Archive for In The News

Are Religious Kids Really Meaner than Their Secular Counterparts? A Guest Post

There’s a news story making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter about a study that supposedly shows that religious kids are meaner than non-religious kids. Social psychologist Dr. Chuck Hackney takes a closer look at the study and offers some important caveats about the methodology in today’s guest post.



Here are a few of my initial thoughts on the study:

  1. It is odd that the researchers had to go to a biology journal to get it published, when there are several high-quality psychology of religion journals out there.  Not really an important point, just something to note.
  1. Before anyone gets too excited about the findings, look at the statistics.  This is why I tell my students that it’s important to read the methods and results in research write-ups. It may be the boring technical bits, but that’s where the quality of a study stands or falls.  The standardized coefficient reported by the researchers was -0.132, which represents only a small effect size.  Put another way, the coefficient represents the change in one variable (stickers given to another kid) associated with changes in the other variables (religious vs nonreligious household).  Children were given 30 stickers and given an opportunity to share.  The difference between the average sticker sharing among the religious kids and the average sticker sharing among the irreligious kids was ONLY 13% of one sticker.
  1. The way that the researchers measured religiosity annoys me.  They operationalized their variable by a simple religious/nonreligious dichotomy, which is the crudest and least sophisticated possible way to do it.  Given the easy availability of a wide range of complex multidimensional religiosity measures, speaking as someone who has done psychology of religion research, I am professionally annoyed at such a blunt analytic approach.  The website where I first saw this was a Doctor Who site (yes, I know the story is not about Doctor Who. There is some off-topic discussion going on at that website).  I explained the problem to them this way: Suppose someone wanted to study Doctor Who fandom, but they measured it by asking participants “Have you ever seen an episode of Doctor Who?”, and calling everyone who said “yes” a Doctor Who fan.  Would any actual Doctor Who fan have any respect at all for a study like that?
  1. Another thing to watch out for is big sweeping conclusions based on data that do not actually support such statements.  Looking at the crudity of their measure and the small effect size that they detected, a proper conclusion would be very modestly stated, with a lot of acknowledgements of the limitations of the study.  If you click on the link in the story and get the pdf of the study, looking at the conclusions they draw, there is none of that.  There is no modesty in their discussion, and they close with a claim that this study shows that secularization makes the world more moral.  Talk about overstating one’s case!

Leaving aside the methodological problems noted above, the connection between religiosity and morality is complex and needs a lot more development. To begin with, the results of psychology of religion studies vary widely depending on how researchers define religion. Studies in which the researchers measure religion by asking questions like “how often do you attend religious services?” produce very different results than studies in which religiosity is measured in terms of agreement with theological teachings, and those studies produce different results than studies in which the researchers are looking at religious maturity, or religious motivation, and so on.

It also matters how morality is being measured. Studies that measure morality by assessing endorsement of moral values tend to show that religiosity is strongly predictive of more moral beliefs. Some aspects of religiosity predict more mature and complex moral reasoning while other aspects do not. Generally speaking (there are exceptions), religiosity does not predict more moral behaviour when believers are “in the heat of the moment” (e.g., giving someone an opportunity to cheat on a test), but it does predict more moral behaviour when believers have time to plan for it (e.g., higher religiosity scores predict more volunteerism). Religiosity predicts higher levels of morally-relevant traits such as self-control, gratitude, and forgiveness.

And even then, that’s the simplified version. It all gets complicated very quickly.


Dr. Charles Hackney is Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Psychology Department at Briercrest College and Seminary. He is co-host of the Book of Nature Podcast, and author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors.  He is also married to me!

Setting the Record Straight on Bane/Bain: This is My Geek Rant for the Week

I was sitting in a restaurant this afternoon, having a bit of “me” time. I was working my way through today’s Globe and Mail. In the Entertainment section was a review for The Dark Knight Rises.

Do I read it? Will there be spoilers? Do I read it? I hummed and hawed. And then decided to go ahead and read it. No spoilers, thankfully. And then I came across this:

…there are touches of Rocky, as well as Die Hard, but never far are echoes of 9/11 and the U.S. financial collapse of recent years. (The villain is named Bane, which intended or not, brings to mind this year’s Republican candidate for president and his infamous corporate alma mater.)

