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.