Friday, February 19, 2010

Religious identity and Racism

Here's one for the books. There's a recent meta-analysis published about links between racism and religiosity. (A meta-analysis means that they take data from many studies and combine and compare them to identify broad trends).

The authors find in a series of studies published over many years, that racist views are more prevalent in people with a strong religious identity, and particularly with those who were religious because of social tradition and conformity. Although racist views have declined over time, they are still apparent.

The effect was strongest for religious conservatives and seminarians, although even those with more moderate views came across as more racist than religious agnostics.

Of course there are people of faith who are part of mixed-race communities, and who have been active in the civil rights movement. But they are the minority overall, and for the majority the sense of in-group vs out-group, moral vs. immoral, them vs. us, appears to be tracked by racial identity too.

From their abstract:
Religious racism partly reflects intergroup dynamics. That is, a strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups. Other races might be treated as out-groups because religion is practiced largely within race, because training in a religious in-group identity promotes general ethnocentrism, and because different others appear to be in competition for resources....The authors failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values, consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members. Only religious agnostics were racially tolerant.
I'm going to speculate that this sort of correlation is true for any sort of group identity, whether it's a social club or a neighborhood association or a church: us vs them. But, there aren't many group identities remaining in our restless, mobile culture, and even church identity is declining.

Their abstract also says,
In addition, religious racism is tied to basic life values of social conformity and respect for tradition. In support, individuals who were religious for reasons of conformity and tradition expressed racism that declined in recent years with the decreased societal acceptance of overt racial discrimination.
Now, given that kind of observation, it's not surprising that anti-GLBT sentiment is also stronger in church groups--and it's still very socially acceptable to be anti-gay. Again, yes, we know that is not true of all church groups, but as we learned in the Prop 8 trial, numbers count-- and you can't count the UCC as equal to the Roman Catholics because there are many more RCs.

So, how do you break down the "us vs them" while keeping the good part?

Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 126-139 (2010)


Counterlight said...

I'm not surprised.

I heard the story of Ham quoted to me many times by very devout Bible-believing folk trying to defend racial segregation in my youth. In my eyes, the Christian religion and the Bible never really recovered from that experience.

Christian faith (as opposed to Christianity) only began to come back for me when I realized that God does not live in a Bronze Age book, and isn't particular to any tribe. To me, what counted far more than some old story of fatherly curses was this passage in the 40th chapter of Isaiah:

"And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

JCF said...

MLK Jr said it best: "11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America."

More thoughts later---