Mixing Memory

Religion and Tolerance

In the discussion that resulted from the last couple posts on religion, a lot of claims have been made, all of which are empirical claims, and all of which thereby require data. But of course, there’s not a whole lot of data out there, and what is out there is easy to interpret in a variety of ways (as the back and forth about whether religion is in fact declining in the western world shows, for example). But scientists are really beginning to tackle some of the more difficult empirical questions about religion. The going is slow, because religion is a vague term, religions are varied, and there are multiple aspects to religion even within a single individual. But there’s some data, and we should at least try to use it when it’s relevant. So I thought I’d link you to a book chapter by Hansen and Norenzayan that discusses some research relevant to two of the points of dispute in the recent discussions: the relationship between personal and public religion, and the relationship between religion and tolerance. So here it is. Check it out, and then discuss it.

Comments

  1. #1 J. J. Ramsey
    March 6, 2007

    Are there peer reviewed articles with content similar to the book chapter?

  2. #2 Chris
    March 6, 2007

    The chapter is mostly a review of the literature, with the presentation of some new data analysis of data from a previous study.

  3. #3 Jason
    March 6, 2007

    It’s hard to find any clear take-home message from that piece, since there’s no abstract or conclusion or summary.

    Here’s a study addressing the correlation between religiosity and a variety of societal health indicators among 18 wealthy democratic nations. The study found a significant positive correlation between religiosity and societal dysfunction. The correlation also holds within the U.S., where the most religious part of the country is also the most dysfunctional.

    Quote:

    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 …

    No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction.

  4. #4 Omar
    March 6, 2007

    The study found a significant positive correlation between religiosity and societal dysfunction. The correlation also holds within the U.S., where the most religious part of the country is also the most dysfunctional.

    Yeah, but as you might have heard, correlation does not equal causation.

  5. #5 Clark Goble
    March 6, 2007

    Yes, there’s always the danger of a post hoc fallacy. After all one might argue that in societies that are comfortable there’s less inclination for people to turn to religion since they aren’t suffering. In places where there is suffering people turn to religion for meaning, help, and hope.

    I’d note that religions often even discuss this.

  6. #6 Jason
    March 6, 2007

    After all one might argue that in societies that are comfortable there’s less inclination for people to turn to religion since they aren’t suffering. In places where there is suffering people turn to religion for meaning, help, and hope.

    I’m sure this is true. I’ve been making that argument in comments to the Religion and Social Critique post to explain why religion has declined throughout the developed world, and is likely to continue to decline, as people’s lives have improved.

  7. #7 Decline and Fall
    March 6, 2007

    It’s hard to find any clear take-home message from that piece, since there’s no abstract or conclusion or summary.

    You’re right: it is hard, even if you read through it. It is referred to as “a first, brief look” for a reason. What it does say is that this is a much more complicated subject than either of us has allowed it to be in our conversation. One ought to at least point out that Hansen & Norenzayan discuss not only the broad category, “religiosity,” but actually break it down into its component parts, which offers a more nuanced picture of the role religious belief plays in intolerance than Paul does, although admittedly they are looking for different things.

    Their results are not definitive, but they do not paint a picture that coincides with the belief that increased religiosity leads to increased tolerance.

    One finding from Hansen that surprised me, given my prejudices toward the benefits of secularization, was this:

    In fact, we also found that multi-item measures of religious devotion (intrinsic religiosity, devotion to the divine) also predict belief in God better than coalitional religiosity (authoritarianism, exclusivity) (Hansen & Norenzayan, 2003). Since what best predicts belief in God also best predicts tolerance, these results are especially challenging to any secularization-promotes-tolerance hypothesis.

    In other words, people with intrinsic religiosity are more likely to be tolerant than people who are not at all religious. Of course, the experience of the Soviet Union and Maoist China bear this out: both nations actively persecuted their citizens for being religious, so it should come as no surprise, ultimately, that the lack of religious devotion is not a panacea for society’s ills.

    Figure 2 also caught me off guard, because it suggests that the non-devoted are actually more likely to support religious violence, while being less likely to violate the civil and political rights of religious others. Fascinating.

