Will Gervais has recently published “Finding the Faithless: Perceived Atheist Prevalence Reduces Anti-Atheist Prejudice” in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. he wondered whether a perceived increase in the number of atheists would lead to increased prejudice against atheists. He has found the opposite. Evidence or belief that atheists are prevalent actually reduces prejudice against atheists. Therefore, atheists would be advised to remind others that they are atheists so that others tend to believe that there are significant numbers of atheists out there. At The Intersection, Chris Mooney suggests that atheists should nonetheless avoid being confrontational, because confrontation tends tend “to prompt negative emotional reactions, and thus defensiveness and inflexibility.”
That is the combination I have settled into over the past couple of years. I don’t hesitate to tell others that I am a non-theist (I avoid the use of the word atheist because is suggests that I hold all of the same views as the “new atheists” (which I don’t, though there is considerable overlap). When I make it clear that I am a non-theist to a theist, however, I do so in a non-confrontational way, which, in my experience, invites much more productive dialogue. See my five part series, Mending Fences (start here), for my views in detail.
How prevalent are atheists worldwide? Here one of the opening paragraphs from the Gervais study:
But they are numerous. Globally, atheists are 58 times more numerous than Mormons, 41 times more numerous than Jewish people, and twice as numerous as Buddhists; nonbelievers constitute the fourth largest religious group in
the world, trailing only Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Despite the prevalence of atheists and the popular attention atheism is receiving, there is little scientific research on atheism and attitudes toward atheists. Yet religious belief is declining in the postindustrial world, and the percentage of Americans with no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990. Under billboards reading, for example, “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” American atheists are increasingly making their numbers known. What effects might the increasing numbers and visibility of atheists have on attitudes toward atheists? This straightforward question has important implications not only for the specific social psychology of atheism and attitudes toward atheists but also for the broader social psychological understanding of the relationship between prejudice and perceived outgroup size, possibly suggesting a novel approach to prejudice reduction.