What do Americans think of atheists? They are tolerated but not celebrated. The latter would be difficult because most Americans consider atheists to be living an immoral life. And here is a shocker, even hard-core atheists would agree with this sentiment!!!!
Atheists have been speaking up more loudly in recent years, adding a fresh
perspective to debates over meaning and morality. But in spite of this new
visibility, the way Americans view non-believers remains extremely negative,
according to a newly published study.
Participants in the first experiment—237 Americans—read a description of a
man engaged in unambiguously immoral behavior. “Dax” was described as someone
who harmed animals as a child, and then went on to kill a series of homeless
people as an adult.
Afterwards, they were asked whether it is more probable that the man is (a)
a teacher, or (b) a teacher and some other descriptor. The descriptive terms
were “is a Buddhist,” “is a Christian,” “is Jewish” and “is a Muslim,” and
“does not believe in God.”
In this formulation, the first answer (“is a teacher”) is always correct,
since any of the other answers are subsets of the first. The fact is not
logically possible for any of the other answers to be accurate makes them good
indicators of bias: If you, say, hate Muslims, you’ll be tempted to check that
box without stopping to think through your answer.
When the second possible answer was one of the aforementioned religions, the
vast majority of participants did not make the error in logic, choosing the
correct answer (simply “a teacher”). However, when asked to choose between “a
teacher” and “a teacher who does not believe in God,” nearly 50 percent checked
This suggests “one particularly vivid example of immorality—serial murder—is
seen as representative of atheists,” Gervais writes.
Gervais duplicated these results by testing acts representing different
types of moral violations (including incest), and comparing atheists with
representatives of other minority groups. Non-believers consistently fared
poorly. In one experiment, he writes, “participants found descriptions of a
moral transgressor to be more representative of atheists than of gay people.”
Surprisingly, when Gervais looked at the responses of hard-core
atheists—that is, those “who both self-identified as atheists and who rated
their belief in God at 0”—he found even they “viewed immorality as significantly
more representative of atheists than other people.”
What’s the basis of this bedrock belief that counteracting immoral impulses
requires religion? History and evolutionary psychology suggest that “religion
likely does exert some influence on morality in at least two ways,” Gervais
notes. One is creating communities where certain ethical standards are expected to
be upheld. The other is the thought that some higher power is watching you,
judging you, and perhaps preparing to punish you if you step out of line.