    I wonder how dogmatism in general would fit into these findings. Is there a statistical difference between the intolerance of devoted atheists (“I know there is no god”) and the intolerance of Agnostics (“I don’t know if there is a god or not”)? Intuitively I would say yes, but given some of the counter-intuitive results of Hansen, I’m not so sure.

  8. #8 Decline and Fall
    March 6, 2007

    It is referred to as “a first, brief look” for a reason.

    Actually, the Paul study refers to itself in those terms. Oops.

    Hansen does shy from making definitive pronouncements, however.

  9. #9 Jason
    March 7, 2007

    Decline,

    In other words, people with intrinsic religiosity are more likely to be tolerant than people who are not at all religious.

    It doesn’t say that at all. It says only that “multi-item measures of religious devotion” predict tolerance better than “coalitional religiosity.” This isn’t surprising given the definitions of “multi-item measures of religious devotion” and “coalitional religiosity” the authors are using. The terms correspond more or less to liberal religion and conservative religion, respectively. Since liberal religions tend to value tolerance more than conservative religions, the finding isn’t terribly surprising. Of course, as I argued in the other thread, and as you agreed, the value of tolerance is self-destructive to religions, because it reduces the incentive for existing members to recruit new ones and for potential new members to join. Why join a religion that tells you that other religions, or no religion at all, are just as good?

    Is there a statistical difference between the intolerance of devoted atheists (“I know there is no god”) and the intolerance of Agnostics (“I don’t know if there is a god or not”)?

    Is there a statistical difference between the intolerance of devoted apologists for religion (“I know attacking religion is bad”) and the intolerance of devoted theists (“I know there is a God”)? Intuitively, I would say no.

  10. #10 Jason
    March 7, 2007

    Yeah, but as you might have heard, correlation does not equal causation.

    The study found a significant positive correlation between religion and dysfunction. This implies that either religion causes dysfunction, or dysfunction causes religion, or some third factor causes both. If the first, we should reduce religion to reduce dysfunction. If the second, we should reduce dysfunction anyway, which will cause a reduction in religion. If the third, we should find out what the third factor is and reduce that, which will cause a reduction in both dysfunction and religion. If we’re not sure which of the three possibilities is correct, we should do all three things.

    In all three cases, it’s bad news for religion.
    .

  11. #11 Jason
    March 7, 2007

    Decline,

    Figure 2 also caught me off guard, because it suggests that the non-devoted are actually more likely to support religious violence, while being less likely to violate the civil and political rights of religious others.

    It doesn’t surprise me at all that the non-devoted are more supportive of political and civil rights than the devoted. Atheists and agnostics routinely score higher on polling questions of this kind than religious adherents.

    As for “religious violence,” the authors define it as “support for ‘killing the wicked.'” It is hard to know how the respondents interpreted this phrase. Presumably, it was not intended to mean murder or vigilante justice. Perhaps people took it to mean support for capital punishment. It wouldn’t surprise me if support for CP tends to be higher among the non-religious than among the religious. But it’s hard to attach any clear meaning to the “religious violence” result given the ambiguity of the question.

  12. #12 Decline and Fall
    March 7, 2007

    Of course, as I argued in the other thread, and as you agreed, the value of tolerance is self-destructive to religions, because it reduces the incentive for existing members to recruit new ones and for potential new members to join. Why join a religion that tells you that other religions, or no religion at all, are just as good?

    Yes, I agreed tentatively to that proposition, but considering the way religious belief has changed from tolerant to intolerant and back again through history (Jason, just accept for the sake of argument that I believe this and you don’t), increases in “the value of tolerance” cannot be shown to have led to any prolonged destruction of religion. It is a truism that the big religions have survived precisely because they have adapted to the times. One of these adaptations has been tolerance. So I take it back. This is what’s known as reevaluating a hypothesis based on further evidence, I concept with which I hope for your sake you someday become aquainted.

