The Unholy Trinity: Existential Insecurity, Extreme Religiosity, and Manifest Hate

R. Georges Delamontagne

Despite overwhelming historical and contemporary evidence providing testimony to the incendiary role of hatred in igniting fires of violence, murder, war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and terrorism–to say nothing of demagoguery and political gridlock–relatively little sociological research has been conducted to date on the subject of hate as such.

Sociologists, myself included, have studied hate as a social problem–for example, prejudice and discrimination due to racism, classism, sexism, and ageism–and as a social movement analogous to, but antithetical to and reactionary toward, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the movement for equality for gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) people. Sociologists have focused on a range of hateful affective and cognitive states, ranging from attitudes and beliefs extant in the general culture through the more extreme varieties of hate speech and behaviors associated with violence as manifested in hate crimes and the ideologies and activities of several hate groups.

During the past several years, my sociological research on manifest hate has been conducted more or less concurrently with my ongoing inquiries pertaining to social inequality and religion, and I have come increasingly to observe, analyze, and theorize about the interrelationships among the three.

The purpose of this research has been to test three hypotheses pertaining to select, probable reciprocal effects among three variables: existential insecurity, extreme religiosity, and manifest hate.

Hypotheses

  1. Existential Insecurity and Extreme Religiosity

In their groundbreaking 2004 treatise, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart attempted to reconcile the alternative explanations for religiosity and religious behavior offered by proponents and opponents of “the secularization hypothesis” by seeking a middle ground, or synthesis, by means of invoking the concept of societal and personal insecurity:

There is no doubt that the traditional secularization thesis needs updating. It is obvious that religion has not disappeared from the world, nor does it seem likely to do so. Nevertheless, the concept of secularization captures an important part of what is going on. This book Sacred and Secular develops a revised version of secularization theory that emphasizes the extent to which people have a sense of existential security–that is, the feeling that survival is secure enough that it can be taken for granted. … We believe that the importance of religiosity persists most strongly among vulnerable populations, especially those living in the poorer nations, facing personal survival-threatening risks … [and that] … a systematic erosion of religious practices, values and beliefs … has occurred most clearly among the most prosperous social sectors living in affluent and secure post-industrial nations.

Norris and Inglehart amassed a substantial body of cross-national comparative data to support their case. Subsequently, Gregory S. Paul and Phil Zuckerman provided additional confirmatory evidence in a 2007 online paper, as I did somewhat later in a paper published in 2010 in the Journal of Religion and Society.

Less direct, yet still compelling, evidence suggestive of a probable causal link between existential insecurity and religiosity appears in Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s 2009 The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. These researchers have provided an abundance of data that support hypotheses predicting that greater social inequality, which affects existential insecurity, as asserted by Norris and Inglehart’s Sacred and Secular, relates to numerous measures of societal dysfunction or social problems. The units of analysis for their research were of two types, and the results were, largely, mutually supporting: the first data set involved nation-states, with particular emphasis upon the differences among the twenty to thirty or so “rich countries,” while the second set of units of analysis were the fifty U.S. states.

For both the nations and the U.S. states, Wilkinson and Pickett utilized the Gini Coefficient as the measure of inequality of median household income (existential insecurity). The Gini Coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion whose values range from 0 to 1, where a value of 1 indicates a situation where all of the income is held by one household or a very small group of households, and a value of 0 is obtained when all of the income is shared equally among all households. Obviously, the ends of the Gini distribution are theoretical extremes that could never exist in reality. In 2007, for example, Gini values for the fifty states and the District of Columbia ranged from lows of .4104 and .4151 for Vermont and New Hampshire, states with the lowest levels of income inequality, to highs of .4985 and .5432 for New York State and Washington, D.C., respectively.

Using the Gini Coefficient as the measure of income inequality of median household income for the fifty states, Wilkinson and Pickett observed correlational relationships with variables that included higher income inequality, lower scores on an index of women’s status, lower life expectancies, higher infant mortality rates, higher obesity rates, lower high-school completion rates, higher teen birthrates, higher homicide rates, and higher prison incarceration rates.

The following hypothesis follows from my own empirical research and theoretical interpretations, as well as from those reported by Norris and Inglehart, Wilkinson and Pickett, and Paul and Zuckerman:

Hypothesis 1: The higher the degree of existential insecurity within the United States, as measured by the Gini Coefficient, the higher the degree of extreme religiosity (“extreme religiosity” to be defined below).

