Racism is linked to Religious dogmatism

February 16, 2010

Religious people can be racist, and that's not news.  But are they more likely to be racist than non-religious people?  A new study now confirms this hypothesis.

The February issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review has published a meta-analysis of 55 independent studies conducted in the United States which considers surveys of over 20,000 mostly Christian participants. Religious congregations generally express more prejudiced views towards other races. Furthermore, the more devout the community, the greater the racism. 

We also read this additional fascinating conclusion from the authors' summary:

"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."

Is this a surprising result? Humanistic values, such as equal dignity and rights for all humanity, are often professed by many Christian denominations. But does this preaching make any difference to their members' actual prejudices? Apparently not!

This study finds that a denomination's demand for devout allegiance to its Christian creed overrides any humanistic message. By demanding such devotion to one specific and dogmatic Christianity, a denomination only encourages its members to view outsiders as less worthy.

--- Let's read that conclusion again: "Only religious agnostics were racially tolerant." Why would religious agnostics be more humanistic and less racist?

Religious agnostics would be people who combine a religious/spiritual attitude in living life with a humble admission that they don't know if their approach is the only right way. Religious agnostics are pluralistic -- they have no problem admiring how different people can enjoy different religious paths. And it is precisely this lack of dogmatism which permits humanistic values to shine through. Religious exclusivism defeats humanistic universalism, but religious pluralism enhances humanistic universalism.

The message to humanists? It's not enough to ask religious people to be more humanistic. Humanists must ask for less dogmatism across the board -- if Christians would be more humanistic, they must surrender their conviction that their way is the only way. Humanism does not eliminate reverence, but it asks for a higher perspective -- something like "reverence for reverence." Revere your own religious path, but also respect and revere others' ability to devote themselves to a higher good in their own way. It is precisely that kind of universal respect for all paths which can reduce prejudice.

As for the nonreligious, this "reverence for reverence" is essential to humanism in the first place. We should all be able to create our own way of relating to the wide universe as we learn to understand it. And the humanistic ideal is that everyone can do this together in mutual respect and peace.

Comments:

#1 David (Guest) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 at 9:22pm

Huh, interesting. How did they define what “racially tolerant” meant? I’d read the study myself, but I really should be doing Physics homework, so I don’t have time.

Also, for the record, I’ve grown up as a Christian, and I have yet to meet anyone in the Churches I’ve attended that was racist.

#2 M. Lee (Guest) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 at 3:20pm

Excellent article; thanks for posting. It’s nice to see this clearly pointed out.

David, if that is true you are a very lucky person. Although I did go to church as a kid, only recently did I begin to understand the latent characteristics of racist attitudes that were present in the behavior of many of my churchgoing acquaintences, who don’t mean it intentionally and are otherwise outstandingly kind people.

One small example for you: traveling missionaries who seek to convert people to Christianity generally target those people of different races/ethnicities whom they consider primitive, and whose cultures, religions and spiritual practices they consider less valid than their own. Hence their choices are often a characteristic of racism, even though they may genuinely wish to help ‘save’ the people in question. Knowing this, to merely support the efforts of those missionaries as correct, say through church fundraising, can also be a form of racism. Of course sending food and supplies to people in need without blaring the message of “Join my religion” is not quite the same. Most church cultures foster a general sense of superiority and absolute righteousness in their members because, like in any social group, it strengthens their sense of identity.

In any case, to choose one path over all other possibilities, without doubt, is to assume superiority of the path you have chosen. To live without truly appreciating the spectrum of beliefs that have been created by the vastness of the human experience seems disingenuous to the beauty of our wide, wonderful universe.

#3 Baron Korf (Guest) on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 3:47pm

M. Lee, you really don’t understand missionaries do you?

Why would they give up the comforts of home and family to convert people?  Too boost their own ego?  Bah, we can do that at home.  It is because they really love their fellow man and earnestly believe that this is the path to eternal life and bliss.  How much would you have to hate someone to deny them that knowledge?

Even more dramatic are the Catholic missionaries to the New World at the beginning of the colonial period.  They were given funerals when they left home since it was known that they were not coming back.  The opening to the movie “The Mission” was a perfect example of why.  The Christian mindset is to convert the whole world, not for power or prestige, but out of love so that all souls may reach Heaven.

