Poll: Atheists Trusted As Much As . . . Rapists

We have been watching the national and international campaign by leaders against atheists, who appear to be fair game for hateful, ill-informed rhetoric. Even Newt Gingrich (who has been criticized for violating two oaths to God in having affairs while married) has campaigned on the need for any candidate to be faithful. Recent polls show these statements are playing to the majority bias against non-believers. Now, researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon have released the results of a study that shows that religious people would just as soon trust a rapist as they would an atheist or non-believer.

An article published in the current online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology contains various studies. One study involved a more liberal pool of University of British Columbia students involved a hypothetical of someone leaving false insurance information on cars. “People were far more likely to say he was either an atheist or a rapist and not part of a religious group.” The author noted “[w]ith rapists, they’re distrusted because they rape people. Atheists are viewed as sort of a moral wild card.”

Here is the abstract:

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Dec;101(6):1189-206. Epub 2011 Nov 7.
Do you believe in atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice.
Gervais WM, Shariff AF, Norenzayan A.
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia.
Recent polls indicate that atheists are among the least liked people in areas with religious majorities (i.e., in most of the world). The sociofunctional approach to prejudice, combined with a cultural evolutionary theory of religion’s effects on cooperation, suggest that anti-atheist prejudice is particularly motivated by distrust. Consistent with this theoretical framework, a broad sample of American adults revealed that distrust characterized anti-atheist prejudice but not anti-gay prejudice (Study 1). In subsequent studies, distrust of atheists generalized even to participants from more liberal, secular populations. A description of a criminally untrustworthy individual was seen as comparably representative of atheists and rapists but not representative of Christians, Muslims, Jewish people, feminists, or homosexuals (Studies 2-4). In addition, results were consistent with the hypothesis that the relationship between belief in God and atheist distrust was fully mediated by the belief that people behave better if they feel that God is watching them (Study 4). In implicit measures, participants strongly associated atheists with distrust, and belief in God was more strongly associated with implicit distrust of atheists than with implicit dislike of atheists (Study 5). Finally, atheists were systematically socially excluded only in high-trust domains; belief in God, but not authoritarianism, predicted this discriminatory decision-making against atheists in high trust domains (Study 6). These 6 studies are the first to systematically explore the social psychological underpinnings of anti-atheist prejudice, and converge to indicate the centrality of distrust in this phenomenon. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2011 APA, all rights reserved).

Source: Blaze as first seen on Reddit

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52 thoughts on “Poll: Atheists Trusted As Much As . . . Rapists”

  1. As an atheist, I take this poll as just another example of religious irrationality: People that truly believe in God would not claim to be atheists, but evil people that truly do not believe in God would have every incentive to assert that they do. Thus it is reasonable to assume that anybody claiming to be an atheist is telling the truth, but among those that claim to believe in God will be the liars and frauds trying to take advantage of the religious.

  2. Fruity-

    One of the benefits of being an atheist is that you don’t have to join any organization to become one. No classes, no baptism, no oaths to swear, no services to attend, no holidays, and no pedophile priests. You just turn your back and walk away. My estimate is that 99% of atheists don’t give a rat’s ass about “converting” anyone to atheism. The only time I even think about atheism is when “Christians” try to use government at all levels to impose their bizarre beliefs on atheists and people of the “wrong” religions. Leave us the hell alone and you will never hear a word from us.

    And, by the way, atheism isn’t a religion, it’s an intellectual decision.

  3. Labeling the religious or atheists as a collective group is as logical as “right wing” and “left wing”.

    To insult and categorize them all based on label is the ultimate example of Godwin’s law, simply turned against a group for convenience. My personal favorite in an argument is the scorning reference to a media personality, with no knowledge of whether or not one is a viewer, or listener, of whatever person or ideology is intended to be put down.

    Or a reference to “Al Gore” or the “Koch Brothers” as if it’s Scientology.

    What a shame an institute of so called higher learning conducted this meaningless survey.

  4. FFLP:

    “It’s always the hateful, extremely religious, argumentative atheists …”

    Yep, like that mean-spririted Rodney Dangerfield, or the argumentative, George Carlin. That BIll Gates never accomplished much and the 93% of the National Academy of Science who don’t believe are real self-righteous, hateful folks, too. Bottom line is that this sentiment among, shall we say, the least enlightened of our fellow citizens, who cling to foolish delusions that their own church leaders don’t believe in, prevents some of the most enlightened and able-minded people from attaining– or even aspiring to — public office. Jefferson wouldn’t have stood a chance today, neither would Madison. That tells you something about them, but even more about us and the predictament we find ourselves mired in as we look out across that vast wasteland that is our current leadership.

  5. I would trust an atheist about as far as I could throw a wet mattress up an elevator shaft. It’s always the hateful, extremely religious, argumentative atheists that monopolize the internet, such as YouTube etc… and this doesn’t reflect nicely on the religion of atheism.

  6. pete,

    I’ve always like the idea of karma because of its symmetry with the law of conservation. In the words of Homer Simpson to Lisa, “We obey the laws of thermodynamics in this house, young lady!”

  7. Good point mespo727272 about branding a class of people, according to this study it would seem the majority of theists do just that. That kind of suggests most theists are bigots.