  1. Existential Insecurity and Manifest Hate

In my 2010 Evolutionary Psychology article, “High Religiosity and Societal Dysfunction in the United States during the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century,” I found that the social inequality (existential insecurity) variables of income, education, and race better explained inter-state differences in violent crime rates; murder rates; incarceration rates; teen (ages 15-19) birthrates; obesity rates; smoking rates; morbidity rates; and several other indicators of social problems than extreme religiosity did. Arguably, extreme degrees of manifest hate, which increase the likelihood of harm being perpetrated upon the victims of hate, may also be considered a social problem. Accordingly, the second hypothesis is:

Hypothesis 2: The higher the degree of existential insecurity within the United States, as measured by the Gini Coefficient, the higher the degree of manifest hate (“manifest hate” to be defined below).

  1. Extreme Religiosity and Manifest Hate

In my 2010 paper “Religiosity and Hate Groups: An Exploratory and Descriptive Correlational Study,” I reported findings demonstrating strong and consistent statistical correlations between a variety of indicators of extreme religiosity and measured levels of manifest hate for the fifty states and Washington, D.C. States exhibiting the highest levels of manifest hate also had higher proportions of their populations reporting that they were “absolutely certain that God exists”; that religion was “very important in their everyday lives”; that the Bible was the “the actual word of God, literally true, wo
rd for word”; that they attended religious services “at least once a week”; and that they prayed “at least once a day.” For the current study, I have developed a measure of extreme religiosity inclusive of the five religious beliefs and practices indicators just described. The degree of extreme religiosity for each state and Washington, D.C., is actually a composite measure, a “standardized Z score,” whose values range from highs of 11.88 and 8.36 for Mississippi and Alabama, respectively, to lows of – 8.67 for both New Hampshire and Vermont. The data from which my measures are derived are from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s 2009 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, which involved a representative probability sample of over thirty-five thousand adults.

Building upon the findings of my research and incorporating my novel measure of extreme religiosity, I offer the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: The higher the degree of extreme religiosity, the higher the degree of manifest hate.

Measuring Manifest Hate in the United States

The indicators or proxies for existential insecurity and extreme religiosity, namely, the Gini Coefficient and standardized Z scores reflecting the religious beliefs and practices of adult populations in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, are quantitative measures describing states as units of analysis. Any measure of manifest hate descriptive of states must also be some sort of aggregate state-level statistic. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no recent surveys of hateful attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors comparable to, say, the 2007 Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of thirty-five thousand or more adults. Accordingly, alternative indicators of manifest hate must be considered.

State-level data on hate crimes, which are routinely gathered and published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its Uniform Crime Reports (and in other publications), are readily available. The validity and reliability of hate-crime statistics as measures of manifest hate are questionable for two primary reasons, however: (1) hate crimes tend to be seriously underreported, especially for certain categories of victims, such as GLBT persons; and (2) many attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that might be reasonably characterized as hateful and harmful to victims are not considered crimes, per se, but are, in fact protected under the free-speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Such attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors may be inferred from or directly observed in books, magazines, pamphlets, and the Internetor at speeches, rallies, demonstrations, and marches, for example.

The activities of hate groups within states constitute a data source used by several sociologists, myself included.

In my own article on religiosity and hate groups, I developed a state-level measure of manifest hate that reflects the degree to which hate groups are identifiable and active within states. I have come to refer to that measure as the State Hate Index (SHI). The SHI is a simple ratio of a state’s percentage share of all of the nation’s hate groups, as enumerated and reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center annually in its Intelligence Report, to that state’s percentage share of the nation’s population. SHI values for 2008 ranged from 0 to 4.53, with Washington, D.C., showing the &highest percentage share of hate groups&.

Findings

Figures 1, 2, and 3 display the correlational relationships among the variables considered in this study, namely existential insecurity, as measured by the Gini Coefficient of median household income inequality; extreme religiosity, as measured by my composite standardized Z scores deriving from Pew’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey beliefs and practices data; and manifest hate, as measured by my State Hate Index (SHI).

Figure 1: Relationship between existential insecurity (Gini Coefficient) and extreme religiosity (Composite Z scores from Pew Foundation U.S. Religious Landscape Survey) for the fifty states and Washington, D.C., 2008.

Note: The correlation coefficient “R[XY]” of .262 is statistically significant at p = .06.

Finding: There is a weak to moderate positive correlation between state values on the Gini Coefficient and state levels of extreme religiosity.

Interpretation: Some amount of support for Hypothesis 1 is evident. The higher the degree of existential insecurity within the United States, the higher the degree of extreme religiosity.

Figure 2: Relationship between existential insecurity (Gini Coefficient) and manifest hate [as measured by the State Hate Index (SHI)] for the fifty states and Washington, D.C., 2008.

Note: The correlation coefficient “R[XY]” of .489 is statistically significant at p = .0001. The extreme outlier is Washington, D.C., with its SHI of 4.53 and a Gini value of .54.