If that is racism then we are guilty as charged.

#4 AM (Guest) on Sunday February 21, 2010 at 3:48am

Missionaries certainly work out from superiority.
In Macau/China for example, they arrived about some 500 years ago in a poor village with its own culture and gods. As they knew how to write and had a little money, (the money btw they always critic), they hired local people and started to build churches, schools, hospitals. And Macaneses fed this way started to convert themselves. There are 28 churches in Macau, mostly nowadays empty ... There are also currently over 28 big casinos offering now employments and Macaneses people go back to their ancient Buddhist and Taoist beliefs. And some live a New Spirituality, free of any isms.

#5 David (Guest) on Sunday February 21, 2010 at 8:40am

Well, no one has answered my first question. So, again, how did the study define what “racially tolerant” meant?

M. Lee, you define a form of racism as thinking that one way is better than another way. By saying that Christians are racist, you are saying that your way is better than theirs. Therefore, by your own definition, are you not racist yourself?

To be blunt, I don’t get how thinking your ideas are better than someone else’s can be racism. Racism is all about peoples race. Christianity makes no distinction about race at all. One church I went to supported a missionary couple who were mixed race.

If, by racism, you mean bigotry, then what you are saying makes more sense. Though, still flawed.

#6 gray1 on Sunday February 21, 2010 at 9:53pm

Generalities should be put forth ever so lightly, if at all.  Perspectives define any bias, regardless, and fools or simply the fooled can exist anywhere.

#7 Chris (Guest) on Monday February 22, 2010 at 7:16am

Very interesting article.  I’d like to read the meat-analysis referred to in the article.  Regarding the missionaries in foreign countries. Years ago, I read a really interesting book entitled:  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (I think this is the correct spelling, if memory serves me).  The discussion of missionaries reminded me of it.

#8 Chris (Guest) on Monday February 22, 2010 at 7:17am

I apologize for the spelling error.  I meant meta-analysis.

#9 Ian (Guest) on Monday March 08, 2010 at 11:32am

I might read this article… but I don’t want to pay $25 for the right to read this article for one day on one computer.  They are just getting more and more ridiculous.

Open Access pls, kthnx.

#10 Ali (Guest) on Monday March 08, 2010 at 10:46pm

David I have not read the full report so do not know if how he specifically defined what he means by racial tolerance. However I can tell you what I think he means. I think he mean you are tolerant enough of other races to accept them which includes the culture and beliefs. The difference his pointing out is that agnostic believers do not think less of other just because they do not have the same beliefs. When you think less of someone wither you think so are not it will translate into your actions. The hardest part the people that are like this may not consider themselves racist but it can be seen from others outside the group. Missionaries are a good example. They believe so stongely their way is the only way they push it so hard they end up showing no respect the beliefs of those they encounter. It comes out in varying degrees but it is their. Chances are if you are part of a group that think everyone outside that group is wrong you do have some racial intolerance and the hard part is you probably would not see it unless you were not part of the group. It is one of those thinks you cannot see on from the inside. Until you step outside the group you probably will not notice. I know this from my own personal experience. Racial intolerance is not always something intentional or that you are even aware you feel. I hope this helps.

#11 David (Guest) on Monday March 08, 2010 at 11:14pm

Ali, thanks for your response.

What you describe is not racism. You could call it bigotry, but not racism. Racism has to do with features that are physical. Not beliefs and culture.

If looking down on someone else’s beliefs and culture is racism/bigotry, then everyone is a racist/bigot. I’m one because I think that someones belief that the Earth is flat is utterly stupid. You’re one because you think my belief that cultures need lots of changing is bad. A football fan is one because he thinks the basketball fan is wrong to like basketball more than football.

There are some people in Africa who believe that having sex (with I virgin I think it was) will cure them of AIDS. Is it racism/bigotry for missionaries to go in and teach that that cultural belief is wrong?

Also, in defense of missionaries, there are some who go out and try to make unbelievers clones of themselves. That’s wrong and stupid, not to mention unbiblical. But there are many/more who spend most of their time helping improve others lives. Then when people ask them why they are helping they share the good news of Jesus Christ.

