In response to my recent post suggesting studies on the extent of anti-atheist bigotry, Luke commented:
I suspect that if you chose atheist subjects and had them evaluate files (some of whom were made to be explicitly religious), you might very well see the same effect.
I suspect that this is not the case in the current environment. However, I can see how it can easily become the case if a conscious effort is not made to prevent it.
Research shows that cultural prejudices tend even to penetrate into members of the target group. Blacks tend to show more anti-black prejudice than anti-white prejudice. Women tend to see even other women in stereotypical roles. Cultures that deny women any number of liberties and freedoms would not be able to continue to do so without the active cooperation of the women in that culture in perpetuating those institutions.
This tendency of a target group to take to heart society's expressed attitudes towards them helps to explain why the suicide rate among teenage homosexuals is so much higher than it is among teenagers in general. In their case, society's prejudices are internalized as self-hatred. It takes a great deal of courage and strong sense of self to stand up to a whole culture and say, "You are wrong." We are disposed to adopt the values that surround us, not reject them.
So, I expect that among the "non-religious", we will tend to find a lot of the same anti-atheist bigotry that we see expressed in the culture at large. A great many atheists internalize anti-atheist bigotry and turn it into self-hatred in the same way that homosexuals internalize anti-gay bigotry. This makes atheists docile and motivates them to submit to whatever the theist community demands – adopting a political attitude that, "We must never to anything that might anger the theist. If an atheist angers a theist it is always the atheist who is wrong, and who deserves our condemnation."
There is clearly a subset of atheists who are anti-theist bigots. Atheists are human, and are susceptible to the same psychological forces that dispose us to unjustly favor members of "us" and promote hostility towards "them". As a result, if atheism should become the norm, there is a very real risk that atheists would then band together as a group that comes to assume that any given member of the group is inherently superior to any given non-member. In the bell curve of human dispositions, there are a few atheists today who fit that description.
However, the fact that there are atheists today who fit the description given above – and that they tend to be the most vocally critical of religion – does not disprove the thesis that atheists in general tend to absorb society’s anti-atheist bigotry and to act on those values instead, even viewing their own lack of faith as a fault.
In general, I adopt the principle that atheists are psychologically like humans in general unless and until evidence proves otherwise. As a part of the psychology of humans in general, members of groups that are discriminated against still tend to adopt those same attitudes of discrimination, even against themselves and other members of their group. I would actually be surprised if the research showed that atheists were somehow different in this regard.