Religious conservatism may be driven by the disgust response

Connor Wood

In today’s culture wars, religion plays a major role. And in the United States, it often seems to fall on the conservative side of the spectrum. For example, you hardly ever see rowdy hordes of secularists protesting against immigrants or gays, do you? Decades of research has confirmed that religion is correlated with mistrust of outsiders, sexual minorities, and other common targets of prejudice. But why? A new research paper has a fascinating, if unsettling, answer: conservative religiosity is partly an expression of our bodies’ need to protect against disease and germs – and throughout history, nothing has been a bigger source of new diseases than outsiders.

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Are autistics less religious? Yes.

Connor Wood

Autism

Religion is often characterized as a human universal – researchers claim that nearly every society  boasts some form of religious belief. But it’s also no secret that individual people often vary dramatically in their levels of religious belief. You might be a Bible-believing Christian, while your neighbor – who speaks the same language, eats at the same pizzeria, and enjoys the same movies – is a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. So where do these religious differences come from? A new research paper claims that the answer might lie in people’s ability – or lack thereof – to imagine the mental states of others.

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Creation and science: An interview with Karl Giberson

Connor Wood

Recently on this blog, I reviewed physicist Karl Giberson’s new book, Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation StoryThe book, featured this month in the Patheos Book Club, is an exercise in creative storytelling, but with a purpose: Giberson hopes to recast the traditional Judeo-Christian creation narrative in the context of modern cosmological and evolutionary theories. The resulting entwining of science and faith tries to make a scientific account of the origins and trajectory of the universe more palatable to young, religiously involved readers – many of whom may be apprehensive of losing their faith as they learn more about science. I definitely support the aims of Giberson’s project, but we found some  areas of disagreement. Below is an interview I conducted with Giberson as a follow-up to my review of his book.

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Patheos Book Discussion: Seven Glorious Days

Seven Glorious Days

Connor Wood

This post is part of a reflection series on the new book Seven Glorious Days, by Karl W. Giberson, at the Patheos Book Club.

In a famous essay entitled “The Effectiveness of Symbols,” the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss quietly made a claim that ought to be central to every thinking person’s understanding of religion. The claim was this: religious experience – in this case, an encounter with a South American shaman – fundamentally forces the experiencer into a confrontation with the parts of life that don’t work. Suffering, absurdity, a bloody breach birth: without the help of the spirits, we turn our heads away from these little catastrophes, and the result is that they proliferate around us like weeds. It takes the gods to jerk our heads back towards the troubles at hand, to confront them directly.

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Not conservatives, but religious people, more charitable

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Donation

Despite the stereotype that conservatives couldn’t care less about the poor, research in the last decade indicates that they actually donate more to charities than political liberals (in America at least). This result has led some scholars to believe that political conservatism correlates with generosity. However, as sociologists Brandon Vaidyanathan, Christian Smith (both University of Notre Dame), and Jonathan Hill (Calvin College) argue, once religion factors into the equation, religion completely accounts for the political difference. That is, religiosity, not political conservatism, correlates with generosity.

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Dalai Lama: We need ethics beyond religion

Ian Cooley

Global ethics

We’ve all experienced that haunting sensation of dismay in the middle of the grocery store. Do you reach for the bottle of mustard now, or is that elderly woman near enough to notice that the bottle is not…gasp…organic!? Perplexed by a seemingly intractable moral dilemma, to whom do you turn? The philosophers are no help, of course (remember, we’re seeking clarity); the scientists, too cold and mechanical. Before reaching for the trusty assurances of your religion in such matters, however, a recent proposal made by the Dalai Lama may give you reason to reconsider.

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Where does religious doubt come from? The forebrain

Doubt

Connor Wood

You wake up one morning to a phone call. On the other end, a friend’s voice excitedly tells you that he knows where to find a leprechaun’s pot of gold in a nearby park. Do you want to come help him dig for it? If you are a normal person, you will roll your eyes, hang up, and (hopefully) go back to sleep. But according to new research from the University of Iowa, if you have damage to a specific area of your neocortex related to doubt and skepticism, you might jump up and start looking around for your shovel. And guess what – if so, you’re also more likely to be a religious fundamentalist.

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AAP: Health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh risks

Baby boy

Nicholas C. DiDonato

In a time when medical knowledge seems to grow exponentially, suspicion of ancient medical practices seems to grow at nearly the same pace. If an ancient medical practice has religious meaning, then skepticism skyrockets. Many consider male circumcision an obsolete, if not barbaric, practice. Yet, its medical efficacy remains an empirical question, regardless of people’s gut reactions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their position on circumcision, concluding that it reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and penile cancer.

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A mystery in the history of Anabaptists

Nicholas C. DiDonato

Amish buggy

The attitudes of Anabaptist Christians toward violence have created quite a mystery for historians. On the one hand, some Anabaptists embraced extreme pacifism, renouncing violence altogether (for example, Quakers and Mennonites). On the other hand, some Anabaptist congregations embraced an opposite extreme: violence as a means to overthrow the establishment and create a theocracy. How could a tent seemingly as small as Anabaptism cover such contrasting ideologies?

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Does religion turn people into haters?

Connor Wood

Open mind

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, left a smoking crater in lower Manhattan, it’s been common knowledge that religion divides people. After all, the hijackers who steered jetliners into some of the world’s best-known buildings were hardline Islamists, motivated by a grim theological doctrine of holy war against the West. When taken against the backdrop of history, with its endless Crusades and holy wars, these horrific attacks cast religion as the root cause of human violence and strife. But is this hard-and-fast conclusion really true? A just-published paper suggests that, on the contrary, some religious people are actually less prejudiced against outsiders. [Read more...]


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