Surprising views of morality

Americans Intuitively Judge Atheists as Immoral (including atheists)
Atheists have been speaking up more loudly in recent years, adding a fresh perspective to debates over meaning and morality. But in spite of this new visibility, the way Americans view non-believers remains extremely negative, according to a newly published study.
After reading a description of someone committing an immoral act, participants in five experiments “readily and intuitively assumed that the person was an atheist," University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais reports in the online journal PLoS One. “Even atheist participants judged immoral acts as more representative of atheists than of other groups."
The findings suggest our instinctive belief that moral behavior is dependent upon God—as ethical arbiter and/or assigner of divine punishment—creates a belief system strong enough to overrideevidence to the contrary. It leads people many to look at non-believers and reflexively assume the worst.
Gervais describes five experiments with a total of 1,152 participants, all recruited online via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. (He notes that users of that service have previously been found to be “less religious, on average, than Americans in general," making his findings all the more striking.)

When Gervais looked at the responses of hard-core atheists—that is, those “who both self-identified as atheists and who rated their belief in God at 0″—he found even they “viewed immorality as significantly more representative of atheists than other people."
His methodology involved discovering what prejudices would lure people into making a common mental error.
Participants in the first experiment—237 Americans—read a description of a man engaged in unambiguously immoral behavior. “Dax" was described as someone who harmed animals as a child, and then went on to kill a series of homeless people as an adult.
Afterwards, they were asked whether it is more probable that the man is (a) a teacher, or (b) a teacher and some other descriptor. The descriptive terms were “is a Buddhist," “is a Christian," “is Jewish" and “is a Muslim," and “does not believe in God."
In this formulation, the first answer (“is a teacher") is always correct, since any of the other answers are subsets of the first. The fact is not logically possible for any of the other answers to be accurate makes them good indicators of bias: If you, say, hate Muslims, you’ll be tempted to check that box without stopping to think through your answer.
When the second possible answer was one of the aforementioned religions, the vast majority of participants did not make the error in logic, choosing the correct answer (simply “a teacher"). However, when asked to choose between “a teacher" and “a teacher who does not believe in God," nearly 50 percent checked the latter.
This suggests “one particularly vivid example of immorality—serial murder—is seen as representative of atheists," Gervais writes.
Gervais duplicated these results by testing acts representing different types of moral violations (including incest), and comparing atheists with representatives of other minority groups. Non-believers consistently fared poorly. In one experiment, he writes, “participants found descriptions of a moral transgressor to be more representative of atheists than of gay people."
Surprisingly, when Gervais looked at the responses of hard-core atheists—that is, those “who both self-identified as atheists and who rated their belief in God at 0"—he found even they “viewed immorality as significantly more representative of atheists than other people."
“Even atheists seem to share the intuition that immoral acts are perpetuated by individuals who don’t believe in God," he writes.
What’s the basis of this bedrock belief that counteracting immoral impulses requires religion? History and evolutionary psychology suggest that “religion likely does exert some influence on morality in at least two ways," Gervais notes.
One is creating communities where certain ethical standards are expected to be upheld. The other is the thought that some higher power is watching you, judging you, and perhaps preparing to punish you if you step out of line.
“These two mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, and likely both operate in concert," he writes. Yet the results of his fifth and final experiment suggest belief in God, as opposed to membership in a church, is the key factor in most people’s minds.
“Lay perceptions may overestimate the role of faith, while underestimating a role of community in shaping morality," Gervais writes.
It’s an important distinction, in that atheists can also form communities founded on ethical principles (humanism being a prominent example). But so long as people are convinced there is no good without God, atheists fighting for public acceptance face a struggle of Biblical proportions.–
http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/americans-intuitively-judge-atheists-immoral-79095/

This seems to indicate that the AHA and CFI should make concerted efforts toward advertising the fact that humanists are significantly more moral than members of religions since they believe all should be respected, not just those of theparticular religion. The more we publicize this, the quicker we’ll see prejudices against humanists fade. Then we have to connect humanism with atheism to finish the shift.
Occam

This seems to indicate that the AHA and CFI should make concerted efforts toward advertising the fact that humanists are significantly more moral than members of religions since they believe all should be respected, not just those of theparticular religion. Occam
Isnt that a little over generalizing Most religions actually dont even care which faith you follow. Most... religions do not seek converts or hold to exclusive views of spiritual reality. This is true of almost of all Pagan religions. Some, particularly manypractices generally lumped together under the label Hinduism, often argue that you cannot really convert to their faith at all. Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience page 36 By Gus DiZerega the Best Nonfiction of 2001 award from The Coalition of Vision https://www.google.com/search?q=Most+other+religions+do+not+seek+converts+or+hold+to+exclusive+views+of+spiritual+reality.+&btnG=Search+Books&tbm=bks&tbo=1 And even among faiths not like those, it is not simple matter to say that they treat every person of another faith as 2nd class. See for example this excerpt from a scholar who is an advisor to the Univ of California: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_HnxvGCcic

