In Atheists We Distrust - How do we fix this prejudice ?

I was reading this and wondering - Have any of you encountered problems with being disliked when coming out as Atheist? Do you see people distrusting you?

And ... How do we go about fixing this prejudice?

Subjects believe that people behave better when they think that God is watching over them


Atheists are one of the most disliked groups in America. Only 45 percent of Americans say they would vote for a qualified atheist presidential candidate, and atheists are rated as the least desirable group for a potential son-in-law or daughter-in-law to belong to. Will Gervais at the University of British Columbia recently published a set of studies looking at why atheists are so disliked. His conclusion: It comes down to trust

Gervais and his colleagues presented participants with a story about a person who accidentally hits a parked car and then fails to leave behind valid insurance information for the other driver. Participants were asked to choose the probability that the person in question was a Christian, a Muslim, a rapist, or an atheist. They thought it equally probable the culprit was an atheist or a rapist, and unlikely the person was a Muslim or Christian. In a different study, Gervais looked at how atheism influences people’s hiring decisions. People were asked to choose between an atheist or a religious candidate for a job requiring either a high or low degree of trust. For the high-trust job of daycare worker, people were more likely to prefer the religious candidate. For the job of waitress, which requires less trust, the atheists fared much better.

It wasn’t just the highly religious participants who expressed a distrust of atheists. People identifying themselves as having no religious affiliation held similar opinions. Gervais and his colleagues discovered that people distrust atheists because of the belief that people behave better when they think that God is watching over them. This belief may have some truth to it. Gervais and his colleague Ara Norenzayan have found that reminding people about God’s presence has the same effect as telling people they are being watched by others: it increases their feelings of self-consciousness and leads them to behave in more socially acceptable ways.

When we know that somebody believes in the possibility of divine punishment, we seem to assume they are less likely to do something unethical. Based on this logic, Gervais and Norenzayan hypothesized that reminding people about the existence of secular authority figures, such as policemen and judges, might alleviate people’s prejudice towards atheists. In one study, they had people watch either a travel video or a video of a police chief giving an end-of-the-year report. They then asked participants how much they agreed with certain statements about atheists (e.g., “I would be uncomfortable with an atheist teaching my child.”) In addition, they measured participants’ prejudice towards other groups, including Muslims and Jewish people. Their results showed that viewing the video of the police chief resulted in less distrust towards atheists. However, it had no effect on people’s prejudice towards other groups. From a psychological standpoint, God and secular authority figures may be somewhat interchangeable. The existence of either helps us feel more trusting of others.

Gervais and Norenzayan’s findings may shed light on an interesting puzzle: why acceptance towards atheism has grown rapidly in some countries but not others. In many Scandinavian countries, including Norway and Sweden, the number of people who report believing in God has reached an all-time low. This may have something to do with the way these countries have established governments that guarantee a high level of social security for all of their citizens.  Aaron Kay and his colleagues ran a study in Canada which found that political insecurity may push us towards believing in God. They gave participants two versions of a fictitious news story: one describing Canada’s current political situation as stable, the other describing it as potentially unstable. After reading one of the two articles, people’s beliefs in God were measured. People who read the article describing the government as potentially unstable were more likely to agree that God, or some other type of nonhuman entity, is in control of the universe. A common belief in the divine may help people feel more secure. Yet when security is achieved by more secular means, it may remove some of the draw of faith.

The findings on why we distrust atheists also point towards another potential way of reducing such prejudice: by reminding people of charitable and altruistic acts committed in the name of atheism. In recent years, there has been a growing number of virtual communities dedicated to those interested in atheism. Some of these communities have begun to organize charitable efforts. For example, the Haiti earthquake led members of Richard Dawkins’ foundation to launch a campaign entitled Non-Believers Giving Aid. In December the online atheism community managed to raise over $200,000 worth of donations for Doctors Without Borders. It is possible that greater public awareness of altruistic atheists may help alleviate some of the distrust that many Americans feel towards nonbelievers.

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I think the word Atheist puts a lot of people off. Perhaps another word? Free Thinker? Non Believer?

Or Irrationalists

I don't believe in any form of god, and that tends to make me an atheist,  If it puts someone off, that's their problem, not mine.  They can be bothered to educate themselves, if only a little.

We have a better term for Atheist here,  they are called "Naturally Normal".

No adherence nor servitude to irrational beliefs and ideologies indoctrinated by other humans, thus not delivered by nature, or unnatural.

We are indeed Naturally Normal.

Just as most if not all animals are naturally atheistic.

Everything else, Theism, Servitude to Superstitions, is Abnormal and Unnatural.

Though it is true that natural wonder of the world and human abstract thinking leads t0 a predisposition to believe in a higher power, that will often produce a personal concept of magic, but to have a superstition imposed on you, with names and prescribed characteristics is unnatural.

As a child I had concepts of a magician behind some things, but, it had no name and it had no characteristics, it was simply a notion that science dispelled as I gained more knowledge.

I agree Daniel - life is too short to try to please others. You can't please everyone. Yes, why seek their approval - good thinking there.

Sometimes I think of you as one of those fine eagles with water running off their feathers and unlike eagles, when it is time you can perceive with more than your eyes and ears. You can see into the soul of even the most outstanding person to acknowledge their efforts even as you see into the soul of the most troubled and disruptive and see beyond their words and actions to see their humanity.  

I like your strategy and recognize it as a way to deliver outstanding health care to your patients. You don't get on the merry-go-round of competition with your head sticking out above the crowd. 

