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Love thy neighbour? It depends

Washington: Do religious people love their neighbours? Yes, some neighbours, according to a study.

When factoring out the level of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), the Baylor University researchers found a positive association between being religious and having loving attitudes toward other racial and ethnic groups but not toward those who violated their values.

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

Previously, researchers usually tested the “love thy neighbour” hypothesis indirectly by measuring degrees of prejudice or withholding generosity, said researcher Wade Rowatt. Prior research indicated that religiousness is not positively associated with love of neighbours.

But that approach did not account for the role of rigid ideologies – such as right-wing authoritarianism – in influencing the relationships, said lead author Megan Johnson Shen.

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 neighbours” as evidenced by positive or tolerant attitudes toward those of different races, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, Rowatt said.

Shen said that the present study addressed prior limitations by examining the relationship between religiosity and liking or “love” of one’s neighbour once the influence of RWA 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.”

“Statistically speaking, right-wing authoritarianism appears to suppress the positive relationship between religiosity and love of neighbour,” Rowatt added. “The bottom line is that religiousness is linked with love of neighbour, as measured with surveys. The next step is to observe actual rates of volunteerism and helping to see if what people say and do match.”

The study is published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. (ANI)