bookmark_borderWhy is skepticism primarily a male thing?

Looking at survey data sociologists present about religion and secularity, I find the gender differences that show up to be rather striking. Among skeptics of religion, men invariably outnumber women. A typical statistic might have that in a given population of people identifying themselves as religious nonbelievers, 60% are men and 40% women.

Interpreting such data is always difficult. On one of the articles I just read, I ran into a comment tying this gender imbalance to males being more likely to challenge social authority. Maybe so, but that just pushes the question back a stage. And I have my doubts as well. The same sort of gender difference also shows up in surveys of paranormal beliefs not associated with mainstream religion—but only in paranormal beliefs that are overtly “spiritual” in character. UFOs as alien spacecraft, for example, seems to be more of a male belief.

So what’s going on? What are the causes behind this reliable (it seems) result that women are more spiritual/religious, and men overrepresented among skeptics?

I can speculate easily enough. I expect, for example, that the more domestic orientation of traditional women’s roles has something to do with it, generating more female support for religion as an institution bolstering family and social stability. The more relevant variable is perhaps not gender but relative social privilege. After all, socioeconomically more disadvantaged populations tend to be more religious.

But I don’t know of any substantial research proposing a detailed causal explanation. (Please tell me about it if you know.)

The association of nonbelief with relative privilege raises some interesting questions in any case. Moral critics of religion make much of how religion is correlated with social conservatism (another reliable survey result, by the way), hoping that a decline in the social power of supernatural beliefs will have emancipatory effects. Yet groups that are disadvantaged also tend to be more religious, perhaps because they have a greater need to rely on networks of social solidarity, and religion often seems to be central to human social cohesion.

bookmark_borderNew edition of Beversluis on C.S. Lewis

I just got my copy of the greatly revised and updated edition of John Beversluis’s C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. I am proud to say that I played a (modest) role in encouraging John to bring out this terrific revision. Actually, it is so extensively rewritten that it is practically a whole new book. In the “Preface to the Second Edition,” John talks about the reception of his first edition (Eerdmans, 1985). By criticizing Lewis, John knew he would provoke the large contingent of loyal Lewisites, but he clearly underestimated their venom and truculence:
I had expected criticism. What I had not expected was the kind of criticism. With a market saturated with adulatory but almost completely uncritical books about Lewis, many were dismayed, and, in some cases, outraged by a critical study in which his arguments were subjected to scrutiny and found wanting and his “case for Christianity” was judged a failure. Unlike my sympathetic readers, who found a few virtues in the book, my unsympathetic ones found nothing but vices. To them, I was not a critic of C.S. Lewis, but a “detractor.” My book was not a critique, but an “assault.” My criticisms of his arguments were “facile,” “shallow,” “based on misunderstandings,” “unfair,” “underhanded,” “intellectually dishonest,” and even “despicable.” I was christened the “bad boy” of Lewis studies and labeled “the consummate Lewis basher.” I was likened to Falstaff, “pretending to triumph over the corpse of Percy, who in life would have made Falstaff run like a rabbit.” My account of Lewis’s crisis of faith after his wife’s death was denounced by one critic as “not only false, but perhaps deliberately and culpably false,” and dismissed by another as “fiction” and even “humbug.” (p. 10).

Such critics must have a verse in their Bible that reads: “Love thy enemy, unless he hath the temerity to criticize thee, in which case anoint his head with oil of vitriol.” John, to his great credit, responds to his critics, even the scurrilous ones, with calm and patient reasonableness. Indeed, he mentions the more vituperative responses not because his feelings were hurt or to scold the offenders (though they deserve it), but merely “to document the fact that he [Lewis] has achieved such iconic status in some quarters that criticism is viewed as near-sacrilege.” (pp. 10-11). Think what would have happened had John published a cartoon about Lewis in a Danish newspaper!

bookmark_borderThe New Encyclopedia of Unbelief

I just finished reading through The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief,edited by Tom Flynn. OK, it’s about 900 pages, but it consists of short articles, many which are quite interesting, so it goes fast.

One gripe I have, though, is that the final revisions to the proof of my contribution seems to have been overlooked. As a result, there are a couple of small errors. OK, they’d only be noticeable to a physicist, but nonetheless, I’m slightly disgruntled. So if you want the proper entry for UNIVERSE, ORIGIN OF THE, AND UNBELIEF, please check out this version on my web site.