WaPo's "On Faith" blog is using Ricky Gervais' new show about atheism to discuss the place of atheists in American society. "Queer atheist" Chris Steadman compares the issue to the struggle for gay rights:
Because we represent such a small sliver of the American population and are often seen in a negative light, I believe that it is imperative that atheists make themselves known. A 2010 Gallup poll demonstrated something the LGBTQ community has recognized for some time: people are significantly more inclined to oppose gay marriage if they do not know anyone who is gay.
Similarly, a Time Magazine cover story last year featured revealing numbers that speak volumes about the correlation between positive relationships and civic support; per their survey, 46 percent of Americans think Islam is more violent than other faiths and 61 percent oppose Park51 (or the “Ground Zero Mosque”), but only 37 percent even know a Muslim American. Another survey released around the same time, by Pew, reported that 55 percent of Americans know “not very much” or “nothing at all” about Islam.
The disconnect is clear-when only 37 percent of Americans know a Muslim American, and 55 percent claim to know very little or nothing about Islam, the negative stereotypes about the Muslim community go unchallenged. The same logic can be extended to atheists-the fewer relationships we have with people of faith, the worse our image will be. But it isn’t enough that religious people know atheists-the quality of the relationships that exist between atheists and the religious makes a significant difference in undoing anti-atheist attitudes.