Saturday, 10 December 2011

Atheists As Bad As Rapists

Here's the story:
University of British Columbia researchers conducted a total of six experiments on 350 Americans and 420 UBC students, of varying religions (67% of the Americans were Christian). In one experiment, they presented participants with the story of an "archetypal freerider" who cheats and steals a lot, and asked what group they thought that person might belong to. Participants were more likely to categorize the person as an atheist than as a Christian, Jew, Muslim, gay person, or feminist (some of the groups were chosen because they were "often described as threatening to majority religious values and morality"). Only rapists fared as poorly — participants were about as likely to put the "freerider" in this group. According to the study, "People did not significantly differentiate atheists from rapists."

In another experiment, researchers asked what jobs the subjects would hire atheists to perform. Lead study author Will Gervais discusses the results:
People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low trust, for instance as a waitress. But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.
Study coauthor Ara Norenzayan told QMI, "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. 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 co-operation and honesty."
As a crystalisation of the public function of religious belief, this sounds not only believable but, actually, speaks to the antiquity of human beliefs about belief (I've posted about this before). But what interests me is the way 'belief' itself has effectively usurped the NT focus on riches. Terms deployed in the NT in order to evoke the knee-jerk disapprobation of its original readers -- 'Samaritan', 'tax collector', 'rich man', 'prostitute' -- are today subsumed into one key word: 'atheist'. We can rewrite the relevant scripture. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a believer to enter heaven. Unless you become again as an atheist, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.

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