So, the most that can be said is that there are some branches of religions that are more likely to be bigoted/racist. I expect the study mainly talked to that kind of religious person. To take that and extend it to all people who are religious is stupid.

#12 SB (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 2:28am

“There are some people in Africa who believe that having sex (with I virgin I think it was) will cure them of AIDS. Is it racism/bigotry for missionaries to go in and teach that that cultural belief is wrong?”

No David, it is not wrong. But it IS wrong for Catholic missionaries to tell them that condoms are against the will of God. Or that the Christian god is the only god. Or for the Pope to lie and tell Africans that condoms will CAUSE AIDS instead of preventing it. (

#13 SB (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 2:30am

“There are some people in Africa who believe that having sex (with I virgin I think it was) will cure them of AIDS. Is it racism/bigotry for missionaries to go in and teach that that cultural belief is wrong?”

No David, it is not wrong. But it IS wrong for Catholic missionaries to tell them that condoms are against the will of God. Or that the Christian god is the only god. Or for the Pope to lie and tell Africans that condoms will CAUSE AIDS instead of preventing it. (Google it). Now why in the world would he tell a bunch of poor, uneducated, disenfranchised Africans something like that? Are you going to tell me that he does not view them in a certain “light” that has absolutely nothing to do with color? Why isn’t he selling that garbage to white American Catholics?

And as a former Christian “missionary” turned agnostic let me tell you something. Missionaries have a primary purpose and that is to “convert souls to Jesus.” They see poverty and disaster as an opportunity to “spread the good news.” Their agenda supersedes their benevolence. I’m sure that there are a few out there that have sincere hearts of selfless giving, but they few and far between. Don’t kid yourself.

This country was FOUNDED on racism. Racism is found throughout the Bible itself (Google it) and has generally played a major part in Christianity down through history and helped shape it into what it is today. So what this study suggests is definitely not a stretch by any means.

And as far as the “good news” goes, the picture you paint of missionaries innocently sharing their faith with the curious is a crock. Their whole raison d’être is to spread the word of jesus. They are just not going to travel thousands of miles across continents without creating a flock. Trust me, if no one asked them about their faith, they would preach it anyway! If they are simply there for benevolence, why would they impose their religion on people that had their own beliefs in the first place? How much respect do you think these missionaries have for Africans? They couldn’t care less about the African god(s), religion or culture except to exploit it for their purposes.  If they were really there out of true “Christian benevolence,” then they would give the aid and not interfere further. It wasn’t enough that so-called “Christians” abducted, enslaved and then imposed their religion upon Africans, now they gotta bring the mountain to Mohammed, so to speak.

Anyway, I agree with whoever said $25 is ridiculous for one day access to one report. But it’s pointless to speculate on what they meant by racial tolerance until we actually read the report.

#14 Baron Korf (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 7:27am

Gosh SB, that’s rather bigoted of you to say that the Christian beliefs are wrong.  What happened to the open minded agnosticism?

And while you are googling things, how about you google the Harvard professor who said that the numbers validate the Pope’s claims.  Also google where the infection rates are lowest and what programs they have in place there.  You might be surprised.

#15 AM (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 9:06am

Google please truthbeknown.com
There a bright young lady explaining that simply Jesus never existed like we’ve been taught. She’s fabulous. Enjoy!

#16 SB (Guest) on Wednesday March 10, 2010 at 10:30am

Baron, point out to me where I said that Christian beliefs are wrong. Christians are free to BELIEVE anything they want. There is nothing wrong with sharing that. But to aggressively seek to convert the poor away from their own traditions and beliefs by manipulating their vulnerabilities/helplessness via “benevolence” is bullcrap. And to promote the dogma of “abstinence IN PLACE OF condoms” to a continent of a BILLION people with the highest AIDS rate in the world is beyond irresponsible…it’s despicable and akin to mass murder. And that is nothing to be “open-minded” about.

And as for the Harvard professor you cited, I suggest that you read his conclusions further as well as the rebuttals from his opponents. He did agree with the pope in theory but he did not dismiss the condom and his conclusions were based on science and sexual behavior and are much more complex and HONORABLE than the pope’s religious dogma that the condom is “anti-God” BIG difference.