A Spokane Indian friend of mine described the cultural pattern of getting rid of the one who stands out in the tribe because he or she disrupts the balance in the tribe.  The real imagination and creativity comes from being part of a community. 

Christianity is the book of prejudice for America. Any group the bible has spoken unflattering of, have been outcasts in this country. Blacks, gays, atheists, pagans, epileptics, other religions (besides Christianity)..etc..

Something that I actually do "believe" in is Girardian Mimetic theory minus anything to do with religion and xtianity. "People resent you when you outperform them". It's the problem with so many theists. The whole point of their religions is for them to IMITATE their deity or prophet instead of one another.

Unfortunately the useless tripe doesn't work and they end up resenting and envying you and usually in one way or another trying to sabotage you and step on your toes. If it really gets bad they'll make you the scapegoat for their envies and resentments like they've done with me.

They're SUPPOSED to be imitating their god/jesus whatever. Not you or anyone else. That's the whole point and they don't get it. Most of them are more like the devil in their mythology rather than the deity they're supposed to emulate. LOL. I find that being more genuinely moral and ethical than a xtian and other kinds of theists is not a difficult thing to do at all. 

Maybe it's because of this thread but earlier today I decided to make one of my co-workers uncomfortable. Not with malicious intent but just as part of a good natured social experiment. Previous to our current employment, we had also worked at the same company. They had what they called "Servant Leadership", which was a nice way of trying to get people to work together in an ethical fashion. It steered clear of obvious religious wording but as you can tell by the title, it let you know "you've gotta serve someone". Personally, I liked the efforts to get the employees to play well together. I just didn't care much for the covert message.

Anyway, the subject of the previous company came up and we talked about the program a bit. At some point, based on some of the comments my friend made, I decided to just bluntly ask him if he was religious. I had to stifle giggles watching him squirm. He did not want to answer the question. (Keep in mind that this was a simple question and that I have no supervisory duties over him. After a few more awkward moments, I asked if he was atheist, to which he emphatically stated he was not. I asked him if he was spiritual, to which he hemmed and hawed a bit before saying he was not. He finally said he didn't know one way or the other what the truth might be. I asked him if he would say he believed god(s) exist, in other words, was he a theist. He said no. At that point, I told him I considered him an agnostic atheist. I think he was stunned to be summed up so quickly. I might describe it as a "deer in the headlights" look.

This is what we're dealing with, a lot of shame and people trying to avoid confrontation. You might throw in that my friend was dealing with a very rude acquaintance but I'd respond that the successful social experiment required that kind of stimulus.

I'll say one thing though, my friend is now on the way to acknowledging his beliefs (or lack thereof... whatever), whether he wants to or not. Maybe we can have additional discussions now that this is out in the open.

My work here is done.

Oh, my goodness! Yes! My best friends virtually eliminated me from their lives. My family huffed and puffed. Well, now what do I do? 

I turn to the only thing that has worked for me in the past and that is to sit down quietly to think about the situation. I define it in sensory terms: What do I feel, fear, see, hear, expect, need, and hope. 

Then I define what is probable, possible and preferable outcomes when I have solved this problem. 

My next task is to explore all the options, including begging to be a part of the family or a friend again? Or do I work at seeking out new friends? Or is my goal to stand solidly on my own, head held high, shoulders back, feet planted firmly in the ground, and take charge of my happiness and success.? Or ????? 

I develop a strategy using the option that seems to have the highest probability of a quality-of-life that is healthy and productive. I use tactics based on that strategy and develop action plans.  

I do formative evaluations, asking myself if I am getting closer to my desired goals. If the answer is yes, I continue doing what I am doing. If I am not moving toward my desired goals I select a different option and develop an action plan for that. I keep doing formative evaluations until I am on the  desired track.  

Finally, I do a summative evaluation to see if I am doing those things that I prefer to do and experience a feeling of mastery of my life. Am I happy?

Steph, you ask, "How do we fix this prejudice? My answer is that we don't fix this prejudice, we fix ourselves so that we can be who we are and think what we think is right. Fixing others doesn't work, at least that is my experience. If a person comes across as prejudice, do I want to have that person for a friend? For me, the answer is "NO!" If a prejudice person wants to discuss or debate, I am more than happy to engage them, but not for the purpose of changing them or winning. My purpose is to express myself publicly and let the chips fall where they may. 

My purpose is to express myself publicly, no matter what the consequences.  

One thing to keep in mind is that humans have a complex cultural bond, and it's shared over certain beliefs (whether the beliefs are true or false is not material). When someone rejects their core beliefs the natural instinct is to consider them an oursider.

This may not be the best way, but from an evolutionary perspective, it kept group cohesion and maintained a survival advantage. Evolution does not care about things making sense, only that they work.

The good news is by the nature of our adaptive cultural instincts, core values are not set in stone, or in our genes. So if enough people in a culture start to adopt a new perspective, it becomes the new core belief.

The only reactions I have ever gotten, and I have been very open about my atheism for 40+ years, is either a blank stare, or more often, "But you're so NICE!" 

I have never tried to be a Goody Two-Shoes, in fact I have been something of a rebel most of my least I hope I have.  I just never have seen, or understood, WHY some people think a god is necessary, and I say so. Sometimes rather abruptly.

One thing anybody can do is go to, and make your own "This Is What an Atheist Looks Like" billboard.  It's free, and fun.




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