by Gary Berg-Cross
For good or ill, for better understanding or to thwart understanding, conversations are filled with ideas about trust or really the trust – lack of trust continuum. It's an excess worthy of Thanksgiving feasts.
The failure of the super committee is blamed in part on a lack of trust between Democrats and Republicans. This lack of trust is said to fuel already deep divides between the side. Democrats came to believe that the Republicans really wanted to use the super committee to cut taxes, rather than the deficit. And Republicans members don’t trust Government period, even though they are part of it.
A lack of trust in the financial system (or government regulation) is part of the widespread, political polarization, but is also said to underlie Greek debt problems, US- Israeli relations, employee- employer relations (28% of employees don't trust the senior leaders in their organization, but maybe it’s higher now in the NBA!)
One reason I was thinking of trust, besides being bombarded by the above, was an article on the trust factor with atheists. This new work explains some of the unpopularity of atheists as I blogged on earlier comparing atheist and t-party unfavorability. Such data go back to 2006 and sociological studies by Edgell, Gerteis & Hartmann. Their survey of Americans, found that atheists “are less likely to be accepted, publicly and privately, than any others from a long list of ethnic, religious and other minority groups.” Writing in the American Sociological Review, they noted that “while rejection of Muslims may have spiked in post-9/11 America, rejection of atheists was higher.” Rejection is measured in several ways and one is whether a person would vote for a presidential
candidate of this type. Atheist are the lowest group, just under homosexuals.
This all comes despite the declining salience of divisions among religious groups. So why does the boundary between believers and nonbelievers in America remains strong? This authors ague that it is rooted in moral and symbolic, rather than ethnic or material, grounds. So atheists are seen as “others” and immorally so.
There has been some follow-up work to understand the dynamics a bit better and it turns out that trust is a key element. “Distrust Feeds Anti-Atheist Prejudice” shouts the article headline by Tom Jacobs reporting on new sociofunctional research by British Columbia psychologist Will Gervis finds that atheists are unpopular because they are widely perceived as untrustworthy. Distrust seems to be a major factor in why we are disliked more than other minorities, although this distrust of atheists generalized to like minded groups from more liberal, secular populations. They are like atheists, but who else is? Well, criminally untrustworthy individual such as rapists are. How does research get at this? They use something called the Conjunction test. You give a person a sentence like:
Amber, “an outspoken and politically active single woman.” Knowing that — and nothing else — about her, is it more likely that Amber is (a) a banker or (b) a banker and a feminist?
What if a person is some clearly immoral type (like a person who steals)? Who are they more like??? You guessed it. Rapists are not seen as people of faith (e.g. Christians, Muslims, Jews) through.
The researchers report that taken as a whole the results were consistent with a moral hypothesis that:
“the relationship between belief in God and atheist distrust was fully mediated by the belief that people behave better if they feel that God is watching them.”You can see a video called If Atheist Ruled American that expresses many of the implications that arise from beliefs such as "America is based on faith in God and that's why we have free speech and equal rights." Or that freedom of thinking will be taken away from people since we are just animals and atheists will wage a secret war against rights.
Of course such abstract, unfounded beliefs in what atheists are like can be changed by personal interactions and discussions (such as interfaith discussions that include atheists -discussed in a previous blog). Many people of faith don’t really know atheists and kindred folk well enough to understand their moral behavior. This is generally true of positive contact with out-groups. People can change their option if the exposure is positive. It’s happened and is happening to the GLBT community and it might even happen to the less popular atheist community. So be your moral, right-thinking self and let people see your humanity. It plays well when shown in a favorable light.