An article by Wency Leung (Vancouver Sun), reprinted in today’s Journal, held no surprises but did confirm something most lapsed or lapsing conservative evangelical Christians know.
In researching the apparent link between religion and intolerance (believing if there is a link it needs to be shown empirically) University of British Columbia professor of social psychology, Ara Norenzayan, found that faith in God itself does not make people less tolerant to others who don’t share their beliefs. Rather, so-called "boundary-setting" tendencies, or dogmatism, seem to be the culprit. Also, research participants who agreed to the statement, "My God or belief is the only true one," were more likely to support violence.
No news flash there but another study by Norenzayan and fellow researchers was a bit more interesting. They found that Muslim Palestinians who prayed to God frequently were no more or less likely to support suicide attacks than those who did not. However, those who frequently attended mosque were more likely to endorse violent martyrdom. Similarly, Jewish settlers in the West Bank who attended synagogue were more likely to support violence against Palestinians than those who did not. Norenzayan said synagogue and mosque attendance likely contribute to boundary-setting. "It’s ’my group versus the other group.’
The family resemblance with Christian fundamentalism is obvious enough. And this surely shows the link between the Sunday after Sunday boundary-setting sermons and "worship rallies" of too many conservative evangelical churches and their resultant or correlative acceptance and sometimes endorsement of violence.
According to Norenzayan’s research, perhaps not too surprisingly, prayer on its own doesn’t have that kind of factious effect on people.
So unless your church has given up the taste for group-defining, here’s a New Year’s resolution to consider: Make 2007 a church-free year. But with more prayer.