Saturday, January 07, 2012

Religious preference and nihilism

The MIDUS Study asked participants if they agree that they have a sense of direction and purpose in life. Answers ranged from "strongly agree" (1) to "strongly disagree (7). Here are the means by religious preference (sample size = 3,978):


Mean nihilism score

No religious preference 2.54
Agnostic 2.49
Buddhist 2.46
Episcopalian 2.24
Atheist 2.23
Lutheran 2.22*
Roman Catholic 2.20*
Methodist 2.19*
Presbyterian 2.17*
Jewish 2.09*
Pentecostal 1.93*
Mormon 1.91*
Born-again Christian 1.90*
Jehovah's Witness 1.71*

*significantly lower than those with no religious preference


Lower levels of nihilism are associated with having a religious affiliation and especially with belonging to a more conservative faith. For example, the gap between those with no religious preference and Jehovah's Witnesses is more than sixth-tenths of a standard deviation--a fairly large difference.

10 comments:

DR said...

This is all explained by genetics. The tenets of the religion have nothing to do with this. People who are enthusiastic are more likely to join a religion where you have to go door-to-door. They'll then meet a spouse who's also enthusiastic about bothering people during dinner time.

They'll then have enthusiastic, and slightly obnoxious, kids.

DR said...

If you want to refute this hypothesis, you need to look at adopted children. Then run a regression between their biological and adopted parents' religion and see which one has more affect.

Anonymous said...

"If you want to refute this hypothesis, you need to look at adopted children. Then run a regression between their biological and adopted parents' religion and see which one has more affect."

You do it, you lazy bum!

Dan said...

"This is all explained by genetics. The tenets of the religion have nothing to do with this."

Uh, okay, mister.

Christianity teaches expressly that life has meaning. If genuinely believe what it teaches, then you *by definition* cannot be nihilist.

If you answered affirmatively for the nihilist question, you either are not a comprehending and believing Christian or you did not understand the question.

Those times in my life when I did not have faith I had a nihilist outlook. Those times in my life when I did have faith, I did not have a nihilist outlook.

I assure you that my genes did not change in the interval.

Jason Malloy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Malloy said...

"The MIDUS Study asked participants if they agree that they have a sense of direction and purpose in life"


It's questionable that less religious people are less ambitious and goal-oriented (going by education and income, the opposite seems more true)

More than likely both more and less religious people interpret a question about "purpose" as a religious question; so the answers mainly reflect that more religious people are more religious.

Ron Guhname said...

Jason: According to GSS data, church attendance is (weakly) positively associated with income and education.

Jason Malloy said...

Ron, I know. There is a difference between the religious belief questions in the GSS (do you believe in God, the bible, etc), and the church attendance question.

Smarter people are less likely to hold religious beliefs, but are more likely to go to church.

Half Sigma thinks this is because smarter people are more conformist. But more obviously going to church and going to school require similar kinds of self-discipline (getting up early on a weekend, sitting still for a boring, hour-long lecture, etc).

Matt said...

Half Sigma thinks this is because smarter people are more conformist. But more obviously going to church and going to school require similar kinds of self-discipline (getting up early on a weekend, sitting still for a boring, hour-long lecture, etc).

Intelligence does not particularly positively correlate with conscientiousness.

But I'd guess that intelligent people can find ways to get more out of the church experience and avoid the pain - "choosing" a church that isn't as boring or demanding, using it for networking, choosing a church that is tailored towards offering them psychological support and social status rather than one that imposes penalties and makes them feel depressed, &c.

The smart are crafty, not good (that doesn't mean they're not good).

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