People's distrust of atheists is “deeply and culturally ingrained”, with even many atheists having an instinctual distrust of each other, according to a new study.
A report published in the UK’s International Journal for The Psychology of Religion found there to be widespread “prejudice” against atheists, despite the fact 13 per cent of Britain’s population place themselves in that category.
The research, carried out by the psychology department at Nottingham Trent University, concludes: “Anti-atheist prejudice is not confined either to dominantly religious countries or to religious individuals but rather appears to be a robust judgment about atheists.”
Professor Leah Giddings and Thomas Dunn led the study with 100 online participants from the United Kingdom, 70 of whom were women and whose average age was 21.
A total of 43 per cent of the contributors were atheist, 33 per cent were Christian and the remainder belonged to other faiths.
The researchers presented the participants with a story about a man who reversed car into a van one day and didn’t leave his insurance details.
Later on, when he found a wallet, he removed the money from it for himself – and respondents thought it more likely the man was atheist.
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The university said the findings "suggest anti-atheist distrust is deeply and culturally ingrained regardless of an individual's group membership”.
They added: "Looking to the future, it is also important to explore how these perceptions and attitudes toward atheists manifest behaviourally, whether people act on these prejudices and in what contexts. It is only once the nature and extent of the issue is better understood that we can take measures to address it."
A study by the University of Cambridge last month discovered that, contrary to popular belief, vast swathes of the ancient world did not believe in Gods.