    Considering your abject refusal to attempt to see anyone else’s argument or to adjust your position in the face of new evidence (even, indeed, to add a qualifying “maybe” to your assurances), your near-religious devotion to your at best disputable ideas, and your clear inability to look up the definition of “Post Hoc” and apply it to your own arguments, I can only say I hope you’re as happy in your sense of certitude as Jerry Falwell is in his. I simply refuse to argue with you further, because you refuse to argue honestly.

  13. #13 Chris
    March 7, 2007

    One of the ways that religions survive is by being tolerant enough of other religions to, in the end, integrate them (look at Christianity and all its pagan traditions). In other words, at many points in history, tolerance, far from being destructive to individual religions, has been adaptive for them.

    I think I’ve probably beaten this to death, but the picture is just more complicated than a simple either/or view will accommodate.

  14. #15 Jason
    March 7, 2007

    Importing certain practises of another religion into your own religion is not tolerance of that other religion. Christianity didn’t tolerate paganism, it fought it. The fundamental claims of truth made by Christianity are not consistent with paganism.

    I described the basic mechanism by which the values of tolerance, diversity and pluralism are destructive to religions in the other thread. Religions need to claim exclusivity and superiority to attract followers and survive. Any religion that describes itself as just one of many equally valid choices is not going to last long.

  15. #16 Decline and Fall
    March 7, 2007

    One of the ways that religions survive is by being tolerant enough of other religions to, in the end, integrate them (look at Christianity and all its pagan traditions).

    Well, I suppose in that case it wasn’t so much a matter of “integration” as “appropriation.” The example of slavery might make your point better: even though there was disagreement between Southern and Northern churches on that question during and in the years leading up to the American Civil War, the northern churches took their cue from the Anglican- and Quaker-driven abolitionist movement in England, which had already succeeded in freeing slaves and eventually banning slavery altogether. This is one of many examples of the ability, and utility, of using religion to accomplish a social, humanist end.

    But your point is certainly true: the picture is not black and white. For every example that one might cite of horrors done in the name of religion, another can be cited of religion being a force for good, and often an example can be cited of religion tempering its own strictures to accommodate changes in society. It is those religions, particulalry Christianity and Islam, that have found ways to survive amid societal changes by incorporating and even appropriating movements that originated with humanist impulses (and, surpise surprise, they’re still here, despite having become undeniably less dogmatic). This certainly attests to the relationship between the ability to change with the political times and the longevity of a given belief system.

    I am still very curious about the role that dogmatism plays in all of this though. As anyone who has encountered one can attest, dogmatic Christians, Muslims, Atheists, communists, libertarians, liberals, conservatives, nationalists and other ideologues can be equally stubborn and antisocial as their devotion to their ideas forces them to paint themselves into logical corners and to endorse objectively evil ends. There is, in fact, a strong relationship between scientific evolution and eugenics, the destructiveness of which only became evident when the National Socialist policies on race used eugenics- and evolution-based arguments to support themselves. This should serve as a caution to any of us who thinks that we’ve found the one true path, be it secular or religious.

  16. #17 Kevembuangga
    March 8, 2007

    This should serve as a caution to any of us who thinks that we’ve found the one true path, be it secular or religious.

    The “one true path” has been known for times immemorial: Might makes Right!
    This includes cunning…

  17. #18 Shmuel
    March 8, 2007

    “Religions need to claim exclusivity and superiority to attract followers and survive.”

    This is not exactly right. Any belief system (political, religious, scientific) needs to claim exclusivity and superiority in order to survive. Why would I trust the scientific method as the best way to get at empirical truths otherwise? Of course I think it’s “special” and “the best” at what it does.

    However, “superiority” is distinct from “supremacy”. And this is the difference between “triumphalist” and “supercessionist” proselytizing religions (Christinaity & Islam) and non-proselytizing, religions (Judaism & Buddhism). Its also the difference between Dawkins-type Evangelical atheists and less, um, fundamentalist atheists and agnostics. For non-triumphalist, non-supercessionist atheists (and Jews, Buddhists etc. ) other peoples dogmatic beliefs are irrelvant.

  18. #19 Kevembuangga
    March 8, 2007

    However, “superiority” is distinct from “supremacy”. And this is the difference between “triumphalist” and “supercessionist” proselytizing religions (Christinaity & Islam) and non-proselytizing, religions (Judaism & Buddhism).

