I read a scholarly article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that demonstrates religious people distrust atheists - as opposed to finding them disgusting or unlikable. Basically, religious people are concerned that those without religion have nothing to bind them to good behavior. The logic goes something like this: If you don't think anyone is watching, who knows what you might do?!? The article goes on to show that people would prefer having any other minority member as President or marry their future, non-existent children**, rather than an atheist.
**Most psychology research uses college freshman as participants.
As an atheist, I didn't find this particularly shocking. Though it does rub me the wrong way, like the holiday sweater my mom always tried to get me to wear. After all, don't my charitable actions speak more strongly of my character because they are not tied to threats of hell or promises of heaven?
Additionally, I think this research sidesteps the heart of the matter. Religious people are threatened by disbelief. They are more accepting of differing belief, in the form of another religion, than no belief at all.
I think this is why most religious people I have encountered are very hostile toward atheists, claiming that atheists are opposed to anyone having religion*. Personally, I have never witnessed this. Most atheists I know share a live-and-let-live approach to religion. I'm sure their are vocal atheists hell bent (buh dum dum) on making their views heard - since they rarely are - or those who are just tired of having religious views pushed upon them - as they so often are. In fact, I have heard many atheists express regret that they do not believe in a deity; it would be nice to believe that someone cared, kept score, or even paid attention. Further, considering the often hostile reactions encountered when someone finds out your are an atheist, most atheists I know tend to try to avoid the issue all together.
*It's worth mentioning that people typically assume you believe what they believe, so often this hostility was not aimed at me but rather told to me about someone else.
I don't have a good conclusion to this entry. I could talk about how much volunteer work I have done and how I have been donating to food banks and homeless shelters since I moved out of my parent's house, and that shows that a moral compass is not a direct result of believing in a higher power, but I know that many will disregard this argument. I could point out that many people justify bigotry and hatred with their religious views, or try to discuss how very different personal beliefs are among members of the same congregation, but I don't think that would be effective either. So instead, I will simply say what I believe: trust and acceptance should be founded on actions rather than beliefs.