#17 SB (Guest) on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 11:42am

Just thought I would share this recent video report with you:

#18 SB (Guest) on Thursday March 11, 2010 at 11:44am

Unfortunately, you cannot share links on this site. Please Google: “Anti-Homosexual Bill In Uganda Causes Global Uproar” and watch the video.

#19 kalligulla (Guest) on Sunday March 14, 2010 at 5:08pm

Premise: Religious people are more prone to racism than non-religious people. Subtext: Humanism is morally superior to Christianity. From a study of mostly(but not exclusively) christians. The Denominational breakdown is not provided so it’s not clear how diverse the sample is.

“Is this a surprising result? Humanistic values, such as equal dignity and rights for all humanity, are often professed by many Christian denominations. But does this preaching make any difference to their members’ actual prejudices? Apparently not”

How is ‘actual prejudice’ proven from a survey? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it ‘professed’ prejudice? Why is the prejudice ‘actual’ i.e real and unquestionable, a statement of fact, while the ‘good’ values like Human dignity and rights ‘professed’ i.e given verbal service to with the caveat that they might not be actually followed by those that claim to believe in them. How does one not know that Humanists themselves are not racist? It wouldn’t be very humanist to admit to racism would it?

“This study finds that a denomination’s demand for devout allegiance to its Christian creed overrides any humanistic message. By demanding such devotion to one specific and dogmatic Christianity, a denomination only encourages its members to view outsiders as less worthy.”

Why is it assumed (presumably by a non-christian) that ALL denominations ‘demand’ devout allegiance to their christian creed?For the purposes of this debate,let’s assume this to be so.The central tenet of christianity, the highiest commandment is to love one another as one loves themselves. How is this overrriding Humanism? How is this ‘encouraging one to view an outsider as less worthy? And how come we are now only specifically talking about Christianity when the original survey is based on ‘mostly’ and not only Christians?

My faith is affirmative. My belief that Jesus Christ died in order to provide a path towards salvation for me is not based on my priests exhortations, but my own searching and questioning. I was never ‘encouraged’ to do anything but take my time and ponder and read.It is very personal for me and i wouldn’t dream of telling someone else that they are going to hell. I would bet a million dollars that most members of my congregation would fall along these lines too.  It is possible to find a path that suits one while not seeking to demagogue others.
“Religious agnostics would be people who combine a religious/spiritual attitude in living life with a humble admission that they don’t know if their approach is the only right way”

To be Agnostic is to say this about the existence of God: I don’t know.
Agnostics take no position one way or the other. To be Religious is to profess belief in a supernatural or God.Thus the term Religious Agnostic is incoherent and self-refuting.

How does one take seriously a survey that purpots to show how racist Religious people are but does not mention the tremendous and very humanist work done by the catholic church in Africa and Latin America? And that’s just ONE denomination of the Christian faith. The Mormon church and the various Protestant churches have sent missionaries to these same continents and done much good for the locals. This isn’t mentioned once.

“Humanists must ask for less dogmatism across the board—if Christians would be more humanistic, they must surrender their conviction that their way is the only way.”

Massive incoherence. How does one use phrases like ‘must’ in an appeal to others to abandon their dogmatism? Don’t definitives like ‘must’ preclude dogma of any kind?

“Revere your own religious path, but also respect and revere others”

Except christians, tell them what they ‘must’ do.

“As for the nonreligious, this “reverence for reverence” is essential to humanism in the first place. We should all be able to create our own way of relating to the wide universe as we learn to understand it. And the humanistic ideal is that everyone can do this together in mutual respect and peace”

On what basis is this instruction given? Is this not in itself an article of faith? A statement of personal Religion?How is this statement not based on the premise that it is superior to other religions?

My own way of relating to the wide universe as i have learnt to understand it is to place my faith that there was once a minor Jewish Rabbi who existed and that his name was Jesus Christ and that he was God incarnate. He was human but one that was thouroughly suffused with divinity and his becoming a man who was later crucified,died and rose again was an act of profound humility and love.

#20 ernieson (Guest) on Monday March 15, 2010 at 9:13am

Arrogance and a holier-than-thou attitude to the unsaved heathens—-yeah, that’s the ticket!