    It seems to me that Judaism IS supremacist and Buddhism IS proselytizing.
    What are you trying to “sell”?

    Its also the difference between Dawkins-type Evangelical atheists and less, um, fundamentalist atheists and agnostics.

    The Dawkins-type atheists are not necessarily “Evangelical”, some recognize the power of stupidity and the hopelessness of proselytizing.
    Dawkins-type atheists however are RIGHTFULLY concerned by the proselytizing and supremacism of nearly all religions which threatens their own freedoms.

    There is a BIG difference between willing to enforce something on others (religious thought police!) and not willing to have others enforce their nutty fantasies on you.

  19. #20 Kevembuangga
    March 8, 2007

    You are kinda picky on the blog posts you comment on Shmuel, isn’t it?
    At Pharyngula you flooded this one “I understand Satan is a Libertarian”
    but have been silent on “Fascinating letter to the editor”.
    There must be a reason…

  20. #21 Chris
    March 8, 2007

    Kevebuangga, since you mentioned the letter to the editor in the Alaskan paper (and since the paper this post is about is on tolerance), I wonder, do you think atheists are persecuted in this country? Do you think many people really have any desire to persecute atheists? Have you yourself ever been persecuted for your atheist beliefs?

  21. #22 Decline and Fall
    March 8, 2007

    You’ve got a point, Kevembuangga, but there’s no need to shout. Yes, “There is a BIG difference between willing to enforce something on others (religious thought police!) and not willing to have others enforce their nutty fantasies on you.” But Shmuel’s point is that at least some of the time some atheists can get a bit evangelical about their advanced stage of enlightenment. They even engage in spurious, self-congratulatory ad hominem attacks on anyone who believes in the supernatural. This doesn’t make atheists look particularly thoughtful. As an atheist, I find it more than a little bit embarrassing that the tone of the invective from my side can be as shrill as the tone from the other side.

    It’s also a bit sad to see people who are supposedly driven by reason make arguments that bear no relation to the way things actually are. Case in point: it is simply false to say that Buddhism and Judaism are proselytizing religions. I defy you to give me an example of you or someone you know being pressured join one of those faiths. Thrusting their viewpoint upon non-believers simply isn’t part of their belief system (with the notable exception of the pressure exerted upon ethnic Jews to be religious Jews).

    Finally, the snide innuendo of your last comment (“You are kinda picky…”) is just juvenile. If atheism has anything going for it, it is level-headedness and the valuing of reason over emotion. Atheists should practice what we preach.

  22. #23 Shmuel
    March 8, 2007

    “There is a BIG difference between willing to enforce something on others (religious thought police!) and not willing to have others enforce their nutty fantasies on you.”

    I agree. That’s why I find Dawkins’ explicit claim that religious education for children is “child abuse” so repulsive.

    “At Pharyngula you flooded this one “I understand Satan is a Libertarian” but have been silent on “Fascinating letter to the editor” There must be a reason…”

    I thought it was interesting that (A) the comic framed the Jewish god as a “Republican” and the Christian one as a “Democrat”. It was even more interesting that (B) PZ Myers noted his preference for the Christian one because it fits my understanding of the new Evangelical Atheists as merely “third wave” Christians. After readers were unwilling to acknowledge (A) I got dragged into a rather silly and irrelevant argument. Such are blogs.

    I didn’t notice the letter to the editor. (I don’t read that blog very often.) But now that I’ve seen it, it just looks like another example of a nasty fundamentalist Christian making their views public. Dog bites man stuff. I don’t understand your point.

  23. #24 AUB
    March 8, 2007

    Not a word here about the widespread positive correlation between religious engagement and happiness.

    Ah, well. If you ignore something like long enough, you can come to believe it genuinely doesn’t exist.

  24. #25 Chris
    March 8, 2007

    Individual happiness is great and all, but in the discussion we’ve been more concerned with social issues, and I think we’d all agree that a happy religious terrorist, or a happy religious racist, isn’t really any better than a sad one. I suspect that if religion promotes violence and intolerance (that’s the question discussed in the paper), then overall, it will make the world a less happy place, regardless of whether it makes a few believers happier than they would be in a violent and intolerant world.

