Religion, Atheism, Authoritarianism and the In-Group

Religion, Atheism, Authoritarianism and the In-Group October 30, 2019

Aggressive behavior does not appear to be strongly related to religiosity, although those with higher religiosity self-report as being less aggressive than those with lower religiosity. Similarly, as will be covered in greater detail in the following chapter, the nonreligious have the lowest levels of racial, ethnic, and sexual minority prejudice among the major religious and demographic groups. One of the reasons for these relationships is low authoritarianism, a trait sharing a substantial correlation with both religiosity and negative attitudes or behaviors such as prejudice and aggression. That is, seculars tend to be, on average, quite low on traits that involve submission to authority, distrust of social out-groups, conformity, and the tendency to be aggressive toward perceived threats. For example, frequent church attenders and those with a denominational affiliation are more supportive of the use of torture against suspected terrorists than are non-church attenders and the unaffiliated. In some ways, we have come full circle here because we are again discussing broader moral emphases, such as (using the Haidt system of five and moral domains) authority-based and in-group-based morality. The nonreligious and liberally religious tend to reject morality based on these elements.

We also saw, earlier in this chapter, that activation of religious concepts (by conceptual priming) can lead both to greater generosity and honesty, but also to greater in-group prejudice, most likely because religiosity is stereotypically associated with these tendencies. Such experimental priming research also shows that activation of religious concepts has the capacity to elicit prejudicial and aggressive responses from individuals, particularly those who are submissive to authority. Although exposure to religious stimuli does not appear to have aggression-inducing effects on nonreligious individuals, the concept of religiosity for at least some individuals is evidently associated with greater obedience to authority. Another related pattern, discussed at the beginning of the chapter, is that seculars show a resistance to rule-based morality in favor of more consequentialist morality. To use an example attributed to Socrates, what is “good” for seculars is independent of what is “good to God.” Therefore, seculars are likely to consider disobedience to authority as being morally preferable if the authorities judged to be arbitrary, or illegitimate. The individualistic values of seculars thus manifest themselves as a lack of conformity to moral norms that they then deem to be based on mere social conventions. [p. 169]

There is a lot to be said about this quote from the superlative book The Nonreligious (UK here) by Zuckerman, Galen and Pasquale. I haven’t included the references and footnotes, which are voluminous, here. I think there are a lot of interesting ramifications to such social scientific research. First and foremost, to relate this to the current topical subjects, it is abundantly evident that voters who are highly religious appear to be ardently pro-Trump. That is to say, even though there is a disconnect between Trump’s own moral behaviour and the moralising of such fundamentalists, they still defend Trump to the hilt. We can see this on this blog with some of the pro-Trump commenters who also appear to rate highly on the religiosity scale. For example, take See Noevo who, as a fundamentalist Catholic who clearly rates highly on the authoritarian scale, sees Trump as hugely appealing, and continually so.

Trump, himself, is quite obviously an authoritarian who rates highly on the authoritarian scale. Not only is he an authoritarian himself but he very much likes the idea of authoritarianism stop this is why he absolutely swoons over other dictators in the world. Putin, Erdogan, Kim Jong-Un, and so on. They completely float his boat.

Add this together with notions of prejudice towards out-group members, and you can see consistent behavioural traits evident in conservatives, the sort of whom defend and support Trump.

I have written much on the psychology of morality as it pertains to (ir)religiosity. Check out “Christians, Their Morality and Their Ironic Intolerance” for a flavour.


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