#21 Kevin Schmidt (Guest) on Monday March 15, 2010 at 10:13am

Of course, #3 Baron Korf, is completely wrong. He posted the official reason given for converting the natives, “The Christian mindset is to convert the whole world, not for power or prestige, but out of love so that all souls may reach Heaven.”

But then he conveniently forgot to post the REAL reason, which was and still is collusion with the state to impose upon the “heathen savages” imperialism and subjugation.

Christianity is without question the most brutal and repressive religion of all time. More people have been killed, tortured, terrorized, enslaved and robbed of their valuables and property in the name of Jesus than all other religions combined.

We have met the true “heathen savages” and they are indeed Christians!

#22 bill haywood (Guest) on Monday March 15, 2010 at 2:04pm

What’s with this article stating that which is obvious to a turnip. Perhaps it is because I was brought up among chritians of the “southern baptist” stripe, but I had always assumed racism and christianity were synonymous. It has never been otherwise in my experience.

#23 David (Guest) on Monday March 15, 2010 at 4:47pm

The main idea presented by the article is that Christians are racist.

I pointed out that the apparent definition used for racism was wrong. I say apparent because I don’t have access to the original study, which makes it a very questionable source.

I then pointed out that using that definition makes them racist by that definition. No one has refuted that.

Also, that definition is totally wrong. It is essentially saying that no one can consider another’s ideas or beliefs wrong. Thus, finding that Christians are more racist that non-Christians is false.

Something that some have, apparently, failed to realize is that Christians are a very diverse lot. To be blunt, many people call themselves Christians, but don’t live it. I would be willing to bet that they make up the majority of the American Church.

Basically, the few Christians who really are racist by the real definition, are either not really Christian, or they simply haven’t broken free of the sin of racism. To stereotype all Christians as racist based on that is ludicrous.

In the end, the article is a sad attempt to make Christianity seem bad. It’s equivalent to surveying 20,000 health nuts and finding that most of them hate fat people, then concluding that all healthy people hate fat people.

The article also fails to support its claims sufficiently, it just gives one quote, and a bunch of claims from the study. There is no attempt to provide the facts and reasoning of the study that support the claims made. We are expected to simply take the authors word that the study proves the claims. Or fork over money. That has crippled the debate by denying us the information required to make arguments and counter arguments. How can we have a productive debate when we have to spend tons of money that we don’t have to gain the source of the debate?

#24 Baron Korf (Guest) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 at 6:43am

That’s a bold claim Kevin, where do you get that statistic?  Even if it is true, you are, of course, being non-judgmental so you don’t think that it is wrong, being all open minded and accepting and all.

Saying that missionaries were willing to give up their lives for the expansion of various states is just ridiculous.  If that were true, the Franciscans and Jesuit missionaries would’ve shown up with a full military compliment, had body guards, and stayed within the comfortable confines of conquered territory.  History shows us they did not.  Most times the only person a missionary would take with them is a fellow missionary.  Not a very effective force for subjugation.  Rather than speak in abstract terms, look at the Missions of San Antonio.  They are a perfect example of this.

What I find so funny is that no one seems to see the irony here:

Christians are assumed to be racist because the spread their beliefs.  This is believed to be wrong by the atheist/agnostic crowd who try to convince us of this.

Christians are racist because they ‘impose’ their values on third world countries.  The UN is humanitarian because they ‘impose’ their values on third world countries.

Christians are racist because they believe non-Christians to be mistaken.  Atheists/Agnostics are open minded because they believe Christians to be mistaken.

Hilarious.

#25 David (Guest) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 at 9:11am

Yes, the irony is strong. That’s always been one of the more hilarious things about the claim that religious people shouldn’t “impose” their values on others.

I tried to point the same thing out earlier, I guess I wasn’t blunt enough.

#26 Anthony McCarthy (Guest) on Wednesday March 17, 2010 at 6:44am

Unfortunately the blurb doesn’t really say much about the character of the research reviewed in the meta-study.  Considering the widespread acceptance of utter garbage in much of the social sciences, you can’t rely on any further analysis of large blocks of research including them.  So, I wouldn’t buy the conclusion.

I’ll bet most of the mainline Christian denominations are more racially inclusive and pro-active than professional science and more rapidly self-correcting.  James Watson? For example?

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.