Why do people hate atheists so much? Whom have we harmed? I’ve read (in an L. A. Times article by Sam Harris), that less than 10% of Americans consider themselves Athiests. Why, then, do people consider us such a threat? It seems to me, through surfing the web and looking at recent book publications, that some people think there is some kind of war going on between atheists and christians. I’m literally afraid to tell people that I am an atheist, for fear of persecution. Christians teach that their followers will be harshly persecuted out in the “real world” (I mean, this is what I was taught, growing up in a Southern Baptist household), but seriously, I think atheists have it worse, as far as discrimination goes. So, what did we ever do to deserve this? I don’t hate people of other religions, in fact, I encourage them, like you seem to be doing, to completely understand their own religion, using logic and evidence. If they reach a different conclusion than I have, then that’s great for them! I don’t know why, or maybe who? , has made them think of us as evil, faith-stealing and immoral. I even go to church sometimes! Just because I respect my family and like to spend time with them. There are even people there at the church that I greatly respect and like to hang out with… so… what’s the deal? And how do we get people to NOT want to kill us?
There’s a lot of complexity in what you ask, so I’ll do my best to put it in a nutshell.
There are a number of reasons that some religions people dislike — even hate — atheists. The most common I see are (in no particular order):
1) The only atheists they have experience with are rude, abusive, or immoral.
2) All they know about atheism is what they have been taught by people who paint atheism in a negative light or what they have read in the newspaper.
3) They assume that atheists dislike or hate them.
4) They feel that atheism is a challenge to their beliefs or a condemnation of their way of life.
5) They don’t understand atheism and are therefore made uncomfortable by it.
None of these are good reasons, but most of them can be tempered by atheists who are demonstrably respectful, intelligent, and moral.
Some religious people feel that their religion is under attack by atheists because of recent legal issues involving separation of church and state. They do not understand that removing religion from government isn’t condemning religion or trying to eliminate it. The situation is made worse by individuals and government agencies (particularly public schools) that have swung too far in the other direction — by not allowing children to read a Bible in school, for example.
The popularity of recent pro-atheist books have also made some religious people feel attacked because, well, the books attack religious people.
But for all their claims of persecution, you are correct that atheists are still a minority (although a growing one), and that it’s much, much harder to find an example of a Christian being significantly discriminated against by an atheist, than an atheist being significantly discriminated against by a Christian. In fact, I can’t think of a single recent incident in which a Christian was discriminated against simply for being a Christian (as opposed to discrimination or other negative effects related to proselytizing, civil disobedience, etc.)
Your final point, that atheists have done nothing to deserve the hatred they sometimes receive, is both right and wrong. The problem is that there are both good and bad atheists, just as there are good and bad religious people. That’s why being anti-atheists is bigotry — it judges all atheists, no matter what an individual atheist’s merits might be.
The best we can do, I think, is try to live a moral life and encourage people of all beliefs to think carefully about their morals and ethics. This way, we can all grow together into a more understanding society.