Post No.: 0153
Anti-atheist prejudice or antipathy can sometimes result because a lot of people will only trust in a state leader (or any other person in a role where trust is particularly important) who holds a divinely-inspired code of morality and fears the punishment of a vengeful god should they violate that morality i.e. all else being equal, candidates for state leadership who follow some kind of religion are generally more trusted than candidates who do not. This effect disappears when choosing people for roles where trust is not particularly important.
A lot of people believe that, in order to be moral, it is necessary to believe in a god (any god of almost any religion). Atheists can even be stereotyped as being just as immoral as rapists in some surveys! As a consequence, a lot of people around the world don’t publicly admit that they don’t actually believe in a god or gods.
Atheists themselves seem to neither trust nor distrust theists or other atheists explicitly, but atheists can distrust other atheists implicitly (hence it seems that piousness still tends to be unconsciously believed to be associated with trustworthiness – even by atheists). Non-religious people don’t tend to overtly factor religious belief in their judgements of trust in others, whilst religious people do strongly consider the religious beliefs of others. This suggests that we don’t see the same sort of ingroup/outgroup prejudice (as is typical in ‘social identity theory’, which states that a person’s sense of who they are, such as their status and self-esteem, is based on which group(s) they belong to) when it comes to atheists.
In other words, atheists don’t tend to band together into a group like we see with religious people in their own particular religions. Atheism is considered a lack of belief, rather than a belief in itself – so just like we don’t see e.g. people who don’t play baseball grouping together, we don’t see atheists grouping together. It’s arguably similar to people who rely on logic and evidence don’t feel the need to band together in numbers to make their arguments feel robust because they’re relying on the logic and evidence to speak for themselves, whilst those who believe in pseudoscience tend to form into (tight) groups/echo chambers to help reinforce their beliefs with a fallacious ‘strength in numbers’ strategy. Atheists don’t base their identity on their lack of belief – although we are beginning to see atheist and humanist groups springing up nowadays, which may over time create those predictable ingroup/outgroup social dynamics and biases we see with other group identities?
However, in lab test environments and away from self-reporting, there is no statistical difference between theists and atheists when it comes to actually being trustworthy or charitable; although the picture is currently complicated and unclear. So it’s perhaps best – unless one has specific evidence against a specific individual or the stakes are personally too high to risk for a particular decision – to lean towards the side of trusting people, regardless of their religiosity or lack of, rather than to perpetuate implicit biases that lead towards discrimination, distrust and disharmony in society (i.e. play a cooperative first move, then reciprocate tit-for-tat from then on). Woof!
Needless to say, the inferred association of moral guidance with religiosity is not the only cognitive shortcut we use to try to judge a stranger by to determine their trustworthiness (e.g. we judge by appearances too), and of course, once we get to know somebody a bit better, we can then base our trust on them by their personal past behaviours towards us – but, rightly or wrongly, religiosity tends to become a conscious or subconscious heuristic used by most of us when we don’t know much about another person we’re trying to judge.
Once again, because we’re in the messy and complicated field of the social sciences – not everyone falls into these trends, different countries have different cultures, and if you or your ingroup diverge from the research data then realise that you or your group are not the whole of the human population. There are a lot of other people and groups out there in the world who might not believe in or have not experienced the same things and feelings as you do or have done in your one life. You are just one person in one country, and you and/or your country can be unusual. But on the other hand, that’s not to say that global or general trends aren’t informative at all – and the global trend is that the vast majority of heads of state and heads of government, past and present, have or had (or at least claim or claimed to have) at least some kind of religious affiliation – even in countries that are considered secular. (These trends may one day change though.)
Woof. Whether you are theist, deist, atheist, agnostic or whatever, and whether you live in a country that is considered religious or secular, what do you think about all this? Please share your thoughts via the Twitter comment button below.