No, it’s not over-generalizing. I suggest you read my post carefully, without seeing it through the eyes of your own ideologies. Your paragraph in bold has no connection with and doesn’t even come close to addressing the content of my post.
It would probably be preferable if you responded to the areas of discussion rather than trying to insert the ideas of your religion.
Occam

To say that most religions don’t care what faith you are is a huge generalization, and is dead wrong. All most all religions care a great deal what faith their members follow, and their regard for those outside their faith is informed by what they think of the faith the outsider follows or does not follow. Whether a faith proselytizes or not is not the same thing. Also, all religions do regard members as “insiders” and non members as “outsiders”. And they “do” generally value people accordingly.
However on the topic, I am not happy about those stats but they very well could be true. Nearly all of us grew up in a culture that sees atheists as amoral. Just because someone does not believe in god does not neccasarily make them immune to the cultural norms they were raised with. And, just identifying as atheist does not tell you what led that person to the lack of belief, or if they have ever really thought about where their morality comes from. There is a lot of missing information about the study participants.
I think that what has worked for gay rights can work the same for secularists etc. The general public needs to know and experience us as people just the same as they are, before the myth of the amoral secularist/atheist/free thinker will fade away. Gay rights have come about largely because average people got to know some gay people and realized they were just people like the rest of us. And, that happened because many gay people came out of hiding. The more people who come out, the safer it will be for others to come out.

Quoting Handydan:

The general public needs to know and experience us as people just the same as they are, before the myth of the amoral secularist/atheist/free thinker will fade away. Gay rights have come about largely because average people got to know some gay people and realized they were just people like the rest of us. And, that happened because many gay people came out of hiding. The more people who come out, the safer it will be for others to come out.
You are absolutely correct, Dan. Rather than allow the pulpit propaganda to prevail, we need to show ourselves. That’s why I am quite public about my atheism and humanism.
Whenever the topic arises, I point out that morality doesn’t come from belief or disbelief in a god, i.e., theism or atheism, but rather from the ethics their religious or humanistic beliefs teach.
But it’s important that we always include humanism rather than just letting the atheist label hang by itself.
Occam

I just saw an article on research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study showed that personal ideas can be modified significantly by group pressure, however, the changed ideas only last three days. So, what does that mean for religious people?

  1. If you want to buy a car, find a very religious salesman and deal with him for only three days after he’s attended a church service on morality.
  2. If you want to seduce a very religious person, do it from four to seven days after s/he has attended a church service on morality. :lol:
    Occam

Personally, I feel I became more “moral” when I became an atheist; I found myself focusing on my humanist value…oppose to constantly being concerned whether I am pleasing “god” to gain a favorable afterlife, I transitioned to focusing on the problems here and now (with myself and with others). The religious people who believe atheists to be “immoral” are focused on THEIR definition of morality. Morality is subjective, so people will think what they want.

I would absolutely agree with the findings of this study as it pertains to what people think and judge. I find it very disheartening but totally believable that even atheists are drawn to those conclusions as well. It is a basic need to sort and no matter how hard we try, early learning is something we have to fight our whole life if it is wrong.

