ELLSWORTH, Maine — When people are asked their opinions of atheists in surveys, they rate them on the same level as rapists, according to University of Tampa professor and author Ryan T. Cragun.
“If you say you’re an atheist, people don’t like you,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Cragun, 36, of Tampa, studies the sociology of religion. His latest book, “What You Don’t Know About Religion (but Should),” was released earlier this week.
The author will speak at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at the Ellsworth Library, 20 State St., in a talk sponsored by Downeast Humanists and Freethinkers.
Raised in Utah in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he now considers himself an atheist, Cragun said.
His new book uses data to compare the views of members’ fundamentalist, moderate and liberal religions with the views of non-believers. Levels of education, income and health, along with attitudes toward women and race, are compared.
“What the numbers tell us about religious and nonreligious individuals could be a bit controversial,” he said Thursday. “Nonreligious people would make pretty good neighbors. Fundamentalists might not.”
Cragun said that people who are part of liberal religious traditions in the United States, such as Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ and Reform Judaism, have similar education and income levels to those who claim no religious affiliation, he said. They also have similar income levels, both of which are higher than the national average.
“Fundamentalists tend to be more racist and sexist than the nonreligious,” the author said. “They also are the least well educated and the poorest in the population.”
Cragun said that one of the major reasons New England, where church attendance is the lowest in the nation with Maine dead last, is so secular is the loss of a large number of Catholics over the past 20 years.
“Between the mid-1990s and 2008, about 1 million Catholics left the church but did not join other religions,” he said. “New England did not have a large influx of Latinos to offset that loss the way other parts of the country did.”
Cragun also said that although more people identify themselves as “spiritual,” there has not been an increase in membership of New Age religions.
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