All sales professionals understand the importance of integrity, ethics and morality in business transactions, especially when you're on the buying end of the sales equation. With that in mind, I'd like you to answer to following poll -- before reading the rest of the post.
Did you answer the poll question before reading on? If not, please do so.
I asked that question because I've noticed that some sales organization have a distinctly religious flavor to them. Some network marketing groups incorporate prayer meetings into their training sessions. In some parts of the U.S., there are banks and businesses that cater specifically to Christian co-religionists.
And I suspect that there are many sales professionals who simulate co-religionism as a rapport building tool. I know a non-observant Jew who becomes distinctly more observant (in his conversation, at least) when selling to Jewish clients, for example. He claims it's because he doesn't want to offend, but...
Let's face it, there probably aren't many sales professionals who advertise the fact they're atheists, even when selling into an entirely secular environment. And that's probably a good idea, if the behavior of society at large is any indication of likely buying behavior.
I recently read an article about a soldier serving in Iraq who claims he was harassed by his commanding officer and his peers for being an atheist. Apparently his alleged harassers believed that his being an atheist made him less trustworthy -- an issue of some importance during combat, of course.
I've also read (multiple times) that it would be impossible for any presidential candidate to be elected, if that candidate were a known atheist. Apparently much of the U.S. population believes an atheist would make bad decisions and promote immoral causes.
Similarly, I strongly suspect that many people, even if highly educated, might feel uncomfortable buying a big ticket item from an atheist. I think that many people would assume that the atheist would be more likely to cheat them.
What's ironic is that there's a mountain of scientific evidence that the opposite is probably the case.
Numerous studies have proven a direct correlation between the amount of religious belief in a society and the amount of almost every every social ill. To quote the Journal of Religion and Society, "in general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies."
Of course, correlation is not causality. The religiousness could be causing the problems, the problems could be causing the religiousness, the two could be the result of some shared cause, or could be entirely coincidental. However, the fact that the correlation exists makes it highly unlikely for moral behavior to be a causal result of religious belief, at least on a society-wide level.
In other words, there's a good chance that your average atheist is more moral and ethical than your average believer, at least inside prosperous western democracies. I realize that this seems counter-intuitive in a society where common wisdom says that religious belief improves morals.
Statistically speaking, people would apparently be safer buying from an atheist than from a believer. Which puts some sales reps in the odd position of either emphasizing their believer status (or pretending to be religious) in order to seem more trustworthy, when in fact the opposite might be the case.
P.S. (I'm not an atheist, but please don't hold that fact against me!)