This is why non-geeks should not write movie reviews for comic book-based movies. Bane has been a villain in the Batman-verse for years! Heck, Joel Schumacher even butchered him in Batman and Robin and made him nothing more than a dimwitted lackey for Poison Ivy, and that was back in 1997! He is not named for Mitt Romney’s company!!

Bane appeared as a villain in DC Comics in 1993. He was THE adversary of Batman, who not only spent months and months elaborately planning the destruction of Batman but actually ended up breaking Batman’s back!

While fighting with Killer Croc (Detective Comics #660), Bane explains his name with all the subtlety of a brick: “I am BANE! The bane of everything that gets in my way! The bane of anything that lives!” He takes his name from the dictionary definition of “bane”: a cause of misery or death. Any attempt to connect this to Romney is just silly, a stretch too far to be passed over without mockery. The nuttiness, it seems, it not restricted to the Globe and Mail. On his radio show on Tuesday, this slice of conspiracy pie was served up by none other then El Rushbo himself. Rush has boasted in the past about broadcasting with half his brain tied behind his back… just to make it fair. He must have tied the knots a bit tighter than usual on Tuesday.

/Geek rant over. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Another Adventure in Anglicanism

I read some sad news today. Christianity Today is reporting that the Anglican Mission in America, which was set up as an anglican communion alternative to the Episcopal church has broken away from the Rwandan diocese that was governing them.

The article ends with a quote:

“The liberals in the Episcopal Church are having a field day,” he added. “They’re saying, ‘They split once, and now they’ve split again. It must go to show that they are rebels at heart and not really motivated by any gospel imperative.”

Unity is important. Is it actually attainable this side of glory? I’m not sure. But, I grieve for the whole situation. I sure hope that the ‘liberals’ won’t gloat over this new development, but will instead lift it up in prayer.

To my Anglican readers, what do you think the implications of this new split will be on the work and mission of the conservative branch of North American Anglicanism? Was this conflict with the bishops in Rwanda inevitable?
Is this just more evidence of the brokenness of the entire Anglican tradition?

[update]: more on this story can be found over at Anglican Ink.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Christianity Today has an excerpt from Mark Galli’s new book Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. Given the reading I’ve been doing for class, this might be a book to add to the pile at some point.

Patheos is doing a symposium on The Future of Seminary Education. There’s lots to read!

Thomas Jay Oord offers ten reasons why men should not be pastors:

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers

Read the other five reasons here.


In gaming news: is this a joke? The new expansion for World of Warcraft is Kung Fu Panda meets Pokemon? I think it’s a good thing I’ve unplugged from the world of WOW.

RIP Peter Falk

I read today that Peter Falk passed away at the age of 83. While he may be well known for the tv show Columbo, it is this movie that I always think of first.

N.T. Wright, Stephen Hawking and Heaven

So supposedly Stephen Hawking made a comment earlier this week that heaven is a fairytale. N.T. Wright has written a response over at the Washington Post:

Hawking is working with a very low-grade and sub-biblical view of ‘going to heaven.’ Of course, if faced with the fully Christian two-stage view of what happens after death — first, a time ‘with Christ’ in ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise,’and then, when God renews the whole creation, bodily resurrection — he would no doubt dismiss that as incredible. But I wonder if he has ever even stopped to look properly, with his high-octane intellect, at the evidence for Jesus and the resurrection? I doubt it — most people in England haven’t. Until he has, his opinion about all this is worth about the same as mine on nuclear physics, i.e. not much.

Also, check out the conversation about Stephen Hawking’s comments over at First Thoughts.

Random Blog Posts and Stuff

Jon Coutts writes about why he is dropping TGC blogs from his reading list:

But as we are only connected by their celebrity and influence within a big thing called evangelicalism, and since I have found their blogs more discouragingly mystifying than helpful, and because they have not once interacted with my comments and questions, and since those of their followers who have interacted with me have not appeared to consider anything I’ve said, I have decided that their blogs are hardly worth the effort. I actually feel that my presence there has only served to solidify other commenters in their allegiance to their views.


