Do sexual attitudes cause religious behavior?

…contrary to long-held assumptions that religious upbringing causes sexually restrictive attitudes and behaviors, several large data sets now suggest a reverse causal arrow—people’s preferred mating strategies determining their attraction toward, or repulsion from, religion. Second, other recent findings suggest that distrust of nonreligious individuals is almost completely erased by knowledge that they are following a restricted monogamous lifestyle. Thus, reproductive strategies often underlie apparently sacred concerns. We close with a consideration of ways in which reproductive interests might underlie a broad range of benefits associated with religious affiliation.

Here is the article, via the excellent K.



By your comment, you would consider me with lowest derision. Higher praise I could scarcely imagine.

It's as if reproductive strategies are rather important ...

Well, the first idea involved another aspect of the paper, but this from the abstract seems to really miss what Catholicism means in a cultural context, particularly in places where it has been the dominant religion for centuries - 'Religion has often been conceptualized as a collection of beliefs, practices, and proscriptions that lift people’s thoughts and behaviors out of the metaphorical gutter of sex and selfishness toward lives full of meaning, contemplation, and community service.'

This specific abstract text leads to a friend's observation from decades ago (though fitting my own experience) - 'First, contrary to long-held assumptions that religious upbringing causes sexually restrictive attitudes and behaviors .... people’s preferred mating strategies determining their attraction toward, or repulsion from, religion.' Basically, being raised Catholic does not lead to 'sexually restrictive [ ] behaviors' (at least compared to Protestants), and following the forms of Catholicism in a place where Catholicism is culturally dominant means measuring 'attraction toward, or repulsion from, religion' would be exceedingly difficult.

But as often the case with evolutionary psychology, it appears as if a single culture's framework is considered somehow applying universally, which is entertainingly ludicrous. Or to ask a $35 question that one hopes the authors handled, just what are broad Chinese religious beliefs in terms of religious affiliation, and what broad range of benefits is it associated with?

So what about the case where a religious person lives a more libertine lifestyle? How does the trust/distrust run there?

Fertility goddesses were some of the earliest surviving artifacts of our common ancestry.

Seems like you need longitudinal child and adult belief info to test. You should get a lot of religious shift from children to adults if sex strat. is directly causal.

Personally I remember not believing and no real change in beliefs due to puberty and it pretty much seemed like that for everyone I knew. Didn't seem like any child atheists became religious when becoming monogamous adults, or religious children becoming atheist when becoming more promiscuous adults. The kids who seemed not believe seemed to become adults who didn't believe, without much influence on how their sex life shaped up.

The article is not only about sex but successful reproduction:

"Successful reproduction is about more than sex: To be evolutionarily
successful, people must protect them-selves from threats posed by other people and disease pathogens, as well as acquire status, find suitable mates, maintain long-term bonds, and care for offspring (Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, & Schaller, 2010). Although reproductive goals
provide one obvious link, people are likely to interact with religion in ways that promote the achievement of each of these goals ( Johnson, Li, & Cohen, 2015). For instance, religious communities often provide support for raising children, for protecting community members from outside threats, for acquiring status, and for finding mates and maintaining long-term relationships. Thus, religion is not only about sexual behavior itself; many aspects of religious participation may facilitate reproduction in less direct and obvious ways."

Promiscuous adults can still benefit from being part of a religious group because their children will be reared in a "safe" environment.

Axa: "Promiscuous adults can still benefit from being part of a religious group because their children will be reared in a "safe" environment."

Most likely they can. But for this to be causal on a large share of religious behavior, seems we'd have to see some evidence of a large share of atheist kids /young adults etc. switching to religion upon having kids and wanting them to be "safe". I think not many do and most stay as atheist / irreligious based on childhood preference. (Similarly, I don't think religious young persons opting out of religion due to sexual motives, is really a large share of atheist adults. Most just never believed.)

Well, no one is 100% atheist. There is more religious people and less religious people. The less religious people sometimes self-describes as atheist.

Once again, this is about successful reproduction, which implies at least two individuals. You don't have to switch to religion when you can just marry to a more religious woman =)

Indeed, the choice of marriage partner reveals underlying preferences. Men in general will tend to chose a wife with "traditional values" . I'm one of those guys, I self-describe as atheist and happily married a decaf Catholic.

