Love thy neighbor? It depends, Baylor research says

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

WACO—Highly religious people demonstrate love for neighbors, including people of other racial and ethic groups and homosexuals—if one segment of the religious population is excluded, a Baylor University study shows.

wade rowattnew130Wade RowattThe study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, shows a significant difference when what researchers call “right-wing authoritarianism” is factored out.

“Statistically speaking, right-wing authoritarianism appears to suppress the positive relationship between religiosity and love of neighbor,” said researcher Wade Rowatt, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.

Researchers based the study on analysis of data collected from 389 religiously diverse adult Americans in a 200-question online survey. Participants included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, those with no religion and “others.” Researchers generally defined “religiosity” in terms of frequency of religious activities. They studied positive feelings toward different groups, such as African-Americans, atheists, gay men and lesbians. 

Previously, researchers usually tested the “love thy neighbor” admonition indirectly by measuring degrees of prejudice or withholding generosity, Rowatt said. Prior research indicated religiousness is not positively associated with love of neighbors.

But that approach did not account for the role of rigid ideologies—such as right-wing authoritarianism—in influencing the relationships, said researcher and lead author Megan Johnson Shen, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Rigid ideologies hinder love of neighbor, a new Baylor University study shows.

Prejudice or not giving resources is different from liking or compassion toward a group that is not one’s own, the researchers noted.

“Until now, we’ve never really tested whether religiosity is related to love of neighbors” as evidenced by positive or tolerant attitudes toward those of different races, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, Rowatt said.

The present study addressed prior limitations by examining the relationship between religiosity and liking or “love” of one’s neighbor once the influence of right-wing authoritarianism has been removed from this relationship.

The right-wing authoritarians were identified by how strongly they agreed to such statements as “There are many racial, immoral people in our country today, trying to ruin it for their godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action;” and how strongly they disagreed with such statements as “Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.”

“The bottom line is that religiousness is linked with love of neighbor, as measured with surveys,” Rowatt said. “The next step is to observe actual rates of volunteerism and helping to see if what people say and do match.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.