Confirming and expanding upon previous research, a newly published paper reports that, in the minds of many, atheists are deeply threatening. Specifically, they are seen as posing a danger to the value systems that unite us.The synopsis of the actual paper (which is behind a paywall), No Good Without God: Antiatheist Prejudice as a Function of Threats to Morals and Values spells out grim results.
A sociofunctional, threat-based approach to prejudice suggests that perceived outgroup threats lead people to act to minimize those threats. In 2 experiments the current research explores how perceived threats to values affect antiatheist prejudices. In Experiment 1 we found that atheists were perceived to pose significantly greater threats to values, and elicit greater moral disgust, than other groups also perceived to pose values-related threats (gay men, Muslims). In Experiment 2 we randomly assigned participants to read either a news story detailing moral decline—priming values threats—or a control story. Following the values-threat prime, participants reported increased negative affect and greater discriminatory intentions toward atheists, but not toward students or other groups (gay men or people with HIV). Together, these experiments suggest that perceptions of threats to values are associated with, and negatively affect, antiatheist prejudice. We discuss our findings’ theoretical implications for a sociofunctional, threat-based approach to prejudice. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)Research team leader, Skidmore College psychologist Corey Cook, has a theory about why atheists are apparently so feared and despised -- and in my opinion television and film portrayal of atheists do nothing to counter this.
“Atheists are stereotyped to be (among other things) cynical, skeptical, and nonconformist,” they write. “Individuals perceived to endorse conflicting values, or who fail to openly endorse group values, could threaten to undermine performance and success of the group as a whole by failing to adhere to group norms.”Bear in mind that last paragraph. This study only applies to the US and I would imagine things would play out a whole lot differently in places like northern Europe, Ireland and the UK.
“Although acceptance and egalitarianism are endorsed as traditional American values,” they add, “perceptions of violations to personal and group values are often seen as justification for hostile attitudes and subsequent discrimination. Such justification is reflected in the unwillingness to accept atheists as an everyday part of American society.”