A new study released last week revealed religious people distrust atheists more than any other other religious group, homosexuals, and (gasp) feminists. In fact, they viewed atheists to be about as trustworthy as rapists.
The study, conducted by University of British Columbia doctoral student Will Gervais, asked 350 American adults and 420 UBC students a series of questions to determine the definitions of an untrustworthy person. Atheists came out as one of the least trustworthy.
This isn’t the first time atheists have taken a hit in recent years. In 2007 a Gallup Poll conducted in the United States revealed Americans were liklier to elect a Muslim, homosexual, or female president before they would elect an atheist. And there have been numerous studies claiming religious people are nicer, healthier, and happier than those who don’t believe.
The lack of tolerance these opinion polls show people have towards atheists is upsetting enough, but it hits close to home for me: I was raised by an atheist (along with a lapsed Catholic and an Anglican); my sister’s an atheist; many of my friends are atheists. Personally I identify as agnostic atheist, which in some circles makes me the subject of even more scorn, but given my lack of belief I’m lumped in with the reviled and untrustworthy all the same.
The argument cited in the UBC report is that the religious people surveyed believe people will only be good and moral if they think God is watching. That’s the same reason given for religious people being nicer, too. But I’ve never committed a mortal sin, I donate to charity, I say my please and thank yous, and I care about the plight of my fellow human beings, not to mention other living creatures, not because something is watching me, but because to me it’s right. And I know I’m not in the minority.
But the best argument against a mass distrust of atheists–other than being prejudicial and unfounded–came from a friend, also an atheist, who broached this topic with a religious colleague who agreed that atheists were untrustworthy. What if, he asked, God were to change its mind, and everything we consider good and moral was now considered bad and evil, and vice versa? Would she change her behaviour? Maybe, she said. How is that the moral high ground?
One person obviously cannot be taken as proof that all religious people are sheep. Indeed, despite the horrors humans have, and continue to, inflict on one another in the name of organized religion, I don’t believe people who subscribe to a particular religion are stupid or immoral. But in our increasingly secular society, and with atheism on a slow rise, it’s becoming more and more likely that you’ll have to live with atheists: they’ll be your neighbours; your colleagues; your friends; even your family. It’s time to put these ridiculous fears and biases to rest and show tolerance to your godless peers.