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In the strictest terms, the word “atheist” refers to a person who does not believe in any god, for whatever reason. For some atheists, the term is a mere description; they are not religious and give little more thought to the subject. Another group of atheists actively attempts to resist religion and objects to its place in the daily life of the country. Most Americans who call themselves atheists risk extreme social disapproval by doing so.

Although atheists, like many religions, have their own organizations and periodicals, they have never made much of a dent on American public opinion. Even people who have no interest in religion are more likely to call themselves “agnostics,” a term that connotes the state of not knowing whether a god exists rather than a strong belief that no god exists. A further group, unaffiliated with organized religion, evinces a belief in a “higher being” and hence qualify as neither atheists nor agnostics.

Deeply religious Americans consider atheists a sorry, benighted, unenlightened group of people. Even Americans for whom religion has little place in their lives (a solid third of the population) somehow draw the line at associating any positive good with atheism.

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