A recent study claims, “Religiosity Means Love of Neighbor–If Values Line Up.” You’ll probably be seeing more of this study since it seems like another opportunity for the secular world to prove that “those Christians” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The problem is, the study doesn’t actually say what the headlines say it does.
What the study does show is that when researchers control for what they term “right wing authoritarianism” (basically a term that means a judgmental, us-versus-them tribalism) religious people are actually more loving and generous to others than the general population. The study is actually fairly faith-friendly, demonstrating what psychologists of religion have known since Gordon Allport differentiated “intrinsic religiousness” (i.e., people who go to church because they desire true conversion of heart) from “extrinsic religiousness” (i.e., people who go to church out of obligation, desire for status, or other external benefits of church-membership). In essence, all the study really shows is that when people go to Church out of a desire to learn how to love God and neighbor as opposed to going to church as a way of making themselves feel more special than other people, the former actually do treat their neighbors better than the average bear. No duh.
The only thing besides the headline I’d take issue with in this study is the use of the term, “right wing authoritarianism.” Wow. What a biased and loaded phrase that is. I’ve seen research like this before, but the use of such biased terms always strikes me as profoundly unethical and unprofessional. I was always taught that pejorative language like “right wing” was to be avoided in professional research at all costs. I’m not really faulting the authors of the study. I understand it is a term that exists in the literature. I just think it shouldn’t, especially in light of research that shows that it is actually left-wingers, more than right wingers, who are on average both less tolerant of differences of opinion and who are more likely to be ignorant regarding the beliefs of those who think differently than them.
Perhaps I need to dig a bit more, but I’m not aware of a liberal equivalent of “right wing authoritarianism” in the literature despite the fact that previous research really does show such a thing exists. (Not to mention Pope Benedict’s observations regarding the “dictatorship of relativism.”
At any rate, this is just one more example of how the press is going to want to use research to bash people-of-faith. But this time, when you see this study hit the mainstream press in a few weeks, you’ll know the truth.