  8. If I had to choose … which, of course, I don’t … I would be more prone to the karma concept.

    Many years ago I had a very good friend who had survived Auschwitz and he told me of his “crisis” of faith and how he had resolved it. He had read of a Jewish man, a contemporary, also dealing with a crisis of faith who, while on an overseas flight, received an epiphany while flying through German airspace. He decided to embrace the idea of karma in that it meant Hitler would have to be born and die a horrific death at least six million times before his karmic debt was paid.

    My friend told me that thought helped resolve his anger at God and he was able to move forward with his life.

    Not having come anywhere close to experiencing the horrors my friend lived with for the years he struggled to survive in the camps, I decided to shut my mouth and “let it be”.

  9. Like Edmund Burke I have never found a way to write an indictment against a whole class of people. Apparently, some of the faithful have no such compunction.

  10. Blouise,

    “I wonder if any of them claim to be “supernatural being-fearing” men and women.”

    Without question.

    I recently had a discussion with a former college roommate – a conscientious if not particularly rigorous Catholic. We were discussing the troubles of the world and he remembered a conversation we had in college. He said, “Back in the day you once claimed more people were killed in the name of some God than for any other reason. I thought that was a bit of an overstatement then, but now I think you were right all along.”

    But that’s the funny thing about belief. It’s a two-edged sword that claims to have only one. While belief can be a transformative and positive force in people’s lives, just so, it can equally be used as a justification and a rationalization for horrible acts. Belief is like any tool ultimately; the utility is in how you use it to enhance or destroy your life and the lives of those around you. Where belief is not like any other tool is that by its very nature – the requisite of faith over proof – it can more easily embrace irrational or outright evil outcomes because it allows ethical abdication of responsibility in both actions and outcomes to a “higher power”. Whenever there is a chance to avoid responsibility, some people will abuse it, whether out of malice, mental illness or mistake makes no difference. Just like mountain climbers say the “climbed it because it was there”, far too many actions people take are done simply because they can without any forethought. By nature we are creatures of immediate gratification. Ethical behavior requires that immediate gratification often be postponed or personal gratification be given up altogether. When we do fail in the duties of ethics, people will more often than not look to blame someone else first rather than accept our role in the disaster. Who better to blame than an invisible power, be it God or the Devil? It’s the ultimate snipe hunt for assigning blame in a causal analysis.

  11. I am a life long believer in God and a long-time evangelical — and I guarantee that I would trust atheists, agnostics, and member of probably every faith group before i would ever trust a fundamentalist of any faith group — in fact, I cannot find it in me to trust a fundamentalist believer — they are walking contradictions. Religious Zombies.

    The opposite of faith is not doubt — without doubt, wherefore faith? The opposite is certitude. Fundamentalist, claiming to be the most faithful of the faithful, have no faith — only their certitude.

    A man without doubt is no man — one either acts on his doubt or contrary to his doubt. But to have no doubt? It’s inhuman. I don’t trust Zombies.

  12. Gene,

    I wonder which supernatural being was monitoring the guy who declared waterboarding wasn’t torture and then continued to monitor all those individual CIA personnel who did it.

    What supernatural being was monitoring all those bankers and Wall Street people?

    Must have been a pretty lame one ’cause none of those dudes behaved better.

    I wonder if any of them claim to be “supernatural being-fearing” men and women.

  13. “But what if the reality of the situation is and always has been that people who believe a supernatural being is monitoring their behavior don’t behave better. I can give you millions of examples … let’s start with pedophile priests/ministers/pastors and work our way down and up.” -Blouise

    I think that we have to as least consider that many of these folks may, in fact, not believe in “a supernatural being” at all. They may simply have been very adept at finding the perfect cover/arena for their crimes

  14. Blouise,

    I’ve always found the concept of God as Big Brother dubious in the extreme.

  15. “As a result, most people in most large, cooperative societies
    in human history have believed in watchful moralizing gods. (as supernatural guarantors of prosocial behaviour among people)” (from the study)

    The theory is that people tend to behave better towards each other if they think a supernatural being is monitoring their actions.

    If one accepts that as the base for the study then one can build upon that base by determining that those who don’t believe a supernatural being is monitoring their behavior, will not behave better and thus are not to be trusted.

    But what if the reality of the situation is and always has been that people who believe a supernatural being is monitoring their behavior don’t behave better. I can give you millions of examples … let’s start with pedophile priests/ministers/pastors and work our way down and up.

  16. Elaine,

    My mother says she’s Presbyterian and my girlfriend says she’s an Anglican (or Catholic-lite as she she really calls it), but in the final analysis, I think both are closeted Latter-day Brianists based on their copious collection of shoes and regular prayers to some character named “Saint Fendi”.

  17. As an athiest, I distrust people who rape common sense and rationality.

    Frankly speaking, you have spoken Frankly- and that’s a good thing!

  18. Slightly OT & a ‘letter to the programmers’..

    FWIW, I did _NOT_ put little yellow smiley doo-hickies in my previous post. I put a ‘;’, a ‘-‘ and a ‘)’.. and _those_ are what I wanted to appear. That they had no separating characters in no way changes the importance of those particular characters.. nor the significance in their placement.

    Wondering, am I the only one who dislikes having a post “garishly”, ‘edited’?

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