This seems to indicate that the AHA and CFI should make concerted efforts toward advertising the fact that humanists are significantly more moral than members of religions since they believe all should be respected, not just those of the particular religion. The more we publicize this, the quicker we’ll see prejudices against humanists fade. Then we have to connect humanism with atheism to finish the shift. Occam
I feel this is derisive though and that if we want real long lasting change, playing the "we are better than..." card is not the best way to do this. IMO, the best way to do this is to get public notoriety for all the good or positive things atheists do. Promoting positive atheism, get noticed when we volunteer, participate in a positive way in our communities, government/politics, be proactive in our own propaganda.
But it’s important that we always include humanism rather than just letting the atheist label hang by itself. Occam
Seems I'm disagreeing with you a lot this morning, sorry. :-S We need great PR for the big "A", not whitewashing it to an acceptable "other" term. Even people (myself included) choosing to use the term secular or atheist humanism because it is more socially acceptable than "atheist" is not helping. I have since gone back to using atheist because I specifically want to dissolve the image that atheist are degenerate demons. If a average middle-age brownie-baking granny type is an atheist then that sort of throws their personal image of what an atheist is off kilter. I also reduced using the term religious for "believer" so it puts the onus on others to as to what they "choose" to make real regardless whether it is or not. Example of convo: Them: "Do you go to church?" Me: "Oh no, I don't have any supernatural beliefs. Are you a believer, then?" Them: "Yes, I'm a Christian. I believe in God and Jesus." Me: "Oh, I see." (Then I let it drop and change the subject as if they made a big faux pas.) If we make god beliefs "supernatural" beliefs they don't have as mush weight as the socially validated term of religion. This also gives the twist of making the non-belief the default position and belief something you make a choice to do.
I think that what has worked for gay rights can work the same for secularists etc. The general public needs to know and experience us as people just the same as they are, before the myth of the amoral secularist/atheist/free thinker will fade away. Gay rights have come about largely because average people got to know some gay people and realized they were just people like the rest of us. And, that happened because many gay people came out of hiding. The more people who come out, the safer it will be for others to come out. (by HandyDan)
Handy Dan -Yes! Encourage people to come out, speak up, be heard as average everyday people who are your neighbors, family, friends, co-workers, customers and business associates. Be "A" and proud! Seriously though, I do love the positive message billboards and positive atheism in general. I do not like the very aggressive or confrontational ones. We must be careful to not go from "demon atheist" to "angry at god atheist". I have noticed that the religious world is trying to do that and for good reason. It subjugates reason itself. If the religious community can put cracks the logic and reason foundation they can cling to their power that much longer. By switching the idea that atheists are demons (which we are defeating) to the idea that atheists are simply "angry at god" they not only dismantle the lifeblood of non-belief "free or critical thinking" by making us really just disenchanted believers but also by overriding our self-description and making us something entirely different. This subversive agenda is on the rise and I think we will see a big push for this. It includes not only the angry-at-god finger pointing but the "atheism is just a religion without a deity" position. Anything they can do to make all peoples religious in one way or another validates their belief in the supernatural world. If everyone believes, then it must be true. (Blech!) We must be "good without gods" and show that everyone can be, because morality doesn't come from supernatural forces but because it comes from the social evolution of humans struggling to survive as a species. Morality is a natural survival construct. No gods required. MzLee

Thank you MzLee! I couldn’t agree more. This is why I think people who lash out at religion, regardless of whether or not it is justified, damages our progress because we can then be labeled angry or hateful and dismissed before any notion of rational thought is even introduced.

Quoting MZLee:

Seems I’m disagreeing with you a lot this morning, sorry.
Hey, Lee, this is a discussion board so disagreement is to be expected. There are times when I don’t think things through carefully and just type in a quick response. This appears to have been one of those times.
While I do feel superior to theists who feel they have the only true morality and put down all other faiths as well as atheists, you are right that it’s counterproductive to rub their noses in their thinking. :slight_smile:
I agree with both of you that it’s important, not only to do good but also, to come out of the closet when we do something worthwhile so people can see that atheists are moral.
I’m not sure about not connecting atheism with humanism. I’ve met a few atheists who were world class SOBs with no positive ethics. They give atheism a bad name and appear to validate the view of theists that atheists are immoral. It seems that we should try to weaken that connection in their minds by showing atheists when connected with the morality of humanism.
Quoting Lee:
the idea that atheists are simply “angry at god"
I haven’t met any theists who voiced that idea so that may be why I my response doesn’t connect with that kind of thinking.
Quoting Lee:
If a average middle-age brownie-baking granny type is an atheist then that sort of throws their personal image of what an atheist is off kilter.
Of course it depends on what spices (herbs) you flavor the brownies with. :lol:
Occam

Quoting Lee: the idea that atheists are simply “angry at god" I haven’t met any theists who voiced that idea so that may be why I my response doesn’t connect with that kind of thinking.
Really? Wow, lucky you! I see them all over the net particularly on FB and in comments of the net articles where theists argue with non-theists. It has become a go-to put down by co-opting your non-beliefs into their beliefs.
Quoting Lee: If a average middle-age brownie-baking granny type is an atheist then that sort of throws their personal image of what an atheist is off kilter. Of course it depends on what spices (herbs) you flavor the brownies with. LOL Occam
Hahahaha... I wish! I live in Oklahoma not Colorado. ;-P
Thank you MzLee! I couldn't agree more. This is why I think people who lash out at religion, regardless of whether or not it is justified, damages our progress because we can then be labeled angry or hateful and dismissed before any notion of rational thought is even introduced.
Lashing out at religion does not make much sense because people use it and identify with it in so many ways. Instead, I lash out at what people do, and if there is a clear motivation from religion, like someone says, "I did this for God", then I point that out too. Likewise, atheists do things for different reasons, so I'm not sure trying to gather atheists and have them demonstrate who they are is good strategy, rather, when the subject comes up, we can point out how many organizations there are that do not use religion as a motivator or include it in any way in what they do and are doing great things. What all that should lead to is the conclusion that, even within religions, the motivation for "doing good" is not because God said so. I think it is congregations who have pushed their leadership to get involved in the community, not the other way round.

