One of the most persistent but hidden prejudices tied to religion is intolerance of atheists.Surveys consistently find that in societies with religious majorities, atheists have one of the lowest approval ratings of any social group, including other religions.(American Sociological review, vol. 71, p 211)
This intolerance has a long history., Back in 1689 Enlightenmant philosopher John Locke wrote in "A Letter Concerning Toleration."
"Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, Covenants and Oaths, which are the Bonds Of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an atheist"
Why do believers reject atheists, who are not a visible, powerful or even coherent social group? The answer seems to be the same force that helped religions expand while maintaing social cohesion: supernatural surveillance.
My colleagues Will Gervaise, Azim shariff and I have found that Locke's intuition-that atheists cannot be trusted to cooperate- is the root of the intolerance.(Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol.101,p.1189)
Outward displays of belief in a watchful God are viewed as a proxy for trustworthiness. Intolerance of atheists is driven by the intuition that people behave better if they feel that a God is watching them.
While atheists think of their disbelief as a private matter of conscience, believers treat their absence of belief in a supernatural surveillance as a threat to cooperation and honesty.
Any spelling errors etc. are my own.
I am interested in comments, opinions and observations, on this POV.
I would disagree with Locke on this point. I think it is an unfounded prejudice to assume atheist lack morals and integrity. Both are a matter of reason. Those who understand this, are likely to have the highest morals. I think failure to understand this is a problem caused by religion. Acting on belief rather than reason, can be very problematic. Killing people suspected of being witches, or enemies of God, may seem like the right thing to do, to a person of faith, but the rest of us judge this as misguided. Reason devoid of moral judgment is not a good thing, and God is not required for good moral judgment, but reason is.