Guest Blogger

Anti-Gay Attitudes Undeterred by Golden Rule

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 19, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, The Movement
Tags: anti-gay, do unto others, golden rule, message of tolerance, Tom Jacobs

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Tom Jacobs is a staff writer with the Miller-McCune Center in Santa Barbara, California, a nonprofit organization that publishes a bimonthly magazine and website focused on academic research and public policy. He is a veteran feature writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and many other newspapers and magazines.

Tom-Jacobs.jpgInvoking the golden rule -- the adage of "do unto others" -- has no effect on Christians' anti-gay attitudes, according to a new study.

It seems, on the face of it, a clever retort to conservative Christians who express prejudicial attitudes toward gays and lesbians. Respond by quoting the words of Jesus Christ -- specifically, his admonition, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

There's just one problem: According to a new study, such reminders of the golden rule are utterly ineffective at changing minds or hearts. And if you emphasize the universality of this message of tolerance by quoting the leader of a different religion, anti-gay attitudes actually harden.

That's the conclusion of researchers led by York University psychologist Oth Vilaythong Tran. Writing in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, they describe a study of 966 self-described Christians or Buddhists who volunteered on the website of Harvard University's Project Implicit.

To begin the experiment, the participants filled in missing words from a series of quotations. For one-third of of the participants, two of the five quotes were variations on the golden rule, which were attributed to Jesus.

Another third were presented with the same golden rule-related quotations, only in their case, the sayings were attributed to the Buddah. The final third filled in words from unrelated quotes.

Their explicit and implicit attitudes toward gay people were then measured in a series of tests. In addition, they reported their political ideology and level of religiosity.

"We predicted that priming the golden rule would decrease negativity toward gay people, especially when it was attributed to the leader of one's own religion," the researchers write. "Instead, the golden rule priming had no effect when communicated by one's own religious leader.

"However, when the golden rule messages were attributed to the Buddha, Christians self-reported being more explicitly negative toward gay people and more likely to believe that homosexuality is a choice," they add. "The results suggest that when a tolerant message comes from a religious out-group figure, it does not increase, but may decrease tolerance toward another out-group."

The researchers concede that the reasons for this are not obvious. "An out-group member's message of tolerance may be perceived as a negative judgment of the perceiver's present moral status, rather than as a universal message of compassion," they note. "Perceivers might be especially sensitive to an implied moral criticism when an out-group member delivers a moral message."

As to the larger issue of the golden rule's ineffectiveness, it's helpful to view these results in the context of Jonathan Haidt's notion of distinct spheres of morality. In his map of our ethical worlds, fairness and justice occupy one sphere, while anti-gay sentiments fall under another, purity/sanctity. In other words, they stem from deep-seated negative feelings associated with impurity or uncleanliness.

In Haidt's framework, it's not surprising that appeals to fairness have no effect. For people such as Christian conservatives who resonate strongly with the notion of purity/sanctity, fairness is not the primary issue when it comes to gay rights. When you perceive something as a threat -- however irrational those feelings may be -- appeals for tolerance fall upon deaf ears.


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Regan DuCasse | September 19, 2010 1:38 PM

I was wondering about this! I have invoked those very words when talking to an anti gay religious conservative. These are people who insist they have been the most studied and thoughtful with regards to moral analysis.
But when it gets down to it, they don't want to actually analyze what those words mean and who uttered them in context to who they worship.

This purity/sanctity angle opens the door to literally 'holier than thou', a means of being the judge and arbiter of who has worth in this world. It's a supremacist's mindset.

And even presenting the historical context of the supremacist mindset that has devalued whole groups of people to their mass destruction, that too falls on deaf ears.

Mind boggling and frustrating at the same time. I have exhausted myself asking them to look at what equality and the protection of formerly excluded groups has done for the betterment of all societies: they don't even engage answering such a statement.
So again, all of this falls on deaf ears. This acquired sanctimonious mindset, this 'I'm better than you and the Bible says so, so there', isn't so strongly held by those who ARE actually more thoughtful, curious, less arrogant in their emotional and intellectual ability.

And those of the supremacist's mindset, don't integrate or allow others to. They deliberately insulate themselves from any opportunity or experience that would challenge their perceived supremacy.

I tried to talk to the now president of NOM. He and I exchanged many emails in which I told him my background in law enforcement and volunteer work that involved AIDS and hate prevention.
I told him that the issue of domestic violence was still considerably ignored and that a woman is attacked every few seconds in her own home by someone she knows. And domestic violence is at the root of whole families being wiped out.
I implored him to please adjust his focus from anti marriage equality, because such bans don't prevent or do anything against domestic violence.

But instead complicates the lives of people actually doing the right things when it comes to each other and their children. They are self reliant in marriage. Something our culture and national laws are supposed to support.

Again, he went deaf also to the notion that domestic violence would require more attention than fighting gay people having equal opportunity to protect THEIR loved ones.

I think what I'm seeing, is the most determined cowardice and cognitive dissonance EVER. Anti gay sentiment is a LEARNED issue. It's indoctrinated from childhood, and enforced and reinforced through a lifetime.
No one would naturally be so averse to gay people, I'm SURE of that. Which is why this particular issue gets so much obsessive attention, over all the more presumably urgent ones.

And when it's all said and done, this pathetic need to be and feel so superior isn't new. But it's primitive, less civilized and immature. And these are the people who think themselves qualified to say they represent just the opposite.

The economic downturn, the crass and crude manner in which people express themselves, disregarding any empathy or concern is widely sociopathic now.
Scary as hell.

Cutting thru the academic jargon, I gather that this study demonstrates the script-counterscript nature of fundamentalist reasoning. It appears that many of the Christian subjects followed this line of thought: "Buddha says be tolerant of gays, but Buddhism is the work of the Devil; therefore my Christian teaching must be all the more correct in stating that homosexuality is a sin."

In my experience, this makes perfect sense, because that is exactly the way that many fundamentalist Christians think. Anything that is not Christian is the work of the Devil; therefore, when you hear teachings from a non-Christian source, such as Buddha, believe and do the opposite.

The mechanical character of this thought process is nothing short of amazing. They think this way even though most Buddhists do not criticize Jesus, nor his teachings, nor Christianity in general. To fundamentalists, Christianity is a brand name: Only Coca-Cola drinkers can get into Heaven; you drink Pepsi, therefore you will go to Hell. Moreover, you will also go to Hell if you drink Coca-Cola out of a bottle that is labeled "Pepsi".

Sadly, I agree with you A.J.
In all honesty the current vocal evangelicals are hardly more than McChristians.

On TV a talking head starts off quoting scripture on a cable show then cuts to hate speech and at the commerical break asks for $49.95 for the latest McBook written by a ghost hack.

I really wish the IRS would audit the entire relegion industry here in the US. Just to see how much money they really generate and where it really goes.

The most important item in the article: these were volunteers who went to a university website, not representative of anyone. That there would be a research "team" under the direction of a psychologist studying the results speaks to a lot of idle time, and a lack of imagination.

The results themselves are meaningless.

Psycologists usually do research in teams, most often the main psycologist working in concert with masters and ph.d. students as her underlings. I'd be far more concerned if there were no research assistants at all, that would be an oddity. Also, psycologists often work together. It's not unusual in the field at all.

"these were volunteers who went to a university website, not representative of anyone" Well, presumably they are representative of the people that volunteer via the university website, if nothing else. You could look at the study and see the demographics (location, age, race, etc) to see how far the data could be extrapolation. You could also repeat the study several times with different samples to reinforce the data. This study isn't useless, it's limited, as is every study.

This research confirms much of the work/polling I have been funding. Religious intensity determines whether or not someone will support equality. If they believe the Bible is the literal word of God, they cannot let go of the traditional Christian teaching/belief that "homosexuality is wrong."

The good news is that literalists are only about one-third of those that self-define as "religious." This means there is a very good chance that the other two-thirds have the capacity and willingness to support our full equality.

Soon, we will be able to educate, enlighten and enroll those people. Literalists won't change their beliefs without lightning strikes or other divine intervention. They're a lost cause but not necessary to gather a majority of Americans that will support our full equality. Plus, other Christians, even those that are more spiritual and open-minded don't want us to attack their (albeit radical, fanatical) fellow believers.

We should ignore the fanatical Christians (which many LGBT groups obsess about) and seek ways to enroll the others - those with open or at least partially open minds. It is important to realize that we shouldn't try to change any beliefs, but rather to invite people to take a stand for a basic human principle - equality.

Religion and politics have been our primary obstacle to full equality. We need to leave those beliefs out of conversations for equality. If we insist on bringing them to the conversation we simply reduce our support.

>Religious intensity determines whether or not
>someone will support equality.

>We should ignore the fanatical Christians (which
>many LGBT groups obsess about)

>They're a lost cause but not necessary to gather
>a majority of Americans that will support our
>full equality

>We need to leave those (religious) beliefs out
of conversations for equality.

Dude you are one smart cookie.

And with a little more appeal to freedom
not freedom from religion.

Looking at demographics here tells you ZERO about extrapolation. It is only useful if you ALREADY have a randomized sample and you want to see if this particular sample pool in ANY way reflects the larger population. Because you can still pull 966 rabbits ina row out of a hat.

Self-selection, at any level, means that extrapolation is a meaningless exercise.

Great guest post, Tom.

I often use the Golden Rule when I'm talking with/writing about Christian anti-gay attitudes. Now that I know it doesn't really help, I'll be sure to use it just on the site when preaching to the choir. :)

... yeah, Bil, along with a host of other Biblical admonishments which we know they habitually ignore, such as "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

They call it "Bible school" ... but we all know it is really brainwashing, programming the mind over and over until it becomes difficult or impossible to "think" any other way.