The most visible cases are the guys who can't find a wife at home, they complain about all girls are spoiled. Then marry to one with strong religious beliefs from South East Asia or Eastern Europe.

Yet, this still remains an amazingly European/Middle Eastern centric view.

The Han Chinese may not be atheist by a rigorous definition, but they are also notably not religious in a Western sense. Shinto is complex, but has an animistic component missing from Abrahamaic religions.

To put it differently, claiming that reproduction strategies and religion share a deep connection is applicable to one broad cultural framework, which has been around (depending on how broadly you wish to apply religious behavior outside of a clearly defined group) for less than 5000 years, and in most ways less than 1500 years.

'Then marry to one with strong religious beliefs from South East Asia'

Um, strong cultural beliefs, which may or may not be religious based on the cited definition - 'as a collection of beliefs, practices, and proscriptions that lift people’s thoughts and behaviors out of the metaphorical gutter of sex and selfishness toward lives full of meaning, contemplation, and community service.' Buddhism has nowhere the obsession with sex that marks so much of historical Christianity, for example (or just see how the authors use 'metaphorical gutter of sex').

Just look at the mate preferences of the Chinese single men after mail-order (even kidnapped) brides from neighboring countries. Skews to traditional/religious and child rearing.

Then look at the "leftover" women in China (> 27 YO & unmarried), inverse correlation to religiosity.

What are the Chinese men looking for? Even with the deficit of women, they pass on the perceived low religiosity. So, are they that different to us?

Ah, so sci-hub is something I really need to check out to read what is written, but traditional/religious seems to a very interesting conflation when dealing with a country like China. And one that would go basically unnoticed by those only familiar with Christian societies.

At least I was taught (admittedly, by a Korean religion professor a generation ago) that the Chinese are basically, and broadly, areligious - that is, by Abrahamaic standards, the Han Chinese pretty much lack anything resembling religious belief (distinguishing that from superstition, and leaving the concept of ancestor veneration to the side). A survey course on East Asia pretty much suggested the same thing, from a different perspective - the Chinese Communists may have done their best to remove various religious strains from Chinese society (Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism particularly in connection with Tibet), but that unlike the Soviets, the Chinese did not have to deal with a major religious institution which many Han Chinese citizens felt was part of their culture.

Still, time to check into pirating more IP content - seems a better use of my time than simple speculation to answer a $35 question.

Well, sci-hub is impressively easy.

And to the main point - 'that the links between world religions and sexual are not arbitrary' prompts one to ask what 'world religion' covers even a third of the Han Chinese?

However, the paper itself does not seem to cover anything about China, which is not actually surprising, being evidence showing that religion is simply cultural, and not really a human universal from the perspective of an Abrahamaic religious framework.

"Well, no one is 100% atheist." Really? What evidence persuaded you of that?

Because we're not rational 100% of the time and for 100% of the decisions we must do everyday. We believe, it's our nature.

The simplest belief is "luck" or "chance" . Nature is random, and anyone attributing a random event to luck/chance is displaying belief in the supernatural. Nothing of what we cherish and love has to happen, everything is random: the family you were born to, the people you love, the things that make you feel alive, there is no good or evil, the self-improvement narrative of religions has no base...........when I face those truths, I go back to the comfort of believing that there is chance, not everything is random, that some things or actions have value even if said value it's unfalsifiable.

There are no gods but believe in the words of the dear leader, there are no spirits but our mission is saving the planet Earth, there is no supernatural energy behind life but there are healthy foods, there is no reason to love or be loyal to anyone but we do it anyway. Is someone free of belief? I have not met yet anyone without beliefs.......and this premise is 100% falsifiable =)

The last time Pew measured, they found that around 70% of kids raised in atheist households converted to some form of religion in adulthood (with about 40% finding Jesus). This was a lower retention rate than all other identities measured using the same instrument.

