It’s no secret that many people — especially those with religious affiliations — have a lower level of trust for atheists and non-believers.
Perhaps it’s the notion that those who lack a faith have, from the view of believers, no basis from which to secure a moral framework. Or maybe it’s just a lack of familiarity with those who lack spiritual guidance. Either way, polls and studies continue to make this pattern evident.
Yet another round of research is corroborating this notion, but with a bizarre twist. A new Canadian study claims to be one of the first psychological looks into the prejudice that many say exists against atheists and non-believers.
According to National Journal, researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon have conducted a series of studies that further expose the deep distrust that exists against atheists. Considering that non-believers are a growing minority, this is certainly an interesting trend.
A belief in a higher power, specifically one that is built on a moral code that is laid out in written form (i.e. the Bible), provides followers with moral parameters. Atheists, who lack such a code, are often seen as potentially being open to anything; they’re essentially “unpredictable” in the eyes of adherents. HotAir.com’s Allah Pundit, though, refutes this theory:
That logic, that nonbelievers are less trustworthy because there’s no fear of damnation keeping them on the straight and narrow, gets thrown at atheists a lot and it never fails to make me nervous about the person who’s throwing it. There always seems to be an implicit threat to it — that if that person should lose his faith and the accompanying dread of hellfire, he might be capable of anything. That’s not how it works for most of us atheists, but if you think that’s how it might work for you, give the rest of the population a heads up if/when you start to have religious doubts so that we can prepare for your impending rampage.
Some may contend that the discrimination that is purported to exist against atheists is overblown, but a Gallup poll (via Reason) from earlier this year seems to show an inherent bias — at least when it comes to electoral politics. People, as you will see below, are less likely to vote for atheists than they are for women, blacks, Baptists, Jews, Mormons and gays:
“There’s this persistent belief that people behave better if they feel like God is watching them,” said Will Gervais, a doctoral candidate in the social psychology department at UBC (he also was the lead author of the study). “So if you’re playing by those rules, you’re going to see other people’s religious beliefs as signals of how trustworthy they might be.”
The paper (PDF copy can be read here), which recaps Gervais’ research, is published in the current online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The piece includes six studies, which are all designed to measure peoples’ perceptions regarding how trustworthy non-believers are.
National Journal reports:
The first study asked 351 Americans from across the country to compare the trustworthiness of an atheist and a gay man, since both represent groups often described as threatening to majority religious values. They rated atheists significantly higher than gay men on distrust, though lower on levels of disgust.
The second study recruited 105 UBC undergrads —they purposely targeted a more liberal sample from a less-religious nation — to test whether distrust of atheists is more pronounced than distrust of other groups, including Muslims. The students read a description of an untrustworthy man who pretended to leave insurance information after backing his car into a parked vehicle and were asked to say whether it was more likely the man was either a Christian, Muslim, rapist or an atheist. People were far more likely to say he was either an atheist or a rapist and not part of a religious group. They did not significantly differentiate atheists from rapists, something Mr. Gervais found disconcerting.
Gervais, who is an atheist, called these revelations “pretty shocking.”
“With rapists, they’re distrusted because they rape people. Atheists are viewed as sort of a moral wild card,” he explained.
One of the other six studies also apparently found that people are more likely to hire someone for a job that requires higher levels of trust if the applicants appear religious. Atheists, though, would be more likely, according to the study, to be hired for jobs that require a lower level of trust.