From: How secular family values stack up

Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Is this statement true? Are there many studies that say this? Are they good studies? Are there other studies that bring these conclusions into question?

  • 1
    This is US-centric, correct? The terms of comparison change.
    – Sklivvz
    Feb 14, 2015 at 2:31
  • @Sklivvz The cite is the LA Times, so US-centric, but it does source crime rates from other (i.e. Scandinavian) countries. By all means feel free to edit as you please if you feel there is an improvement to be made here. Feb 14, 2015 at 2:32
  • 3
    There are 5 claims here making it difficult to answer. Too broad?
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 14, 2015 at 6:50
  • 1
    Is this even answerable? (considering we reject questions that depend on assessing specific individuals' religiocity/atheism, e.g. Hitler's; any study covering this would suffer from pretty much the same definitional problems. How do you delineate a religious from atheist from agnostic accurately)?
    – user5341
    Feb 14, 2015 at 18:40
  • 1
    @Sklivvz - "Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults."
    – user5341
    Feb 15, 2015 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


The author published a peer-review article with sources:

Atheism, Secularity, and Well-Being: How the Findings of Social Science Counter Negative Stereotypes and Assumptions, Phil Zuckerman, Sociology Compass 3/6 (2009): 949–971, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2009.00247.x

But more significantly, when we actually compare the values and beliefs of atheists and secular people to those of religious people, the former are markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian (Greeley and Hout 2006; Sider 2005; Altemeyer 2003, 2009; Jackson and Hunsberger 1999; Wulff 1991; Altemeyer and Hunsberger 1992, 1997; Beit-Hallahmi 2007; Beit-Hallahmi and Argyle 1997; Batson et al. 1993; Argyle 2000).

Here's an analysis of the sources I could read, unfortunately some of them are books which I can't access at the moment. I don't know to what level the books would support the author's point, however the article has been peer reviewed, the books seem scholarly, well reviewed and in-depth. See Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary: Classic and Contemporary Views as an example of such a book.


Studies are reported of university students, and of their parents, that found that religious fundamentalism correlated quite highly with religious ethnocentrism, as well as with-to lesser degrees-hostility toward homosexuals and prejudice against various racial-ethnic minorities. Also, fundamentalist students reported receiving strong training in identifying with the family religion from an early age. But, by comparison, they reported virtually no stress being placed on their racial identification. It is suggested that strong, early emphasis of the family religion may reinforce Tajfel's minimal group effect and produce a template for "us-them" discriminations that facilitates acquiring later prejudices.

Bob Altemeyer, RESEARCH: Why Do Religious Fundamentalists Tend to be Prejudiced?, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Volume 13, Issue 1, 2003.


Apparently, religious fundamentalism and nonquesting are linked with authoritarianism and prejudice toward a wide variety of minority groups. Possible explanations for these relationships are discussed.

Bob Altemeyer & Bruce Hunsberger, Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice, International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1992


In a classical study of ethnocentrism and antiSemitism, the scores of those respondents reporting no religious affiliation were found to be lower than members of most religious groups (Adorno et al. 1950). The authors summarized the findings as follows: 'it appears that those who reject religion have less ethnocentrism than those who seem to accept it' (1950, p. 213). These findings have been confirmed many times since.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and Michael Argyle, The psychology of religious behaviour, belief and experience, Routledge, 1997

  • 3
    The Racism and Authoritarianism sections seem to compare "religious fundamentalists" to... some other group, possibly everyone else or possibly atheists/humanists. Or are they observing a correlation between religiosity and racism or authoritarianism, rather than comparing two populations?
    – user3150
    Feb 26, 2015 at 20:05

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