Monday, December 5, 2011

We Have Trust Issues Here...

It's always a funny thing whenever you see religious people play the victim.  "How dare you nasty atheists bring facts into the argument?"  "It's so mean of you to expose the flaws in our thinking!"  Sure, there are those who apply the live and let live philosophy, but the religious ignore that fact that "live and let live" is a two-way street.  The standard excuse is of course, that being brainless intolerant and willfully ignorant assholes who make a point of marginalizing outsiders is part of their belief system, whereas atheism demands no such duty upon atheists -- which is ironic considering that these are often the same people who will purport that atheism is a religion.

Of course, you look at the facts, and you can easily find that atheists are the most hated of all groups.  Which itself is a bit of an oddity because of the fact that atheists aren't really a cohesive group in the way followers of a particular religion might well be, though there is some indication based on the test that the very existence of prominent literature like that of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al all count for some degree of perception .  There was a study performed at UBC recently which has been garnering a fair bit of press.  If you go by the news articles, the study says that religious people tend to vilify atheists to roughly the same degree as they do rapists.  Actually, if you read the study itself, atheists are slightly more distrusted than rapists, though the difference is not really statistically significant.

While the paper does actually suggest that, that's not really the point of the study at all.  It's already established that religious people generally distrust atheists, and the study set out to try and track reasons why people have issues atheists.  The only relevance rapists have to the study is that they were used as a comparison point as a group of people who are likely to be universally distrusted regardless of one's religious alignment or the conviction thereof.  The real nature of the study was a series of carefully chosen hypotheticals and surveying the responses.  There were, for instance, a few cases where there are patterns of error in the responses which are used to highlight the points.

For instance, when given a hypothetical about a generally dishonest person, the question was asked whether that person is more likely to be of
A ) some occupation A
B ) some occupation A and a Christian
C ) some occupation A and a Muslim
D ) some occupation A and an atheist
E ) some occupation A and also a rapist

For anyone who knows anything about statistics, A is invariably more likely than ANY of the other responses for the simple reason that any distinction groups someone into a subset of the full population.  Therefore, the answer A accounts for someone falling into the group which is 100% of all people of that profession.  Whereas any of the other options means that it is some subset of the people of occupation A.  Nonetheless, attitudes of out-of-group distrust meant that people were likely to choose one of the other choices.  Unsurprisingly, the more seriously the subjects took their god belief, the more likely they were to make this error on other questions.  But in a sense, that was exactly the purpose.  When looking at the erroneous responses, it was generally found that if you were viewed as religious, you were not so distrusted.  In fact, Christians in general did not even distrust Muslims as much as one might expect in a post-9/11 period where you still hear common fear-mongering attitudes.

The least surprising result of this is that the general pattern is one of a sense of people viewing atheists as evil because they are outsiders.  There is a viewpoint that even relatively moderate theists have that merely having the belief in an overseeing celestial Big Brother has a moderating influence on people.  People who don't belong in your group of belief don't have that influence on their psyches, and are therefore more likely to be bad.

The one thing that is kind of surprising is that beliefs about atheists' attitudes towards theists are actually not among the significant factors.  Most of the people surveyed in the study did not have any sort of "disgust" or "revulsion" issues with atheists, nor was there a significant fraction of people who had complaints about atheists being strident or forceful.  In fact, there was a stronger trend of disgust aimed towards homosexuals, but even they rated surprisingly low on the scale of unpleasantness.

Perhaps that means, that as a grumpy anti-theist, I have a lot of work to do to become a little more unpleasant.  Seriously, though, I think it's more an indication that the majority of theists distrust atheists, all right, but they're probably not all that familiar with the material put forth by the grumpier members of the population.  It only means to me that our voice does need a little more volume.  The victors are rarely those who are right, but those who shout the loudest.  The best things occur when they're both the same people.