Why religion breeds both compassion and hatred

Tom Jacobs writes: President Donald Trump probably would not have been elected if not for the overwhelming support he enjoyed from evangelical Christians. This continues to puzzle and frustrate his opponents, who ask why they voted for a man whose campaign was largely based on hatred and vilification.

While it’s easy to blame tribalism or simple hypocrisy, newly published research suggests religiosity exerts two distinct psychological pulls.

It argues genuine piety can be a catalyst for compassion. But the shared rituals that create a cohesive congregation “may also produce hatred of others”—especially among those who lack deeply felt spiritual beliefs.

“Our data suggest that the social activities which accompany religion drive the hostility towards other groups, rather than the quality of one’s belief or the degree of devotion,” a research team led by Rod Lynch of the University of Missouri writes in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Building on research that dates back to the 1960s, Lynch and his colleagues remind us that religious people come in two varieties: true believers, and those who embrace a faith tradition as a way of fulfilling some secular need, such as peace of mind or connection to a community.

This distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religiosity was laid out by the influential psychologist Gordon Allport in the 1960s, who reported ethnic prejudice was associated only with the latter. Much later research found this to also be true of homophobia. [Continue reading…]

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