Religion and Xenophobia

February 12, 2012

It's not the fault of atheists. It's the religion that makes religious people distrust others so different from themselves.

The social sciences have long been studying how religion increases trust among congregants who already know each other inside a church, but trust drops towards unfamiliar people. If the cause for this decrease in trust is just the prior social familiarity, and not any religious factor, then all religious groups and nonreligious groups would roughly display the same pattern, but they don't. Conservative Protestants are more distrusting of strangers than nonreligious groups or Mainline Protestants, and Catholics are even more distrusting. ["The Radius of Trust: Religion, Social Embeddedness and Trust in Strangers." Welch, Michael R.; Sikkink, David; Loveland, Matthew T. (2007). Social Forces 86 (1), 23-46.]

Clearly, conservative religion fails to "love thy neighbor" unless thy neighbor is already in the same church. 

The effects of religion's inability to decrease fear of strangers extends beyond church walls, too. As Tom Rees recounts over at Epiphenom, ordinary people simply standing near churches display less trust and more hostility towards all sorts of social groups [as reported in"Differences in Attitudes Toward Outgroups in Religious and Nonreligious Contexts in a Multinational Sample: A Situational Context Priming Study". LaBouff, J., Rowatt, W., Johnson, M., & Finkle, C. (2011).  International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22 (1), 1-9.]

Despite all the preaching, religion and xenophobia go together. On the other hand, secularity and civil society, where people of all backgrounds can interact without prejudice, is where trust can properly flourish.