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Do you distrust Atheists?

Posted by on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:03 AM
  • 56 Replies


Distrust is the central motivating factor behind why religious people dislike atheists, according to a new study led by University of British Columbia psychologists. (Read the full study.)

“Where there are religious majorities -– that is, in most of the world –- atheists are among the least trusted people,” says lead author Will Gervais, a doctoral student in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “With more than half a billion atheists worldwide, this prejudice has the potential to affect a substantial number of people.”

While reasons behind antagonism toward atheists have not been fully explored, the study –- published in the current online issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology -– is among the first explorations of the social psychological processes underlying anti-atheist sentiments.

“This antipathy is striking, as atheists are not a coherent, visible or powerful social group,” says Gervais, who co-authored the study with UBC Associate Prof. Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff of the University of Oregon. The study is titled, "Do You Believe in Atheists? Distrust is Central to Anti-Atheist Prejudice."

The researchers conducted a series of six studies with 350 American adults and nearly 420 university students in Canada, posing a number of hypothetical questions and scenarios to the groups. In one study, participants found a description of an untrustworthy person to be more representative of atheists than of Christians, Muslims, gay men, feminists or Jewish people. Only rapists were distrusted to a comparable degree.

The researchers concluded that religious believer’s distrust –- rather than dislike or disgust –- was the central motivator of prejudice against atheists, adding that these studies offer important clues on how to combat this prejudice.

One motivation for the research was a Gallup poll that found that only 45 percent of American respondents would vote for a qualified atheist president, says Norenzayan. The figure was the lowest among several hypothetical minority candidates. Poll respondents rated atheists as the group that least agrees with their vision of America, and that they would most disapprove of their children marrying.


The religious behaviors of others may provide believers with important social cues, the researchers say. “Outward displays of belief in God may be viewed as a proxy for trustworthiness, particularly by religious believers who think that people behave better if they feel that God is watching them,” says Norenzayan. “While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty.”

by on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:03 AM
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by Ruby Member on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:05 AM


by Christy on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:06 AM
7 moms liked this

I distrust thugs but not atheists. I just do not understand when you have so many believers in various religions who lie why people think religion makes a person honest. Given the number of religious organizations who have no tolerance for other people why does religion make you cooperative?

by Ruby Member on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:06 AM


by Gold Member on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:07 AM
3 moms liked this

 I find it disturbing that we are up there with RAPISTS as being untrustworthy!

by on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:10 AM
No. My brother is an atheist and he is a pretty great guy.
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by on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Quoting stacymomof2:


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by Member on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:28 AM
5 moms liked this
I have found that many atheists know their stuff & are actually very open to learning more about everyone & everything & basing their decision to be atheist off of research & knowledge. I have no reason to distrust atheists as a whole at all.
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by Andie on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:34 AM
1 mom liked this
The only reason I would distrust an athiest is if that person had given me reason to distrust them in the past. I would feel the same way about a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew and all the etcs.

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by Roma on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:37 AM
4 moms liked this

 I can see why a group of people who mostly don't organize themselves or congregate as a group, who are independent thinkers and don't rely on someone else telling them right from wrong, who aren't going to fall prey to a prophet false or otherwise would be mistrusted.


by Ruby Member on Dec. 3, 2011 at 8:38 AM
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I haven't read the article because I'm not in the mood so I'm merely replying to the title.

No, I don't mistrust atheists just for being atheists.  I mistrust people in general but once getting to know someone and liking them and their povs or the way they act even when we differ on things I'd have np learning that he or she is atheist. 

The way I see it, if Atheists aren't being "good" as a means of getting into heaven or because they believe they will be punished by God or judged by other true believers when they do "bad (whatever their religions deem bad)," then they are good people just because they believe in being good.


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