white evangelicals (82%) said that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

The reasons for Jews’ relatively cold feelings toward evangelicals are not as clear. Possible explanations could include differences over proselytism (evangelicals often seek converts, while Jews traditionally do not), separation of church and state, and politics in general (evangelicals tend to be conservative, while U.S. Jews are mostly liberal).

How People of Different Religions View Each Other

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Catholics and Catholicism, Evangelical Protestants and Evangelicalism, Mormons and Mormonism, Jews and Judaism, Religiously Unaffiliated, Buddhists and Buddhism, Hindus and Hinduism

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Ian Newton2 years ago

    I’ve found this to be true as I look into the Evangelical and Atheist areas of YouTube.

  2. Eric3 years ago

    A major reason why Evangelicals like Jews and Jews don’t like Evangelicals.
    According to the Rapture, Jesus will return to Earth once the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem and populated by Jews. The Jews will be given a choice of convert or be damned for eternity.
    So, if there is no Temple rebuilt and there are no Jews to populate it with, then Jesus will not return. I suppose the Jews don’t like Evangelicals because they realize that Evangelicals “need” for them to be there so the prophecy plays out.

  3. rob3 years ago

    I have no idea what pew research definition of the word evangelical is ..

    ALSO the Christian church body’s I identy

    1. Steven Borthick3 years ago

      Considering Pew Research tries to stay as unbiased as possible (which is why they’re highly regarded as a respectable research organization), it seems safe to say that they let the poll-takers classify themselves.

      If I took that as a question, rather than the statement you made, I would e-mail Michael Lipka to find out the answer, as both his e-mail and his Twitter handle are listed. Then, I would probably come back here, post a comment about “how he defined an evangelical Christian as opposed to a non-evangelical”. Finally, I would ensure that my post was fully coherent. “ALSO the Christian church body’s I identy” <– I don't care about other people's spelling or grammar too much, but what does that even mean? I know you meant to type "identity", but that still doesn't form a coherent sentence, in the least.

  4. Erk3 years ago

    It would be interesting to see how much different the results might have been if the poll questions had been phrased so as to distinguish clearly between the respondent’s opinion of *people* within each group, versus the respondent’s perception of those people’s *theology* or *behavior*. (And yes, such a distinction can be made; it is possible to feel warmly toward someone whose actions we consider reprehensible.) Still, as a conservative evangelical myself, I’m embarrassed, even saddened, by some of these numbers – it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that we Christians (and I stand guilty as charged here) too often do a poor job of following and representing the Jesus of the New Testament, Who didn’t seem to mind hanging out even with people whose beliefs and lifestyles He disagreed with. If you’re an atheist, a Muslim, a Hindu, or a Buddhist, please forgive us.

    1. Eli Jackson3 years ago

      Remember my brother, first of all as written in 1st Corinthians, do not bring up what dispersions and disagreements you have in the church with the world.
      You make public to the unbeliever what you should take only God and the brethren, and air your dirty laundry, casting your pearls before the swine.
      That’s sin brother, get away from it.

      And furthermore to your point brother, remember what our Lord did say and make the distinction: That is He didn’t say to the adulterous woman he saved from stoning, ‘Go, do what you will, and have a party”
      No sir, What’d He say then?
      “Go, And sin no more.”

      If you leave out the latter then they are yet in sin, if you believe on the Lord and repent of your sins then you SHALL be saved, but without repentance is no remission of sins.
      And to deliver half the Gospel is not the Gospel at all, but that which is fashioned of devils.

      Brother, what good does it do they that are perishing to get along with them? For them to gain the whole world, and lose their very souls, if you label yourself ‘Christian’ then you take on the mantle of Christ and say you are His, as He is yours, and if you loved Him you would keep His commandments, obey them. (John 14:15-31)

      And so you entitle yourself furthermore as ‘evangelical’ which is good, for He commands us to go into all nations preaching the Gospel as we go, and yet you focus not on evangelism and the salvation of them that are perishing, dead in trespasses and sin.
      Brother, don’t do that, don’t be lukewarm, He’ll spit you out, spew you out, no, obey His Word, put Him before you, put on your Cross and follow Him, for the burden of the Lord is little, that’s a cross that will lift you up rather than wear you down.
      God bless you brother

      1. RudyM3 years ago

        Exhibit A.

        1. Steven Borthick3 years ago

          Hahaha. You can’t fix a person’s brain. All you can do is try to reeducate. Stupid people think, “it takes one to know one,” but in reality, a stupid person can be identified when, “stupid is as stupid does.” Only when a person is introduced to higher thinking AND acknowledges it, does the person recognize their place. In an ideal world, after that recognition, they would strive to improve.

  5. Bwin3 years ago

    Mormons and Muslims are not loved by either group.

