People of all faith tendencies, including non-believers, seem to agree in general on their shared distrust of atheists.
A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Human Behavior found that people around the world are more likely to believe that atheists are capable of committing "extreme moral violations" than people who are religious.
The results "show that throughout the world, religious beliefs are intuitively seen as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of immoral behavior, and atheists are perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous," a team of international experts wrote. researchers.
In other words, the researchers added, "people perceive the belief in a god as a sufficient moral buffer to inhibit immoral behavior."
The study surveyed more than 3,000 people in 13 countries, spanning five continents. The researchers included people from "highly secular societies," such as China and the Netherlands, and "highly religious," such as the United Arab Emirates and India in the study. In all, the countries represented populations that were predominantly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or secular.
Even in places that are currently fairly secular, people seem to cling intuitively to the belief that religion is a moral safeguard. "
Will Gervais, The University of Kentucky
For the study, the researchers asked participants to read the description of a fictitious man who tortured animals as a child and grew up to become a teacher who murders and mutilates five people without Half of the group was asked about the likelihood that the author was a religious believer, while the other half was asked if he was likely to be an atheist.
The study found that participants were approximately twice as likely to say that the killer was probably atheist than to say that he was religious.The researchers discovered that these results are some even in mostly secular countries, such as Australia, China, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
"I suspect that this is due to the prevalence of deep-rooted pro-religious norms" said Will Gervais, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and one of the co-authors of the study, told AFP. . "Even in places that are currently quite openly secular, people seem to cling intuitively to the belief that religion is a moral guarantee."
And so that we do not assume that such attitudes are maintained only in cases of extreme immorality, such as murder, the researchers conducted several complementary studies that show otherwise.
In a follow-up study, investigators proved minor moral violations, in this case not paying the dinner bill, and participants still associated immorality more with atheists than with believers.
Another complementary study investigated whether people would associate more frequently certain acts of immoral behavior, such as child abuse, with religious people, given the recent scandals of that nature with respect to the Catholic clergy. The researchers "found that people intuitively assume that a priest who molests youth for decades is more likely to be a priest who does not believe in God than a priest who does believe in God," the study said.
The study echoes the findings of a Pew Research Center report, published in 2014, which found that majorities in 22 countries say that a person must believe in God to be moral and have good values.
We, the secularists, who seek goodness simply because we recognize that it is the surest way to prosper, we must improve much the way to express our good news convincingly.
Although widespread, the belief that religiosity is a necessary component of morality is generally not supported by science. Studies show that moral qualities such as empathy and prosocial behavior may predate the development of religion in human evolution and are representative of biological adaptation.
What differentiates people from faith in regard to morality, says prominent humanist and former evangelist Christian Bart Campolo, is a shared language of what goodness means
"Ya whether our supernatural brothers and sisters truly love each other, care for the needy or cultivate a genuine gratitude for the privilege of human conscience, have many sacred texts, theological and inspirational arguments, music that clearly communicates why and how they intend to do it ", said Campolo, a secular chaplain at the University of Southern California, at HuffPost.
He added that studies that show widespread distrust of atheists should be a wake-up call for non-believers.
"We, the secularists, who seek goodness simply because we recognize that it is the surest way to prosper, we must improve a lot in the convincing articulation of our own good news, and maybe even learn to make it sing." he said.