Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Religious Skepticism and Its Relationship to Attitudes about Celebrities, Identification with Humanity, and the Need for Uniqueness

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Religious Skepticism and Its Relationship to Attitudes about Celebrities, Identification with Humanity, and the Need for Uniqueness

Article excerpt

Throughout history, religious skeptics, who question the existence of God, have been vilified, tortured, and killed (Gey, 2007). The justification for this hostility is that religious skeptics are allegedly filthy, corrupt, and foolish (Zuckerman, 2009). More recently, studies show that there is still a considerable amount of hatred and mistrust directed at religious skeptics (Edgell, Gerteis, & Hartmann, 2006; Joyner, 2007; Swan & Heesacker, 2012).

Religious skeptics are sometimes stereotyped as having no particular beliefs or convictions. However, research suggests that this is untrue (Zuckerman, 2009). Specifically, by comparison with religious persons, religious skeptics appear to be less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less supportive of governmental use of torture, more politically tolerant, and more supportive of women's rights (Altemeyer, 2003; Argyle, 2000; Batson, Schoenrade, & Ventis, 1993; Beit-Hallahmi, 2007; Beit-Hallahmi, & Argyle, 1997; Greeley & Hout, 2006; Jackson & Hunsberger, 1999; Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life Survey, 2009; Wulff, 1991).

Given the widespread prejudice and misperceptions about religious skeptics, and the growing numbers of this minority group in the United States (Kosmin & Keysar, 2009; Paul, 2009; Zuckerman, 2013), there is a need to learn as much as possible about them. One of the many unknowns about the values of religious skeptics is the extent to which they identify with all human beings. Research shows that many people identify closely with persons who live in their neighborhood, less closely with persons from their own nation, and least closely with all humanity (McFarland, Brown, & Webb, 2013; McFarland, Webb, & Brown, 2012). McFarland and his colleagues did not measure religious skepticism, so we don't know how skeptics would score on their measure of identification with all humanity. However, there is some indication that they might identify with all humanity to a greater extent than religious believers, and that the gap between identifying with neighbors, compatriots and all humanity would be smaller for religious skeptics.

For example, the Tea Party, which enjoys considerable support from White religious people and little support from the non-religious, tends to be very conservative on immigration issues (Tea Party, 2011). Beit-Hallahmi (2007) cited several polls taken during the Vietnam War showing that support for the war was lowest among those reporting no religious affiliation. None of this evidence is overwhelming, but it suggests that religious skeptics will identify with all humanity to a greater extent than religious believers, and the gap between identifying with neighbors, compatriots and all humanity will be smaller for religious skeptics.

The need for uniqueness was introduced by Snyder and Fromkin as a "positive striving for abnormality relative to others" (1977, p. 518). A modest amount of research was generated by Snyder and Fromkin's study (see Snyder, 1992 for a review). According to the uniqueness theory developed by Snyder, most persons wish to maintain a moderate degree of uniqueness, but the need for uniqueness is widely variable in the population. Previous research has shown that minority group members tend to have a high need for uniqueness (Snyder & Fromkin, 1977; Swami, 2011). Because religious skeptics are in a very unpopular minority group it seems reasonable to think that they might perceive themselves to be unique.

Over the last few decades there has been a modest rise in the percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be religious skeptics (Kosmin & Keysar, 2009; Paul, 2009; Zuckerman, 2013), concomitant with an increased interest in the lives of celebrities (McCutcheon, Maltby, Houran, & Ashe, 2004). Some of this interest is marked by worshipful attitudes that take on absorptive, addictive, and religious overtones (Maltby, McCutcheon, Ashe & Houran, 2001; McCutcheon, Lange, & Houran, 2002). …

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