Atheists face prejudice except in NZ and Finland

An international study of people’s attitudes to atheists found in general they are perceived as “potentially morally depraved and dangerous”.

It  discovered people of all faith leanings, including non-believers have a shared distrust of atheists. Only respondents in New Zealand and Finland did not exhibit a clear bias against atheists.

The study was conducted by an international team and published in the Nature Human Behaviour journal. The outcome was based on the responses of more than 3,000 people across 13 countries and five continents.

Participants were asked whether an imagined person, who tortured animals as a child before becoming a teacher and then killing five homeless people, was more likely to be religious or atheist.

The results show people were twice as likely to believe the killer was an atheist.

This suggests “people perceive belief in a god as a sufficient moral buffer to inhibit immoral behavior,” the researchers say.

Researchers found these results to be true even in largely secular countries, like Australia, China, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

However, the study reports anti-atheist bias was strongest where there are high numbers of believers, like the United Arab Emirates, United States and India.

“I suspect that this stems from the prevalence of deeply entrenched pro-religious norms,” Will Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and one of the co-authors on the study says.

“Even in places that are currently quite overtly secular, people still seem to intuitively hold on to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard.”


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