  25. #26 Jason
    March 9, 2007

    Judaism is not a proselytizing religion and its decline provides a good illustration of what happens to religions in the modern world when they do not aggressively seek new members. The problem is also exacerbated by the prevalence of interfaith marriage. Jews today in the United States and other western nations very often marry non-Jews. The children of such mixed-faith couples are less likely to be raised in Judaism than the children of a Jewish couple, and so are less likely to practise the faith when they become adults. This trend is also occurring for religion as a whole. The NORC’s General Social Survey found that the proportion of the American population that is not raised in any religion at all increased by a factor of three between the early 1970s and the early 2000s, and by a factor of eight between the early 1900s and the early 2000s.

  26. #27 Shmuel
    March 9, 2007

    Reports on the decline of Judaism have been greatly exaggerated…

  27. #28 CA
    March 10, 2007

    It’s clear from the comments on this post and the previous one that all atheists are not alike. So it would be unfair to generalize beyond the abscence of a belief in a god. Do you think it is possible that all religious are not alike? ight some generalizations of relgious be equally problematic?

  28. #29 Mitch Harden
    March 10, 2007

    On happiness, I would like to point out that subjective evaluations of happiness do not necessarily translate into objective happiness, and if someone is made subjectively happy by something that would otherwise be regarded as objectively unhappy, then would it not be the ethical imperative to educate them about their subjectively false beliefs of happiness?

  29. #30 Shmuel
    March 11, 2007

    “if someone is made subjectively happy by something that would otherwise be regarded as objectively unhappy, then would it not be the ethical imperative to educate them about their subjectively false beliefs…”

    First, if objective happiness in very rare, then isn’t it abnormal? Perhaps extreme cases of objective happiness be treated as a psychopathology?

    Second, is *your* comment a joke?

  30. #31 Neko
    March 11, 2007

    Religion and Tolerance seem like complete opposites of each other. A religion must be total, meaning it explains the world fully. It’s acceptance of other interpretations of the world is self-contradictory.

    In some religions (e.g. Judaism) there is tolerance in the form “don’t mess with those who are not of your group, let them be unaware of the truth, be sure you will be rewarded.”.

    In some religions (like the modern interpretation of Christianity) there is a tolerance of the form “don’t kill those who disagree with you, just try to convince them really really hard”.

    This isn’t actually tolerance, it’s more of inaction only. The religions themselves are still intolerant.

  31. #32 Chris
    March 12, 2007

    It’s nice to say “religion and tolerance” are incompatible, but the point was to read the paper and discuss the data and arguments.

    It’s also important to remember that there are other types of tolerance besides tolerance of other religions.

  32. #33 Decline and Fall
    March 12, 2007

    This isn’t actually tolerance, it’s more of inaction only. The religions themselves are still intolerant.

    Perhaps, but what matters in this question is not whether the religion itself is tolerant, but whether its adherents are themselves tolerant. This is obviously related to the degree to which a given religion teaches that its adherents should have “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude” (dictionary.com). Note that by this definition, tolerance actually is inaction.

  33. #34 Kevembuangga
    March 12, 2007

    What matters is whether religion is NONSENSE or not!
    More cogent arguments are developed at Rob Knop thread “So I’m a Christian. Shoot me.”

  34. #35 Vamanan
    August 4, 2008

    I was struck by the comment that religion and tolerance do not go together…that Christianity opposed paganism…It seemed to be a salesman or saleswoman speaking…
    Sir, In India…the higher view is that the purpose of religion is spiritual growth…A religion that does not help one to grow spiritually…grow in love for others and result in more happiness for oneself is no religion at all…Religions are only pathways to spiritual growth…to fight between ourselves as to which is superior is to lose track…That is why the considered view of the eastern sages is that even tolerance is not enough..what is needed is acceptance of others…that does not however preclude fighting pseudo faiths that harm humanity…but even that fight is with the understanding that it is the one Supreme Being who animates all beings…

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