Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Labels: Religion, Opinions, and Ignorance.


I came across a study by the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project that asked 3,217 Americans how they felt about various religions.  The results gave some interesting insights about how people of various religious persuasions feel about others, the relationship of political affiliation to religious feelings, and how ignorance shapes our views.  I was not totally surprised by the results, but many important social conclusions and questions came to mind.

A little bit of background.  Respondents were asked how they feel from a scale of 0 (coldest and most negative) to 100 (warmest and most positive) about Jews, Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists, and Mormons.  It should be noted that due to demographics, almost half of the respondents described themselves as Protestant (White Evangelical, White mainline, and Black Protestant), followed by unaffiliated (Atheist, Agnostic, and nothing in particular), Catholic, and Jewish.

The mainstream Judeo-Christian religions all ranked the highest with Jews (63), Catholics (62), and Evangelicals (61), followed by Buddhists (53), Hindus (50), Mormons (48), Atheists (41), and Muslims (40).  When members of that religion are excluded from the results (removing the “you can’t rate yourself”  bias), Jews remain at the top at 63, but Evangelicals fall from 61 to 52 and Catholics drop from 62 to 58.  The others change little as they make up very small sample sizes in the study.  When looking at how various religious groups responded, Protestants like Jews and Catholics, but were cold towards Muslims and Atheists.  White Evangelicals really like themselves (82) and Jews (69), but conversely Jews only gave White Evangelicals a 39.  White Evangelicals really don’t care for Atheists (25) and Muslims (30).  After giving themselves a self-warming score of 89, Jews responded, in descending order, Buddhists (61), Catholics (58), Hindus (57), Atheists (55), Mormons (48), Muslims (35), and Evangelical Christians (34).  Catholics and Mainline Protestants felt warmth to everyone but Muslims (30) and Atheists (25) while Atheists felt warmth towards Jews (61), Buddhists (69), and Hindus (58) but cold towards Evangelical Christians (28).  Mainline Protestants felt warmer towards Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Atheists, and Muslims than White Evangelicals.

Let’s start asking a few questions.

  1. Why do Evangelicals feel warmer about Jews than the other way around?  Perhaps it’s the whole Rapture thing or perhaps many Jews are also secular and don’t care for the faith-based political activism of Evangelicals.
  2. What separates mainline Protestants from their Evangelical brethren?  Perhaps the former socialize outside their religious circle more than the latter.
  3. Why do all Protestant groups and Catholics feel so cold towards Atheists?   Do they feel threatened?  Do they distrust someone who doesn’t believe in a Deity (Franklin Graham has said as much)?  Doesn’t seem very Christian to me.
  4. Is anyone surprised that Muslims score <50 from other groups?  But it is surprising that Muslims score higher than Atheists from Catholics and Protestants especially in light of 9/11 and the War on Terror.  Is there an Atheist 9/11 I am unaware of?
  5. How cold do Jews feel about Evangelicals?  They rate the same as Muslims in the minds of Jews: <35.  Distrust is a strong feeling.

Not surprisingly, Democrat leaning respondents view the religions in a tighter distribution with Jews the highest at 62 and Mormons the lowest at 44 (Romney effect?).  Conversely, Republican leaning respondents have a wider skew of data with Evangelical Christians at the top (71) and Atheists (34) and Muslims (33) at the bottom.  Since a wide majority of White Evangelical Christians are Republicans, no surprise there.   

As for age, Older people feel warmer about Christians and Jews while younger people have warmer feelings to all religions compared to older participants.  This is likely due to higher representation of the ‘other’ groups in younger people (18-29) versus older (50+) and possibly more liberal views of the younger generations when it comes to religion. 

Finally, ignorance and predisposed opinions do matter.  For all religious groups rated, respondents that knew someone from that affiliation gave warmer results.  Strikingly, the results are summarized below:

Mean Rating of:
Know someone from this group
Don’t know someone from this group


Perhaps the No Labels organization was right.  And perhaps Atticus Finch, the greatest literary American hero of all time, said it best:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

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