Is Higher Self Esteem of Religous People Only a Measure of Cultural Norm?

Jochen Gebauer

This argument has been noised about on message boards of late: religious people only have high self esteem in countries where religion is valued. So then of course the cause is only due to the value of religion in that culture, they feel good about themselves because religion in valued.

Huffington Post's Athiest propaganda page
July 30, 2012

Are religious people happier? Studies have shown that God-fearing folks tend to have higher self-esteem than nonbelievers, but new research published in the January issue of Psychological Science adds some nuance. It shows that religious belief is linked to high self-esteem only in countries that emphasize religious belief.

Researchers at three European universities looked at the religious beliefs and self-esteem of users of an online dating service across 11 countries, from the devoutly Catholic Poland to the
world's least religious country, Sweden.

The analysis showed that in religious countries, self-esteem was higher among believers than nonbelievers. That was consistent with previous research. But in countries where religion is not central to the culture, the self-esteem of religious people was lower than that of nonbelievers.

The researchers offered a possible explanation for their finding: Religious people feel better about themselves in religious countries not because they're religious, but simply because they fit in with the crowd.

"We think you only pat yourself on the back for being religious if you live in a social system that values religiosity," Jochen Gebauer, Research Associate at Humboldt University of Berlin, said in a written statement. "The same might be true when you compare different states in the U.S. or different cities. Probably you could mimic the same result in Germany, if you compare Bavaria where many people are religious and Berlin where very few people are religious."

The original research
Psychological Science

Religiosity, Social Self-Esteem, and Psychological Adjustment

On the Cross-Cultural Specificity of the Psychological Benefits of Religiosity

  1. Wiebke Neberich3

Studies have found that religious believers have higher social self-esteem (Aydin, Fischer, & Frey, 2010; Rivadeneyra, Ward, & Gordon, 2007) and are better psychologically adjusted (Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Smith, McCullough, & Poll, 2003) than nonbelievers. Is this relation true across cultures—which would attest to the robustness of religiosity as a wellspring of psychological benefits—or is it found only in specific cultures—which would attest to the relativism of religiosity and its embeddedness within a larger cultural framework? The religiosity-as-social-value hypothesis sides with the latter possibility.

The religiosity-as-social-value hypothesis posits that religiosity receives high social valuation in most societies (Sedikides, 2010) and that, consequently, religious believers are highly valued members of most societies (Sedikides & Gebauer, 2010). Being socially valued is associated with psychological benefits (e.g., social self-esteem, psychological adjustment; Rokeach, 1973; Sedikides & Strube, 1997). The hypothesis predicts, then, that believers will enjoy more psychological benefits in cultures that tend to value religiosity more; alternatively, the less a culture values religiosity, the more likely it is that believers and nonbelievers will enjoy equivalent psychological benefits. Here, we report a study in which we tested this hypothesis.

here's their methodology:

(47% female, 53% male; mean age = 37.49 years, SD = 12.22) included in the eDarling data set (Gebauer & Neberich, 2011). They completed the measures discussed here while setting up profiles at the eDarling online-dating site. Respondents were from 11 European countries, and sample sizes were similar across countries.

Personal religiosity

Our measure of personal religiosity was the response to a single item: “My personal religious beliefs are important to me” (1 = not at all, 7 = very much). Single-item religiosity measures are common (Norenzayan & Hansen, 2006). An online validation study (N = 347) showed …

That's just left up to the person to answer. Now when the atheists on CARM find that the M scale asks people if they had a given experience and use that as an index to mystical experience, well go agpe. they say the people are lying. they say all the people saying that they have good experiences are just making it up. you can't trust surveys you can't trust people. Yet this study is based upon surveys and people just saying it so they must be lying.

In fact if we examine their data it seems there is no representative sample reflected. We are given no basis in understanding how representative these people are of their general culture. Their religious orientation is self selected and self described. That's very different from "I had this experience." There's a big difference in saying "this happened to me" and "Yes I am religious." If they are so affected as to equate being religious being good they might tend to say "I am religious" when what they really means Is "I'm a good person." Since we don't have a measurement of the norm for that culture we don't have anything to compare to. The data also comes form dating sites. How representative of a culture is its dating sites? What exactly is being measured?