Finding: There is a moderate to strong positive correlation between state values on the Gini Coefficient and state levels of manifest hate.

Interpretation: Substantial support for Hypothesis 2 is evident. The higher the degree of existential insecurity within the United States, the higher the degree of manifest hate.

Figure 3: Relationship between extreme religiosity and manifest hate for the fifty states and Washington, D.C., 2008.

Note: The correlation coefficient “R[XY]” of .527 is statistically significant at p = .0001.

Finding: There is a strong positive correlation between state levels of extreme religiosity and state levels of manifest hate.

Interpretation: Substantial support for Hypothesis 3 is evident. The higher the degree of extreme religiosity within the United States, the higher the degree of manifest hate.

Why Washington, D.C., Is an Outlier

Washington, D.C., is an extraordinary exemplar of social pathologies, so much so that an appropriate moniker is “our nation’s capital, the city of ‘Disgraceful Contrasts.’” Not only does it have the nation’s highest levels of income inequality, it also has the highest child poverty rates; the highest top 20 percent to bottom 20 percent income ratio; the highest percentage of African Americans, who are frequent targets of hate; the highest percentage of females, who are also frequent targets of hate and whose recent average advances in educational attainment, employment, and income vis-a-vis males may trigger male resentment; the highest teen pregnancy rates; the lowest scores on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index; the highest infant mortality rates; and the highest violent crime and murder rates of any U.S. city. “Disgraceful Contrasts,” indeed! It is no wonder that such a nexus of social pathology is home to the largest proportional representation of hate groups–but this is not the only reason for their high concentration there. As the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., contains the national headquarters of many groups, ranging from simply harsh conservative organizations to actual active hate groups, including black separatists, all of which have located in the District of Columbia largely because it is the capital, a major center of both concentrated political power and high levels of income and wealth inequality.

Conclusion

The findings of the current study are consistent with and supportive of those reported by Norris and Inglehart in Sacred and Secular, in Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, as well as with my own research results
and those reported by Paul and Zuckerman. The “unholy trinity” of existential insecurity, extreme religiosity, and manifest hate represents a nasty nexus, indeed. The evidence suggests that existential insecurity contributes to extreme religiosity and that both of these, in turn, are related to high levels of manifest hate.

Secular humanists, to the extent they consider high levels of manifest hate as inconsistent with and even antithetical to their espoused principles, have an ethical obligation to support scientifically justified policies and measures focused on reducing levels of income inequality; to challenge and articulate secular alternatives to the irrational and extremist beliefs and practices of theists; and, by word and deed, to serve as exemplars of tolerance in our increasingly diverse and pluralistic society.

 


Further Reading

  1. G. Delamontagne. “High Religiosity and Societal Dysfunction in the United States during the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century.” Evolutionary Psychology 8 No. 4 (2010a).
  2. G. Delamontagne. “Religiosity and Hate Groups: An Exploratory and Descriptive Correlational Study.” Journal of Religion and Society 12 (2010b).
  3. G. Delamontagne. “Relationships between Varieties of Religious Experience and Manifest Hate: A Sociological Analysis. Journal of Religion and Society. Forthcoming (2012).
  4. Norris and R. Inglehart. Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  5. S. Paul and P. Zuckerman. “Why the Gods Are Not Winning.” Edge (2007). Available online only at www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paul07/paul07_index.html.
  6. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.
  7. Wilkinson and K. Pickett. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

 


“R. Georges Delamontagne” is the pseudonym of a retired university president and professor of sociology whose research interests include religion and society, secular humanism, manifest hate, political economy, and economic inequality. In addition to Free Inquiry, he has written for Evolutionary Psychology and the Journal of Religion and Society. As Richard G. Dumont, he currently has two books that were due to be released by Friesen Press in early 2013: Economic Inequality and What YOU Can Do About It: A Primer and Call to Action! and When Hate Happens, So Does Other Bad Stuff: Respect Diversity—Teach Tolerance—Fight Hate!

R. Georges Delamontagne

“R. Georges Delamontagne” is the nom de plume of a retired university president and professor of sociology whose interests include religion and society, secular humanism, social inequality, political economy, and hate groups. How “High Religiosity and Societal Dysfunction in the United States During the First Decade of the Twenty-First Century” was published in Evolutionary Psychology (2010). Other recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Religion and Society (2010) and Free Inquiry (Winter 2008/2009).


Despite overwhelming historical and contemporary evidence providing testimony to the incendiary role of hatred in igniting fires of violence, murder, war, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and terrorism–to say nothing of demagoguery and political gridlock–relatively little sociological research has been conducted to date on the subject of hate as such. Sociologists, myself included, have studied hate as …

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