Wednesday, December 08, 2010

American Grace 10: Religious People Oppose Dissent

The one civic negative that Putnam and Campbell find about religious people is that they are more likely to oppose dissent and accept restrictions on civil liberties.

After disposing of two possible arguments - that religious people are more Manichean in their worldview, or that religious skeptics support dissent - the authors offer a different explanation.

Religious people support authority more than secular people do. Religious people build up the social order by giving and serving those in need. For a similar reason, they build up civic order by supporting the authority on which that social order legitimately rests.


Benjamin said...

Authoritarianism, anyone...?

Gruntled said...

One can support authority without being authoritarian.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Benjamin, back off a little. Don't jump to a negative conclusion so quickly.

Whit said...

The irony is that religious organizations, and other parts of civil society, that promote civic order and mutual voluntary assistance (helping people in need) reduce the desire for, and acceptance of, the exercise of government coercion to preserve order, etc.

That is, civil society helps us govern ourselves so there is less need of an overreaching government to govern us.

Benjamin said...

Political psychologists define "authoritarianism" as the tendency to 1) see the world in black-and-white vs. shades-of-gray and 2) be willing to enthusiastically follow leaders who provide an ordered worldview. By this definition, it's not the preference for authoritarian dictators or the like. According to the 2008 ANES survey, at least 80% of the American public (myself included!) have at least a moderate degree of "authoritarianism".

I think that Putnam and Campbell's explanation has merit and may be part of the story, but I'm admittedly skeptical that it's the entirety of the explanation.

Higher levels of religiosity are associated with higher levels of "black-and-white"-ism in the American public (significant correlation in the ANES survey, r=0.353), and thus have higher degrees of authoritarianism. When someone tends to see the world in terms of "black-and-white", they're less likely to accept a diversity of religious or political opinions.

To me, this is a more likely explanation of the finding that higher levels of religiosity are associated with more opposition to dissent and higher restrictions on civil liberties.

But that's only my perspective. I assume that Putnam and Campbell provided some sort of persuasive evidence that giving/serving are theoretical mechanisms which result in higher opposition to dissent and more conservative views on civil liberties?

And I agree with Whit: James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that "if men were angels no government would be necessary." To the extent that religious organizations can help us become more angel-like, and thus reduce our need for governmental constraint, so much the better. But again, that's just my perspective, for what it's worth.