Religious People really are more Dogmatic and Conservative

June 1, 2011


You know the stereotype — how really religious people are far more likely to take dogmatic, inflexible, and conservative stances. 

But the evidence is rolling in, and there’s something real behind the stereotype.

Over at the blog Epiphenom, Tom Rees describes recent research linking inflexible patterns of thinking with personal religious convictions.  And, as Tom also points out, there is growing body of research about the mental inflexibility of political conservatives. 

Tom writes, “it is truly remarkable that both religiosity and right-wing ideology can be predicted solely on the basis of an inability to cope with randomness.”

Here’s another fresh piece of research into this mental inflexibility that is behind both strongly religious and strongly conservative stances.  In a new issue of Current Psychology, there is an article on “Examination of the Relationship between Perfectionism and Religiosity as Mediated by Psychological Inflexibility” by Jesse M. Crosby, Scott C. Bates and Michael P. Twohig.  They see the same thing: Psychological inflexibility and inability to deal with change correlate well with both religiosity and perfectionism.

The correlation with mental inflexibility accounts for the way that very religious people just love that inner feeling of absolute certainty.  The correlation with perfectionism is especially interesting.  It accounts for the way that religious people feel free to impose high standards on everyone in addition to themselves, whereas less religion correlates with tolerance for diversity.  It also links up with the heightened racism in very religious people.

Cognitive adaptivity and the capacity to appreciate diversity are indeed psychological signs that neither dogmatic religion nor dogmatic politics can gain a mental foothold.  Is God just the shadow cast by an unconscious resistance to change?