Specifically how we aren’t generally trusted. According to the article, Will Gervais, Ara Norenzayan and colleagues at the University of British Columbia sorted through the results of several different studies showing how atheists tend to be the least trusted groups. For their study, they hypothesized that awareness of secular authority figures might be able to improve that.
In one study, they had people watch either a travel video or a video of a police chief giving an end-of-the-year report. They then asked participants how much they agreed with certain statements about atheists (e.g., “I would be uncomfortable with an atheist teaching my child.”) In addition, they measured participants’ prejudice towards other groups, including Muslims and Jewish people. Their results showed that viewing the video of the police chief resulted in less distrust towards atheists. However, it had no effect on people’s prejudice towards other groups. From a psychological standpoint, God and secular authority figures may be somewhat interchangeable. The existence of either helps us feel more trusting of others.
The article goes on to note the predilection for atheism in some European countries. The Scandinavian area sounds like a haven for atheists and the suggestion is that confidence in a country’s government, especially ones “that guarantee a high level of social security for all of their citizens” means people might rely less on faith in God to get through their lives feeling cared for.
After that, the article links to a brief summary of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology where people had been given two versions of a fake news story. One reported Canada’s political situation as stable and the other did not. When questioned later, those who read about instability were more likely to give God, or some other force, credit for controlling the universe. I don’t pay enough attention to the politics of my country but I know voter turnout is fairly low in most elections and some chunks of the country are right up there with the worst the American bible belt has to offer.
To my way of thinking, people are used to calling their conscience God rather than give themselves the credit for knowing the right thing to do when the time comes. Maybe they trust themselves even less than they trust atheists but just never look at it that way. When I was a kid, I didn’t need to think a god was watching; I was pretty sure my mother was. A god would punish me in the afterlife but Mom could shout at me mere moments after doing wrong. My conscience developed from a lot of lessons on what not to do and having parents who’d demonstrate proper behaviour every day I was around them. That kind of teaching stuck with me.
It’s good to see atheist groups rallying around charities and demonstrating just how wrong assumptions about us can be, just like any stereotype of a minority group. On an individual basis, we should probably all do more and find ways to give back to our communities. I know I don’t do enough of that. Aside from donating clothes and household items once in a while, I don’t do a hell of a lot to help others. And yes, I do start to feel a bit guilty about that. The conscience is fully functional when it comes to the “ought”s.
So, thoughts? What steps do you take to make your mark and be a better person?