The vast majority of American atheists report having been raised religious. The reason their share of the population is growing breaks down into three major things:
1. We have begun conflating "none" with atheist. Even though something like half of "nones" believe in God and around a third believe they will have an afterlife of some sort.
2. Sampling tends to overrepresent the wealthy, white, urban, and educated. These overlapping demographics skew heavily white.
3. For whatever reason, it looks like it only became acceptable to be "none" rather recently in terms of generations. Thus while maybe 20% of any faith tradition will convert to "none" and 70% of "none" will convert to some other faith tradition, the other faith traditions have a much larger population base such that the current net flux is an order of magnitude or two higher for somethings becoming Nones than Nones becoming Somethings.

Long term equilibrium would appear to be a declining atheist population (and it is far worse at the global level) where the majority of atheists continue to be disaffected somethings who abandoned childhood religion. I don't actually buy all this, but that is current trendline prediction.

I did a google search for this:
"Pew measured, they found that around 70% of kids raised in atheist households converted to some form of religion in adulthood (with about 40% finding Jesus)."
But did not find the Pew link. Do you have it?

Possibly this 2015 link - 'Looked at this way, the data clearly show that part of the reason the religious “nones” have grown rapidly in recent decades is that they continue to be the single biggest destination of movement across religious boundaries. Nearly one-in-five American adults (18%) were raised in a religion and are now unaffiliated, compared with just 4% who have moved in the other direction. In other words, for every person who has left the unaffiliated and now identifies with a religious group more than four people have joined the ranks of the religious “nones.”'

Of course, this part puts a somewhat different gloss on things - 'The group that has experienced the greatest net gains due to religious switching is the religiously unaffiliated. Fewer than one-in-ten adults (9.2%) say they were raised as religious “nones.” And nearly half of those who were raised unaffiliated (4.3% of all U.S. adults) now identify with a religion. But fully 18% of American adults were raised in a religious tradition and now describe themselves as unaffiliated. Currently, 22.8% of American adults identify as unaffiliated, which is nearly 14 percentage points higher than the share who say they were raised as religious “nones.”

Not sure where the 70% came from, though, particularly in light of this quote which does not support the figure at all - 'Just over half of those who were raised with no religious affiliation (53%) still identify as religious “nones,” one of the lower retention rates among religious traditions.'

And the long term looks quite different from what was written, at least in terms of a fairly short time frame indicating trends, where 'none' seems quite successful at retention among younger people - 'The data show, furthermore, that the share of those raised as “nones” who remain unaffiliated as adults is growing. Compared with 2007, the retention rate of the religiously unaffiliated has increased by seven percentage points (from 46% to 53%). This is driven, in large part, by generational replacement; young adults who were raised as “nones” are far more likely than their counterparts in previous generations to continue to identify as unaffiliated. Fully two-thirds of Millennials who were raised unaffiliated continue to identify as “nones” as adults. In fact, “nones” have among the highest retention rates among Millennials, significantly higher than the comparable rates for those raised in the evangelical Protestant (61%), historically black Protestant (60%), Catholic (50%) and mainline Protestant (37%) traditions and about equal to the retention rate for Jews (70%).'">

The caveat that none and atheist are not identical remains valid, of course.

The less religious and the irreligious tend to have fewer or no children. It is another factor in atheism's eventual decline. The future belongs to those who show up. Atheism, in Darwinian parlance, is an evolutionary dead end.

The 70% comes from sub-group analysis within the "nones"; of those who explicitly identified with atheism (as opposed to agnostic, etc.) retention rates were around 30%. Around 40% of converts went Christian, 25% to some softer version of none (e.g. agnostic), and the rest to various other things (e.g. Judaism, non-specific theism, etc.).

Nones are better at retaining their young in the "fold" than Atheists, but even there I am highly skeptical of the Millenial data; historically marriage, children, and familial deaths all boost religiosity and maybe half of Millenials have gone through those life changes thus far (particularly as they tend to experience all of these later in life).

It has been a few years since I looked at the numbers. And as noted, I doubt we will see a straight line projection. I expect that the rate of "none" religious retention will eventually approach European levels, at least for urban areas, but it will take a few generations to work its way through the demographics.

Thanks clockwork_prior and sure.

I think you're conflating "raised in an atheist household" with "kid had atheistic beliefs"; I'm interested in whether internal beliefs tend to switch (and are influenced much by sexual strategy post puberty) and parental beliefs are a Not Even Wrong level proxy for that.

