Religious Fundamentalism means Authoritarianism and Prejudice

June 11, 2011

A previous blog described how religious people are more dogmatic and conservative.  Researchers have long been investigating other relationships between strong religious conviction and psychological traits.  For example, are rigidly religious people more likely to be people who are prejudiced, authoritarian, or militaristic? 

A powerful tool for social scientists is the "meta-analysis" which aggregates the results of other studies.  A single published study may be produced from examining hundreds of people or more, which is a large sampling, but a meta-analysis of dozens of such studies looking for the same thing obtains results about many, many thousands of people. 

A new meta-analysis has just been published, looking for correlations between religious conviction and unfortunate traits such as authoritarianism and ethnocentrism:

McCleary, D. F., Quillivan, C. C., Foster, L. N., & Williams, R. L. . Meta-Analysis of Correlational Relationships Between Perspectives of Truth in Religion and Major Psychological Constructs. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality  (May 23, 2011).

This meta-study especially looked at "fundamentalism" and "quest" varieties of religious belief -- people who think that their religion supplies infallible truths on the one hand, and people who take religion to be more about a spiritual quest for growth on the other. (These are primary kinds of believers, and there are others besides, but this study only focused on these two categories.)

Top among this article's conclusions were results like these: 

Fundamentalism correlated positively with authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and prejudice, whereas quest correlated (mainly negatively) with only two of those constructs (authoritarianism and prejudice). Fundamentalism and quest correlated with the latter variables in opposite directions.

Those positive correlations means that fundamentalists are noticeably more authoritarian -- defined like this, "Authoritarian individuals submit to authorities, aggress against those inclined to challenge authorities, and embrace societal standards perceived as established by authorities."  This study's authors emphasize this strong correlation: "By far the strongest and most consistent psychological variable linked to the two truth orientations was authoritarianism."  By contrast, "questing" believers are noticeably less likely to be authoritarian or prejudiced.

Another strong correlation is between fundamentalism and ethnocentrism:  

With regard to the kindred concepts of ethnocentrism and prejudice, fundamentalism was associated with an in-group/out-group mentality and with prejudice toward groups whose ethnicity, values, or sexual orientations tended to deviate from fundamentalist norms. On the other hand, religious quest tended to be either negatively related or unrelated to measures of prejudice and discrimination. Fundamentalism has also been moderately and positively related to the advocacy of military power in forging change in other societies.

Specifically, with regard to the correlation between fundamentalism and prejudice, this study was able to identify the greatest kinds of prejudices:

Overall, we classified 12 of 27 effect sizes between fundamentalism and various measures of prejudice as large, with an overall average weighted effect size of .45. Although these studies included assessment of prejudice toward communists, women, and Blacks, the principal target of fundamentalists' prejudice was homosexuals and/or homosexuality.

Well, are there any big surprises from a comprehensive study like this?  It's only natural that eroding uncivil authoritarianism and ethnic and sexual prejudice is going to require diminishing religious fundamentalism. 

But the reality behind these confirmed stereotypes is even more serious.  Pause for a moment and consider why fundamentalism permits a "perfect storm" of damage against core civic virtues and principles of democracy.  By combining intellectual rigidity, preference for stern authority, prejudice against others, and a willingness to use military power, fundamentalism is connected to a willingness to impose just one narrow way of life on everyone else, by force if necessary.  That's not just psychologically unhealthy -- it is political pestilence.  These are not democratic values.  Fundamentalism is indeed the high road to tyranny and fascism.  Eroding fundamentalism is necessary to preserving the democratic way of life.



#1 Dave (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 8:06am

“Eroding fundamentalism is necessary to preserving the democratic way of life.”

While I agree whole-heartedly, how, exactly, do you go about doing that?  Keep in mind that the fundamentalist goal is domination, through force if necessary.  How do you counter that without resorting to force in defense, if not offense?

#2 Terrell Bennett (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 9:02am

Fundamentalism is probably the most destructive force in the U. S. but it is a force and to counter it will require a force.  The problem face by free thinkers is the lack of organization.  This equates with lack of force.  When ever I hear anyone discussing an organization for free thinkers, it usually ends with the idea of leadership.  Freethinkers do not follow leaders.  But for the purpose of self-preservation, we must overcome this objection.

#3 Keith Pinster (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 3:21pm

I think one of the most important process of eroding fundamentalism is speaking out.  These types of articles are very important.  Confronting the religious people who comment in articles like this is, in my opinion, just as important.  Pointing out the idiocy of their belief system on a continual basis is a dire necessity. 

One important part of this is to confront these people in a very dispassionate, non-emotional way.  It is VERY unlikely that we will ever “convert” a true believer.  However, on forums like this, we are not confronting the religitard for that purpose.  We are speaking to the audience.  We are speaking to the people who are interested in the debate.  We need to show that we are the stable, reasonable, rational person in the discussion and allow the religiot to expose their irrational, inconsistent, bigoted viewpoint of the world.  The more they do that, the more people will see that religion is nothing but an irrational, emotional belief system that has no basis in reality.

Be assured that it is happening.  The more people speak out against religion, the more other people feel comfortable speaking out.  The more people admit to being atheists, the more people will come out of the “closet”.  The more acceptable it becomes to be atheists, the young people disavow their religious indoctrination.  Atheism is growing in this country more and more rapidly.  Slowly but surely, we are winning the fight for freedom.

#4 wyocowboy62 (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 4:42pm

Great article!

#5 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 8:50pm

It also means hypocrisy in many cases, as $90 Rick Perry now shows:

#6 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Sunday June 12, 2011 at 8:53pm

OK, let’s try that URL again: socraticgadfly.blogspot DOT com/2011/06/rickperry-90-religious-hypocrite DOT html

#7 neolib=plndr on Monday June 13, 2011 at 10:46am

Please consider “Religious Fundamentalism”, authoritarian style, and “Global Warming” being of the same clothe if you will. They are one in same for me. For example, institutional slavery on North American soil, circa Industrial Revolution, has led to a melting planet.
  You know, what is happening to the planet—the melting, the wind, the fire, etc. is the outcome perhaps of the misuse of natural resources including Labor! It actually does not work, such misuse, this is what the planet is telling us. Even at the same time North America is the windiest place on the planet and yet can have one of the largest oil disasters known in essentially the place, the Gulf of Mexico.
  2008, election year—hurricane Ike killed 195 people with damages of $29.6 billion yet Sarah P.‘s campaign slogan, “Drill baby, drill!” filled our airways. This is plunder to me, for nothing. Plunder is groundless and leads only to further ‘breaking’. This is why I seek to speak of ‘plunder’ w/in CFI’s forums, lets talk about this.
  Another example; U.S. paster(s) going to the African country of Uganda in order that Ugandan Constitution be amended to include the killing of homosexuals(i.e. legal genocide). Oddly enough at the same time AFRICOM, the U.S. Military Command in Africa was executing war games all over the coast of the entire continent. For me this is of one single narrative; to splinter Labor in order to garner the goods…or plunder in the name of proper sexuality. This will exacerbate warming, it is therefore groundless, for nothing. No religion can cover this.
  Clearly we are ready for our Tienanmen moment. We are learning that, ‘you can’t break anything to prove anything’, I don’t think it has ever happened in human history/herstory up to this very moment! It would be like breaking into an evidence room, destroying evidence—to build a case!
  This is why I say plunder is groundless, so what say ye?

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