Moreover, we are not given a good basis in what was used to measure self esteem. They don't use standard self esteem models or measurement techniques just a few questions about depression. edarling the dating site related to eHarmony uses slight measurements of self esteem and religiosity, but these are people putting on their best face to attract the opposite sex. It's not detailed and it's not based upon deep heavy psychological data.

It also might be true, and I'm sure this will encourage atheists if you go out of your way to make people feel bad about being religious it coutner balances the positive effects to some extent, but is that really a fair test?

Counter evidence:

They use Sweden as the standard of "non religio
Linkus." The Jagodzinski and Greely study shows that Sweden is not all that non religious.

The Demand for Religion
"hard core Atheism and Supply Side Theory"

Wolfgang Jagodzinkski (University of Cologne)
Andrew Greeley

This paper examines the conflict between the "secularization" theory of religious decline and the economic model of religion which assumes a fairly constant need for religion and attributes variation in devotion to variation in the supply of religious services. First the analysis reveals that the number of "hard core" atheists (those who firmly reject the existence of God and the possibility of life after death) in seventeen countries are a relatively small proportion of the population. Then it turns to Norway to determines that one can hardly describe that country as "unreligious." Next it discovers that there is a higher level of Catholic religious practice in the competitive environment of Northern Ireland. Finally it considers the one thoroughly secularized country – East Germany – and concludes that the "demand" for religion can be diminished considerably if a ruthless government takes control of the process of religious socialization.

According to the study
  1. The proportion of Hard Core atheists is relatively small in all the countries except East Germany (42.7%)
  2. The proportion is above 10% only in former socialist countries (12.4% in Russia, 13.9% in Slovenia, and 11.3% in Hungary) and in the Netherlands (11.4%) and in Israel (12.1%).
  3. In the other eleven countries, the highest rates of Hard Core atheism are in Norway (6.7%) and Britain (6.3%). Thus if latent demand for religion is excluded only from the Hard Core atheists, there is still the possibility of a large clientele for those firms which might venture into the religious market place in such supposedly "secularized" countries as Norway and Britain.
  4. There are not all that many Hard Core atheists in the countries studied, nor indeed all that many soft core atheists either.
  5. The "Softest Core" Atheists are less than a third of the population in every country except East Germany. They are more than a fifth of the population only in four former Socialist countries – East German Russia, Hungary and Slovenia. With the exception than of East Germany more than two thirds of the population of the countries studied are willing to admit the existence in some fashion of God and the likelihood of life after death. Devout many of them may not be but on the two central issues they are more religious than not. They then may be considered as part of the religious market place if not always enthusiastic consumers.
East Germany is the only country where the spread of socialism meant a saturation of hard core atheism in the general population. Sweden is more religious than it is usually assumed.

Welfare and Values in Europe:
Transitions related to Religion, Minorities and Gender
Overview of the national situation
by Ninna Edgardh Beckman
Page 2

Based on its very low figures of religious attendance and traditional religious faith, Sweden has a reputation of being one of the most secularised countries in the world. True as this might be, what the image conceals is the strong and complicated role that religion still plays in Sweden, not least through history and culture. The modern history of Sweden has its foundation in national homogeneity, grounded in the principle of one people and one faith. This principle is closely connected to the Lutheran majority church, to which nearly 80% of the Swedish population still belongs, even though formally state and church were separated in 2000. The recent presence of other world religions and official policies tending towards multiculturalism adds new religious aspects to Swedish culture. Religion thus continues to play an interesting role in Sweden, behind the seemingly straightforward image of a country on its way towards complete secularisation

The Swedish welfare state was built after the Second World War, based on the idea of ‘the home of the people’ (folkhemsidĂ©n). The basic principle of the model is that the state and local authorities guarantee the basic needs of all citizens. This principle is based on strong values of solidarity and shared responsibility. Decades of success for the system have since the 1990s been replaced by growing problems with keeping up the high level of benefits and services, a development, which is increasingly questioning also the values underpinning the whole welfare structure. Immigration is one factor, among many, challenging the system and immigrants have also been among those most affected by emerging new forms of poverty

The study is overestimating the depth of secularism in Sweden and that forms the basis of its comparison for self esteem.