So Michel Onfray was right. Paul of Tarse's main motivation in inventing and spreading the myth of Jesus was his neurosis due to his sexual impotence. Paul of Tarse called it his "thorn in the flesh".

"thorn in the flesh" would be rather an odd metaphor for impotence. Are you sure he wasn't gay?

Come to think of it, Paul didn't have much to say about the historical Jesus. So why does it make sense to accuse him of inventing Jesus?

How does this work now that Sport's Illustrated has its first burkini model? Somali-Americans are rather prominent these days. Good looking group too.

Entertaining article, read with sci-hub =)

First, it's consistent with the premise that we invented God.

Then, it is also consistent with the large history of successful forced conversions. How is it possible that war/conquest can implant a new religion if religious belief tells you God is above us? Because the new religion is very similar to the previous one and addresses the underlying needs of the people (AKA demand).

'read with sci-hub'

Wondered about the access - good idea, since I find evolutionary psychology entertaining much the same way I find MR entertaining.

May spend some time seeing whether sci-hub works with my normal browsing configuration - today being a day where work is honored with a holiday in much of the world. Except where the actual holiday was invented - 'Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that "the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction." ....
Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists. ....
Over one hundred years have passed since that first May Day. In the earlier part of the 20th century, the US government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public's memory by establishing "Law and Order Day" on May 1.'

Not that this history is likely to be noted as an America fact of the day here.

"Thus, reproductive strategies often underlie apparently sacred concerns. "

This is generally considered the null hypothesis.

Wouldn't this also fit with moral foundations theory a la Jonathan Haidt?

It says that pre-existing moral instincts which differ from person to person ultimately shape our attitudes towards various issues and that many of our justifications are actually rationalizations after the fact.

Yes. Moral instincts as evolved mixed reproduction strategies is looking so obvious I'm wondering why it hasn't been seen before.

Probably because it contains repugnant conclusions for the modern left about their own "goodness" and leads straight to the Alt Right and Reactionary maxim that "moral good = family/group affirming"

They say that lower "sociosexuality" supposedly causes higher religiosity rather than religiosity causing lower promiscuity.

That makes sense only if you are a narrowminded academic and view promiscuity as the "normal" thing.

More likely what it means is that if you want to be promiscuous you are not going be getting involved in religious behavior even if normal people who are not already religious might start to do so.

The sex and gender wars are here to stay. My view is that religious people feel so strongly about diverse sex and gender practices because it threatens their sense of order and stability. Here is Conor Friedersdorf admirably defending Camille Paglia:

Opinion (Plato: Opinion is not truth.) You're not religious people if your genitalia order your religious beliefs.

There are religious people who aren't busybodies and don't stick their noses into other people's bedrooms. Don't confuse the preachings of public figures with the attitudes of ordinary people. (And for crying out loud, it's increasingly true that gay relationships are tolerated/accepted even among the devout)

For some reason, an Evangelical Pastor's "abandonment of religion thread" was retweeted into my feed. It was mostly heartfelt and sad, but one line was interesting. Something like:

"People loosely connected to organized religion seem to gain the most from it."

But Jesus kept company with prostitutes, Solomon had 300 wives, David... etc.

Two anecdotal counter-examples:
1. In India (where I hail from), most people become more religious after their kids leave for college/jobs. The spiel goes that when the kids are at home, the parents don't find enough time to go to pilgrimage sites, temples, religious processions etc. After the kids leave, parents start visiting holy places, listening to sermons etc etc. In addition, parents of college going children become much more lonely (empty nest syndrome) and seek company in communal places - the natural starting point being a temple, church or mosque. As a personal case, my mother is now significantly more religious than since I was a child. Maybe there was a latent religiosity that I didn't pick up on when I was a kid, but it is on full display now.
2. How does this explain tinder and dating-apps? Is there any evidence to show that people who use these apps (thereby being plausibly more open to promiscuous relationships) are less religious?

Final point - how universal is this study? The way the study read, it felt very Abrahamically centered. How does this explain countries that are irreligious/secular such as Czechia, China, Japan etc?

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