Atheists more likely to be seen as immoral, finds report

'Atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous,' says study

Maya Oppenheim@mayaoppenheim
Tuesday 08 August 2017 15:24
The study found that people ultimately viewed god as having the power to be a moral buffer to deterring immoral actions
The study found that people ultimately viewed god as having the power to be a moral buffer to deterring immoral actions

The growth of secularism worldwide might lead many to assume discrimination against atheists has gone down but a new study has proved otherwise.

A new report published by Nature Human Behaviour found atheists are more likely to be suspected of evil acts and wrongdoings than Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus.

Interestingly, the study whose lead author Will M Gervais is based at University of Kentucky, found even atheists think fellow atheists are more likely to commit immoral deeds than their religious counterparts.

“Entrenched moral suspicion of atheists suggests religion’s powerful influence on moral judgements persists, even among non-believers in secular societies,” said the authors.

“These results [of the study] show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct, and atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous”.

The study found people ultimately viewed god as holding the power to be a moral buffer to deter immoral actions.

The research surveyed more than 3,000 people in 13 countries spanning five continents. This ranged from “highly secular” countries such as the Netherlands and China to “highly religious” ones such as America, United Arab Emirates, and India.

The countries had populations that were either largely Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or non-religious.

The participants of the research read about a boy who tortures animals and then becomes a teacher when he grows up and murders and mutilates five homeless people. After this, half of the group were pressed about how probable it was that the perpetrator was a religious believer, and the other half about how likely he was an atheist.

The findings discovered people were about twice as likely to say the serial killer was an atheist.

“People in most - but not all - of these countries viewed extreme moral violations as representative of atheists,” reads the report. “Notably, anti-atheist prejudice was even evident among atheist participants around the world. The results contrast with recent polls that do not find self-reported moral prejudice against atheists in highly secular countries, and imply that the recent rise in secularism in Western countries has not overwritten intuitive anti-atheist prejudice.”

The report found the only two countries to not generate conclusive proof of anti-atheist prejudice were Finland and New Zealand.

While religious prejudice is still most commonly associated with organised religion, discrimination against atheists remains an enduring problem. In some Islamic countries not belonging to a religion means you are faced with persecutions and can be subject to severe penalities such as the withdrawal of legal status or in the instance of apostasy even capital punishment.

In April, a man in Saudi Arabia was reportedly sentenced to death on charges of apostasy – defined as the conscious abandonment of Islam by a Muslim via word or action - after losing two appeals.

Leaving Islam can be punishable by harsh prison sentences and corporeal punishment under Saudi Arabia’s strict religious laws. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, a 2014 series of royal decrees under the late King Abdullah re-defined atheists as terrorists.

Last year, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes for voicing atheist sentiment in hundreds of social media posts.

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