Somebody named Timur Kuran has a book out that atheists should probably take note of, especially atheists who are interested in winning social acceptance for freethinking.
The book’s thesis is that when people are surrounded by instances of people expressing a certain opinion, they themselves are often swayed toward that opinion, even if it’s not as widespread as it appears, due to “preference falsification” (people claiming to believe something or like something because they perceive it to be socially unacceptable not to do so).
So “political correctness” (not just a lefty thing, but something found in every social stratum) causes people to pretend to think or feel a certain way, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as people’s minds are shaped by the perceived predominance of such preferences — they start thinking the emperor really does have some nice new clothes.
But things can change quickly, if the dominant paradigm is tossed out (as, for example, Communism was). What does this mean for atheists? Well, it means a lot of religious (or anti-atheist) sentiment might be paper-thin — people are going along with it because it’s their perception that it’s not politically correct to do otherwise.
It also means that if it becomes more and more acceptable to be atheist, things might reach a “tipping point” (dragging in yet another pop-sociology concept) where atheism could become much more widely accepted. Especially if religion becomes noticeably less revered — and the pedophile priests and rentboy Republicans are certainly helping to set that ball in motion.
(pic via Joy Erickson)