Is it lashing to think that people who believe they know the Word and Will of God are on the biggest self-aggrandizing ego trip there is? One that has nothing to do with the creator of this universe, who or whatever that may be.
It’s like I’m fine with believing an unknowable God, but this crap of believing you know the mind of god, sorry that make me a little angry, particularly when their God characterizes all the worst traits of humans and none of what one would expect from the Creator of this incredible Pageant Of Life that has unfolded upon this planet.
And that these god fearing fools are committed to consuming and destroying this wonderful creation (read Earth’s biosphere) as fast as feasible, tends to add to that sense of moral outrage.
And just because the God obsessed are too lazy to think about it, doesn’t make me feel anymore forgiving.

Is it lashing to think that people who believe they know the Word and Will of God are on the biggest self-aggrandizing ego trip there is? One that has nothing to do with the creator of this universe, who or whatever that may be. It's like I'm fine with believing an unknowable God, but this crap of believing you know the mind of god, sorry that make me a little angry, particularly when their God characterizes all the worst traits of humans and none of what one would expect from the Creator of this incredible Pageant Of Life that has unfolded upon this planet.
I'm not sure I can characterize it as ego to think you know the mind of God. It's simply a misunderstanding of experience. When you're told that you can hear God in the whispers of your heart, it's much easier to truly believe that the whispers of your heart are indeed God. It's not particularly thinking you're better than everyone when everyone in your social group agree with you and uplift such behavior. When someone's axioms are all out of whack, you can expect some terribly upsetting logical conclusions. The default assumption of a Christian tends to believe, "If you are honest you will find 'truth' which is God." Thus, all those who don't believe in God must be dishonest. This, coupled with the many verses in the Bible that throw "unbelievers" in a list of adulterers, liars, cheaters, thieves, murderers, etc and thus DEFINING such people as "unbelievers" it makes it a no-brainer. Murderers are not believers. Thus, even if the person claims Christianity, they must REALLY be atheist if they murdered someone. It's just pure logic with very bad axioms. In reality one cannot [truly] believe/follow and be immoral yet one can indeed be moral and not believe. Atheism contains both camps of morality while Christianity contains only one by "definition". Then there's the problem with what is truly moral. Atheism generally sees morality as what causes harm to others. Christians see morality as doing what God says. God says one man one wife thus it's "immoral" to do anything but that. Under the scope of harming others, it seems entirely moral to do anything under consensual agreement of sane and mature persons. Thus, thinking it's moral clearly makes atheists "immoral" in the "worst" of ways: sexuality. So debased and given to sensual lusts! Clearly, evil. Yet atheists see it as repression and oppression to hold such a stance regarding something so harmless. It's akin to dancing and playing cards (but with some risk and responsibility perhaps). Both groups see the other as "evil" on a moral ground but base their morals on different things entirely. In the end, we the people make up what is right and wrong so it is up to us to define it and change the culture.

A decent summary Code Monkey. In this rapidly changing world, it is getting harder for a mentor to say, “seek the truth, then you will find out I’m right.” That used to be easy because the mentor could control most of the input for the young truth seeker, leading them to their same conclusions.
In your discussion of morality, it also used to be easy to ignore the changing landscape of morality over time and claim that the current interpretation of the Bible is the one that has always been, thus adding to its authority. Not so easy anymore. So the argument that the non-believer can change their basis for morality with the whims of culture and the believer has a solid basis is no longer valid. Worse for the theist, the non-believers changes their morals using logic and newly acquired knowledge, the believer can ignore that new information and arbitrarily pick from a new or old Biblical interpretation.

Depending on the questions, we could probably find a stigma regarding intelligence to go the other way:
Who bought a grilled cheese sandwich for $28,000:
A) Atheist
B) Christian
Who threw out their glasses in hopes of miraculous cure and subsequently died in a car crash:
A) Atheist
B) Christian
Who gave their life savings to a Nigerian Scam:
A) Atheist
B) Christian

I agree that those examples would be humorous if they weren’t so pathetic, however, examples don’t really work as ways of disproving general beliefs.
Occam

I agree that those examples would be humorous if they weren't so pathetic, however, examples don't really work as ways of disproving general beliefs. Occam
It's a good exercise in logic, though.