Thursday, December 1, 2011

Atheists More Mistrusted Than Rapists

Image from Flickr, by Markhillary
I recently posted the following statistic: 67% of Americans said they would vote for a homosexual candidate for president, but only 49% said they'd vote for an atheist. Americans like or trust homosexuals more than atheists, which is good news for gays (our society seems to be getting a little less homophobic), but terrible news for atheists, who must continue to congregate in dark alleyways and seedy bars.

Tom Rees writes that “atheists are a pretty disliked bunch of people in North America. Most atheists will be aware of polling data that puts them at the bottom of the loathing pile.” He goes on to describe an interesting experiment by Will Gervais (University of British Columbia, Canada), in which test subjects were told about “Richard,” who got into an accident, but only pretended to leave his actual address and then later found a wallet and took out the money, throwing the wallet in the garbage.  Test subjects were most likely to presume he was also an Atheist, with Rapist being a close second, while few believed he was also a Christian or a Moslem.

In another version of the experiment, Richard was described as a disgusting person rather than, untrustworthy. This time test subjects did not associate Richard with atheism, suggesting that people’s negative perception of atheists stems from distrust, and not disgust.

According to Rees, Gervais found that the level of distrust is correlated with the strength of belief that supernatural monitoring helps to enforce good behavior. Therefore, the greater one’s belief in God, the more likely they are to distrust atheists. So the statistic that only 49% of Americans would vote for an atheist should not be so surprisingly, considering how religious our society is.

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