Study: Religious people more tolerant than atheists

Atheists and agnostics believe themselves to be more tolerant and open-minded than religious people - but in fact are less so.

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Chana Roberts,

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Religious Jewish men
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A new study from Belgium's Catholic University of Louvain shows that religious people are more tolerant of other viewpoints than atheists.

The study, called "Are Atheists Undogmatic?" surveyed 788 people in the UK, France, and Spain, and examined three aspects of mental rigidity.

Co-authored by Filip Uzarevic, Vassilis Saroglou, and Magali Clobert, the study was published on April 27 in the peer-reviewed journal "Personality and Individual Differences."

Included in the group were 302 atheists, 255 Christians, 143 agnostics, 37 Buddhists, 17 Muslims, and 3 Jews. Fifty-one participants self-identified as "other."

The findings showed that atheists and agnostics believe themselves to be more open-minded than religious people but are in fact less tolerant of differing ideas and opinions, measuring lower than the religious in "self-reported dogmatism" but higher in "subtly-measured intolerance." Religious people "seemed to better perceive and integrate diverging perspectives."

In addition, the strength of a person's belief in atheism or religion is directly correlated to their intolerance level.

Speaking to PsyPost, Uzarevic said, "The main message of the study is that closed-mindedness is not necessarily found only among the religious."

"The idea started through noticing that, in public discourse, despite both the conservative/religious groups and liberal/secular groups showing strong animosity towards the opposite ideological side, somehow it was mostly the former who were often labeled as ‘closed-minded.

"Moreover, such view of the secular being more tolerant and open seemed to be dominant in the psychological literature. Being interested in this topic, we started to discuss whether this is necessarily and always the case: Are the religious indeed generally more closed-minded, or would it perhaps be worthy of investigating the different aspects of closed-mindedness and their relationship with (non)religion?

"In our study, the relationship between religion and closed-mindedness depended on the specific aspect of closed-mindedness. The nonreligious compared to the religious seemed to be less closed minded when it came to explicitly measured certainty in one’s beliefs.

"However, and somewhat surprisingly, when it came to subtly measured inclination to integrate views that were diverging and contrary to one’s own perspectives, it was the religious who showed more openness.

"In sum, closed-mindedness (or at least some aspects of it) may not be reserved only for the religious. Moreover, in some aspects, the nonreligious may even ‘outperform’ the religious."

However, Uzarevic did not some limitations to the study, including whether the findings are typical only for Europe, or reflect global tendencies, the fact that the survey was conducted online, and the relatively small sample size.

"Despite these limitations," Uzarevic noted, "the study did offer relatively consistent results, and a good starting point for future research."








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