THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
"Some people say the only cure for prejudice is more religion; some
say the only cure is to abolish religion." G.W. Allport, 1954.
"If we accept the logic of the Declaration [of Independence] ,
reverence for God is not just a matter of religious faith, it is the foundation
of justice and citizenship in our republic." Alan Keyes, Republican
presidential candidate, 1995
"Faith is a euphemism for prejudice and religion is a euphemism
for superstition." Paul Keller, American rationalist
Applying the Golden Rule:
One of the most important doctrines within all major world
religions is the Ethic of Reciprocity -- the belief
that we should treat others as we would like to be treated. This appears in the
Bible as the Golden Rule:
|"...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
|"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to
you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12|
Unfortunately, many people do not extend the Ethic:
|to those of other
|to those of other faith groups within their religion; |
|to any other people.|
The opposite of the Golden Rule is prejudice: arbitrarily classifying an entire group of
individuals on the basis of gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation,
language, age, ability status, etc. as sub-human -- people who are not worthy to receive
full human rights.
In recent centuries, such prejudice has been supported by
some denominations and fought by others. Past and present ethical/religious battles include: the
abolition of slavery, accepting women for ordination,
allowing inter-racial marriage, ending racial segregation, and, most recently,
working towards equal rights for gays and lesbians,
including the right to marry.
Sociologists and psychologists have been studying the relationship between
faith and prejudice for half a century.
Studies of prejudice during the 1940's:
The first studies of prejudice among church members were rather simplistic.
The researchers divided the test subjects
into two groups: those who were church members and those who were not. 1,2
The results of each study consistently showed that church "members were more prejudiced than
nonmembers. The interpretation that easily came to mind was that the church
3 Subsequent studies showed that this was a naive conclusion.
Their data was correct: on average, church goers are more bigoted than
non-church goers. However, they were asking the wrong question, and so obscured
Studies of prejudice dur ing the 1950's:
Researchers examined the level of prejudice
as a function of the test subject's degree of commitment to their faith. They measured
the subjects' involvement with, and loyalty to, their faith by inquiring how often that the individual went to church
4,5,6 They found that:
|People who never attended church exhibited a low level of prejudice.|
|The most highly prejudiced individuals were those who went to church once or twice a
|Those who went to church 11 or more times a month were the least
prejudiced of all. |
Results from a typical study were: 6
These three studies showed that churches did not create prejudice in people.
If they did, then one would expect that level of prejudice would continue to grow
indefinitely as church attendance increased. The significant decrease in
prejudice among highly committed church members indicates that some other factor
or factors are at work.
Studies of prejudice during the 1960's:
One of the main researchers, G.W. Allport, developed the concept of intrinsic
and extrinsic religion:
|Intrinsic religious belief:
|views God as loving, supportive, forgiving.|
|views each person as unique and special.|
|inclusive in vision; views all people as their neighbors|
|views death positively |
|looks upon religion as a search for truth|
|numerically small |
|exhibit low levels of prejudice.|
|Extrinsic religious belief:
|views God as stern, vindictive and punitive.|
|views people in terms of social categories: sex, age, status.|
|exclusionist in vision; views their in-group as their neighbors|
|views death negatively|
|looks upon religion for its utilitarian value, as a means to other
|"make up the bulk of churchgoers"|
|"manifest high levels of bigotry." 3|
Researchers found that most parishioners exhibited an extrinsic religious
belief system, and that these principles led to a high level of prejudice and
Various investigators such as Strommen, Tisdale Vanecko, Gorsuch and Aleshire
"also noted more prejudiced people among fundamentalists,"
compared to other Evangelicals, and followers of mainline and liberal
- R.K. Merton, "Facts and factitiousness in ethnic opinionnaires,"
American Sociological Review, (1940), 5, Pages 13 to 28.
- R.N. Sanford & D.J. Levinson, "Ethnocentrism in relation to
some religious attitudes and practices," American Psychologist, (1948),
3, Pages 350 & 351.
- Bernard Spilka, et al., "The psychology of religion: An empirical
approach," Prentice-hall, (1983), Pages 18 & 19; 270 to 274.
- H.J. Parry, "Protestants, Catholics and Prejudice,"
International Journal of Opinion and Attitude Research, (1949), 3, Pages 205
- R.N. Sanford, "Ethnocentrism in relation to some religious
attitudes and practices," essay in T.W. Adorno et al., "The
authoritarian personality," Harper, (1950), Pages 208 to 221.
- E.L. Struening, "The dimensions, distribution and correlates of
authoritarianism in a midwestern university faculty population,"
Perdue University, (1957). Unpublished doctoral dissertation.
- "Religion: Society's oppressor," The Southeast Michigan
chapter, Freedom from Religion Foundation, at: http://www.atheistalliance.org/michigan/
- Additional references which we have not yet been able to check:
|R.L. Gorsuch, "Religion and prejudice: Lessons not learned
from the past", International Journal for the Psychology of
Religion, (1993), Vol. 3, Pages 29-32.|
|Bob Alterneyer & Bruce Hunsberger, "Authoritarianism,
religious fundamentalism, quest and prejudice," International
Journal for the Psychology of Religion, (1993), Vol. 2, Pages 113-133.|
|H. Chalfant, W. Peek, "Religious affiliation, religiosity and
racial prejudice," Review of Religious Research, (1983) Vol.
25, Nbr. 2, Page 155-161|
|C. Jacobson, "Religiosity and prejudice: an update and
denominational analysis," Review of Religious Research, (1998)
Vol. 39, Nbr. 3, Page 264-272|
Copyright © 1999 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-OCT-29
Latest update: 2006-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson