Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Flexibility and Intolerance

by Tom Bozzo

The posts on tolerance towards the irreligious from Drek and Kim put me in mind of something I think is telling about the trend information Kim mentions. I grew up Catholic — very Catholic, to the point that we knew about as many Jews as Protestants, while I was growing up — and since we were liberal Catholics, one strange bit of entertainment was that we would laugh over 1950s-vintage catechisms and their study questions.

The pre-Vatican II Catholic Church's contribution towards the World War III effort was, in part, to train the faithful in how to resist communist guerrillas who might force one to renounce the faith at gunpoint. I am totally not kidding. I also note that my late grandfather, whose politics took a hard-right turn into proto-Reaganism after the JFK assassination, had reportedly called my father the "atheist communist dupe" during my folks' courting days. And yet, somehow, I was born.

In that regard, that Catholics are more tolerant (and, over time, increasingly so) towards atheists and communists alike has to be regarded in glass-half-full terms. Though the fall the main communist powers — or their transformation into authoritarian capitalist powers, as the case may be — can't have hurt.

As the non-sociologist, I also have to find the amplification of small differences that would be extraordinarily difficult to explain to a hypothetical alien observer into persistent between-group differences to be Very Interesting (*) in the sense that it seems to keep portions of the sociology profession in business.

All the same, not shocking are the observations that Protestants and women are less tolerant. I'd like to see the Protestant line disaggregated between fundamentalist and less-fundementalist sects, as my intuition would be that the Biblical literalist sects are less easy-going. As for women, my simplistic crackpot theory of the degree to which the aging Catholic hierarchy is out of touch is that they're so out of touch that they've failed to notice that men in search of power and prestige look to professions other than the priesthood to make their marks. (The companion observation is that young priests seem both more orthodox, and weirder, than the generation with which I grew up.) Read scary stuff like the NYT article on the criminalization of abortion in El Salvador, and it's clear that there's a certain alignment of hardline women and hardline aging men in promoting less-tolerant positions.


(*) And not at all unrelated to my one-time academic research, which dealt with issues of how random perturbations of technology markets lead to "lock-in" of de facto standards. Also contributing was re-watching Wings of Desire last night; in particular, Marion's rhetorical question in her closing speech, "Why is this brown-eyed boy my brother, and not the green-eyed boy across the street?"
Ask and ye shall receive.

% of Protestants in the GSS, 1974-2004 (n=18,200-ish) who would ban an anti-religious speaker:

Fundamentalist (51% of sample): 41%
Moderate (28% of sample): 32%
Liberal (21% of sample): 25%

The same pattern holds for the other two questions. Incidentally, the fundamentalism variable is coded by NORC (the GSS folks) based on the respondent's denomination, not self-reported.
Thanks, Kim!
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