  6. somebodythatiusedtoknow3 years ago

    I’m not sure where Packard Day is getting the idea that atheism requires some sublime faith, it simply means that I do not believe in a god or gods. It does not mean that I make the claim that there is no god, it simply means I do not believe in one. Gnosticism deals with knowledge while Theism deals with belief, which are two different things. We are all agnostic, whether we are theist or atheist (Someone who believes in god would then be an agnostic theist, because they believe in god even if it isn’t knowable whether or not that god exists…that’s why religion requires faith. I am an agnostic atheist, because I do not believe in, neither do I know if there is a god.)

    And Atheists don’t like evangelicals because they tend to be the most abrasive religious group in the US. I’ve had a street preacher tell me that I am a wicked and evil person simply because anyone that doesn’t believe in his god cannot be moral, which is not exactly something you want to say to me if you don’t want me having a negative opinion of you and your hateful, dehumanizing belief system. Let’s not even get started on the fact that they’re usually the most adamant about making the US a “christian nation”, or at least trying to pretend that that is how we were founded. I can’t stand when they try to get creationism thrown in the same bin as the actual scientific theory of evolution and their odd fixation with the idea that science is an affront to their beliefs. I’ll like them a lot better when they stop trying to codify their beliefs into laws that I’m forced to obey.

    I can definitely understand the high rating of Jews and Buddhists. Neither one goes out threatening everyone who believes differently from them with torture and damnation, and neither is focused on recruiting others to their side, so I definitely have lot of respect for them.

    1. Steven Borthick3 years ago

      The next time a Christian tries to tell you (or anyone else reading this) that the United States was founded on Christianity because almost all of our Founding Fathers were Christians, point out to them these things:

      * The British, which we revolted from, were also Christians.
      * Our Founding Fathers did not want a religiously-dictated tyrannical form of government and popes, as almost all of the kings and queens of European nations did, historically. (That’s why the 1st Amendment is worded, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”)
      * More than half of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons, which has a strong tendency to be tolerant of all Theists, historically. (So is it any surprise that the Freemasonic pyramid and “eye of god” was on the dollar bill before “In God We Trust” was? Also, Jesus is never mentioned in the Constitution. “Thank God.”)
      * Our beloved Pledge of Allegiance did not have “under god” in the first few revisions.
      * John Adams, Founding Father, Freemason, when writing to the Muslims in the Treaty of Tripoli, said, “The United States is not, in any sense, founded on the religion of Christianity.” (Other historical men have said otherwise, but John Adams is, by far, one of the top respected original American politicians, whom can be trusted to know what he’s talking about.)
      * The first three of the 10 Commandments have no place in American politics, and can not be applied to morals as they pertain to human relationships. (But perhaps spiritual, if there’s such thing as spirit. If anyone asserts that there is, kindly ask, “Can I get a citation from a respectable Scientist’s experiments using empirical evidence for your assertation, please?” Even if they even understand that, they’ll always fail.)

  7. Packard Day3 years ago

    If Evangelical Christians thought about it, they would be forced to acknowledge the common ground that practicing Atheists share with them. Both groups require their members to possess a passion, a conviction, and above all, a sublime faith in what neither truly knows. (To my EC friends, the discipline needed to believe in nothing is not as easy as it looks.) So, being either an EC or Atheist is not for the squishy minded. Both take work.
    My counsel to both groups is to save your contempt for your Agnostic neighbors. Now there’s a group of lazy ne’er do wells if ever there was one. All they are doing is seeking to cover “Pascal’s Wager”… just in case life and death eventually rises up to surprise them.

    1. Joseph Sonners1 year ago

      As an atheist I take umbrage to your assumption. My position requires no work. I don’t believe in anything unless there is enough evidence to convince me otherwise. I don’t think about an afterlife because nothing compels me to think about it. I worry about it just as much as an elk does. I prefer not to save my contempt for anyone. Everyone has their own journey in life to find purpose even if they never think twice about why they’re on their journey and who/what selected it for them.

  8. Douglas McFarland3 years ago

    I would really prefer to consider each person individually rather than by their religion, ethnicity, or any other arbitrary designation. I imagine there might be more evangelicals or muslims that I don’t care for than other religions but I haven’t met them yet so I don’t know. All the muslims and evangelicals I have met seemed like people I would hang out with again.

    I am an atheist. It isn’t anything I have any control over. I was an atheist before I knew the word atheist. I was reading a Children’s Illustrated Bible and I realized I didn’t believe those stories anymore than The Magic Fish or Ferdinand The Bull. I reasoned that I shouldn’t say that I believed in god because I didn’t and if by some chance god did exist he would know I was lying anyway so what would be the use. I could say I believe all day long but I know I don’t so best to just accept that in my case. That’s how I see it.