Liberals & conservatives; religious edition

By Razib Khan | September 25, 2008 3:18 am

What if there were no God? Politically conservative and liberal Christians imagine their lives without faith:

A sample of devout Christian adults, ranging widely in political orientation, described what their lives (and the world) might be like had they never embraced faith. Politically conservative Christians (also scoring high on right-wing authoritarianism) tended to imagine a life deficient in impulse control, wherein unrestrained sexual and aggressive urges, addictive behaviors, and human selfishness undermined the social good. By contrast, politically liberal Christians (also scoring low on right-wing authoritarianism) imagined an empty and barren world, devoid of the emotional intensity that makes life worth living. Gender differences were also observed, but they did not interfere with the relation between political orientation and the narrative themes. In accord with theoretical writings regarding normative and humanistic ideologies, the findings suggest that, at least among American Christians, political conservatism may entail a fear of, or strong sensitivity to, the prospects of conflict and chaos, whereas political liberalism may entail an equally strong fear of, or sensitivity to, emptiness.

ScienceDaily has a serviceable summary. Seems close to “they had to do a study???” category of research. But seems like you can integrate this with the trend of political orientation tracking Openness….
Related: Conservatives have more fear.

  • bgc

    Trouble is that the Big Five trait called Openness doesn’t really *explain* anything, because it basically doesn’t perform well as a variable nor is there a convincing theory as to what it is, why it evolved etc. Openness is just some left-over variance that sometimes comes-out as a lump in various forms of statistical analysis.

  • Juao

    Authoritarianism is a liberal thing. Conservatives are the ones fighting for freedom.

  • Tod

    Liberals tend to move to the right over time so you could say they were open to ideas or accessable to argument in a way that conservatives are not

  • Oldfart

    Juao: Actually, that particular framework has been successfully perpetrated upon the American public by right wing fear mongers for a couple of decades now. It’s sort of the right wing version of “If that’s what I am, what are you?” child’s game. During the 60’s and early 70’s the right wing in this country was attacked hard and often with the Nazi epithet. Somewhere along the line, one or more of the few bright minds in that movement realized that the tendency of the left wing to solve all problems with political correctness and large dictatorial programs was also a form of Nazi authoritarianism. Thus the use of the Nazi word with respect to liberal views across the right wing radio and tv spectrum. Liberals are left speechless by this tactic having no defense for the offense they created.
    So, don’t be fooled by right wing framing. Authoritarianism is a CONSERVATIVE and NEO-CONSERVATIVE thing, not a liberal thing. An analysis of the Bush Residency supports that view, right wing framing notwithstanding.

  • Tod

    To me a person high in openness would be accessable to argument and have veiws that adapted and evolved over time. It is often said that those who start off liberal tend to move to the right in their later years and as a corollary we might expect that liberals tend to be younger on average than conservatives, who can’t go much farther to the right before hitting the lunatic fringe.
    If you start off as a liberal there is plenty of room to be openminded, but in the natural course of things this will usually take you to the right. A similar case could be made along the lines that people tend to become more religious as they get older.

  • Oldfart

    Heh. I started out as a John Bircher when I joined the Army in 1961 and became more liberal as the years went by. The logic of the civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s was enough to convert me from the racism and unfeeling conservatism of the rabid right. However, in some areas, such as illegal immigration, I have become more conservative. And I have bought into the right wing accusations that the left wing tends to large, expensive and ineffective programs. Nowadays, I want programs that work and can prove it. I don’t think you become more conservative as you grow older necessarily, you just start to throw out the left (and right) wing silly stuff.

  • David Marjanović

    Authoritarianism is a liberal thing. Conservatives are the ones fighting for freedom.

    Yes, and black is white, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

    the tendency of the left wing to solve all problems with political correctness and large dictatorial programs


  • Oldfart

    You didn’t know that? For instance, liberals are, in general, in favor of education. So, they think if you throw enough money at it and enough regulations at it, it must improve. Whether or not their programs actually work, however, is not a questionable thing. If you dare to point out that such and such program is not working then you are declared an anti-education luddite. I can’t be any more specific than that because because I haven’t memorized all the hundreds (if not thousands) of separate programs designed by liberals to “fix” our declining educational system over the last several decades. For example, take busing. What exactly did busing achieve over the last 40 years or so? Did African-American students isolated in suburban schools actually do any better? How about European-American students isolated in central city schools? Who knows? The costs were tremendous. Some kids were bussed so far from home they needed a transfer to another bus. Did anyone ever actually think that out? Time consumed, gas consumed, money consumed for what result? If you had to force anything, open housing is what should have been enforced or encouraged, not busing.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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