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Posted by on Nov 13, 2012 in Uncategorized | 5 comments

Who Trusts an Atheist?

NPR’s Tania Lombrozo investigates the lack of representation of atheists in government. She points to one study identifying distrust of atheists as a primary factor:

According to researchers Gervais, Shariff and Norenzayan, the driving factor behind anti-atheist prejudice is distrust. Many people see religion as the foundation for morality, with supernatural surveillance and the promise (or threat) of an afterlife as crucial mechanisms for keeping people in line. Without belief in God, the reasoning goes, what’s to keep someone from lying, stealing, cheating and general chicanery?

In a set of clever experiments, the researchers found that atheists were trusted less than the average person, less even than gay men (who are themselves distrusted relative to “people in general”). Atheists were more strongly associated with dishonest behavior than Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, Jews or feminists. Only one tested category didn’t differ significantly from atheists when it came to distrust: rapists.

More trustworthy than only rapists. Thanks.

This is why I’ve argued for open atheists to run for public office and participate in local government. We are as trustworthy as any other population of similar size. As our world becomes more used to the fact that atheists live and work with everyone else, it’s only a matter of time before atheist voices are speaking in major political arenas.

  • Copyleft

    You’re right that greater visibility is needed. As we see with Dick Cheney, it’s hard to maintain a bigoted attitude when you’re face-to-face with a representative of that group in your daily life (a lesbian daughter, in his case).

    This isn’t just a matter of political candidates, either. There’s a need for more everyday contact with atheists as fellow citizens, ones who state their beliefs whenever and wherever appropriate in everyday life, just as often as the theists do. Knowing your cubicle neighbor is an atheist should be no more unusual or significant than knowing they’re a Bulldogs fan.

  • Paradox

    PARADOX. Paramedics are the most trusted profession. I am a paramedic, and an atheist. HOW CAN THIS BE?!

    • That guy

      My head… ASPLODE

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1434429058 Mag Lili’uokalani de Ville

    My honest opinion about this, as an atheist myself:

    Most religions have been made out to be peaceful belief sets, something to get you to a more enlightened state. Thus, when religious people (often in the U.S. it’s Christians) do awful things their mistakes are written off as human error and malpractice of the faith, not as a symptom of something wrong with the faith itself. Whether or not that knee-jerk assessment is true or not is a matter of debate, but it’s not important to the point I’m making.

    When atheists or agnostics do something awful (or even “wrong”), people have no prescribed belief set to look back at and say, “No, this guy’s just messing up royal, not all atheists are like this.” Basically, they have no proof that we are good people as a group because we don’t have a shiny, bound book that they can pick up and investigate for themselves, or religious services that they can attend to “check us out.” It’s almost completely a case-by-case basis on which they’re judging us, because there’s nothing else to go on. I’ve noticed that sometimes an unfortunate effect of my open atheism is that the good I do as seen as anomalous, an exception of me being good “in spite of” my lack of religious beliefs, and that the bad I do is seen as my “real” inner beliefs showing themselves.

    It doesn’t help that you have militant and troll atheists out there giving anyone with religious beliefs hell (no pun intended) or openly mocking them. People see that, and they pay attention. They translate “a-theist” to “anti-god(s)” in their heads and think that we’re trying to come along and take something away from them. And the fact of the matter is that some atheists ARE trying to do that. I personally believe that those people are wrong. But by identifying as an atheist I’m getting lumped in with that mindset, like it or not. How can we fight that perception, as a group? I’m not sure. But in the true spirit of atheism I welcome debate, commentary, or anything else you all care to add.

  • http://autisticmetalhead.blogspot.com/ BreadGod

    Yeah, it sucks being an atheist in America. We’re more hated than flies and rats. If you tell people you’re an atheist, you might as well be telling them you’re a commie nazi pedophile.