Speaking of TGC, Kevin DeYoung wishes that Christian colleges highlight “just” moms in their promotional and alumnus materials:

So here’s my challenge: let me know if you’ve seen an alumni magazine from a Christian college that spotlights mothers, not mothers who also dance in the ballet and spin centrifuges, but mothers who are “just” mothers.
And a bonus challenge, this one for our fine Christian colleges: we’d love to see how proud you are of the half of your graduates putting their education to good use by helping their husbands, raising kids, serving in the church, and doing a hundred other amazing things that don’t look impressive to most people but should look impressive to us.


The Catholic Church in Quebec is going green. Instead of having sacramental wine sent up from California, wine used in the Eucharist will now come from a vineyard in Quebec:

It’s very symbolic,” said Norman Levesque, the man behind the initiative. “By taking bread and wine and replacing those elements with ones that are more environmentally friendly, we are touching the core of people’s faith.”
Although the practice won’t make a big difference on its own, it is one of a growing number of initiatives aimed at making churches more environmentally responsible.
Mr. Levesque is the director of Green Church, an initiative of the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism advising church leaders on ways to reduce their carbon footprints.
Since its launch last fall, more than 25 Montreal-area churches — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — have signed commitments to introduce more environmentally sustainable practices, usually involving heating, insulation and recycling.
The implementation of Quebec wine for communion is the program’s latest achievement and forges new spiritual ground.


And in the “weird news” category, there is a group of nuns who have decided to venerate Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The reason: They believe he is the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul.

“According to the Bible, Paul the Apostle was a military commander at first and an evil persecutor of Christians before he started spreading the Christian gospel,” the sect’s founder, who styles herself Mother Fotina, said.
“In his days in the KGB, Putin also did some rather unrighteous things. But once he became president, he was imbued with the Holy Spirit, and just like the apostle, he started wisely leading his flock.”

Manly Manliness

An article appeared in yesterday’s Globe and Mail about the nostalgia for manly men. Chuck, being very much into chivalry and warriorhood, eagerly read the article, and came a way just a little bit disappointed. Read the article: Guy Guides: Nostalgia For When Men Were Masters of the Universe.

Below is Chuck’s response. He was going to send it to the Editor of the Globe, but they have a 150 word limit for letters to the editor. So I’m posting his entire response here.


In his recent article, Russell Smith passes judgment on “how-to-be-a-gentleman guides” (Nostalgia for When Men Ruled, April 14th), arguing that these guides are “maniacally conservative” escapist fantasies grounded in a “nervousness” about gender, and a nostalgic desire to return to the days when “men were masters of the universe” and women knew their place.

Anything can be “psychologized” away (a variant of the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy sometimes known as “Bulversism”or “Appeal to Motive”) if one tries hard enough. A psychologist who studies terror management theory could try to explain away the desire to be a good parent, for example, as nothing more than reacting to existential anxiety by focusing on the survivial of one’s offspring, and Freud might have described writing an article for the Globe and Mail as a sublimation of neurotic sexual conflict. Smith’s attempt to reduce the desire to be a good man to nostaglic crypto-sexist neuroses is just such a maneuver.

Regarding the charge of sexism, Smith offers no evidence in support of his accusation. He makes no attempt to deal with the fact that current contributors to this discussion, whether we are talking about Kate and Brett McKay’s book The Art of Manliness or Scott Farrell’s “Chivalry Today” podcast, explicitly sever considerations of gentlemanly behaviour from any implications of male superiority. Smith states that “in discussion of gentlemanliness there is no mention of how best to divide child care,” which is flatly incorrect, as can be seen in the discussion of stay-at-home dads at the Art of Manliness website, for one example. And Smith’s charge that behaving like a gentleman is about trying to assert dominance shows a lack of understanding of gentlemanliness. In my book on warriorhood (a topic associated with manly stereotypes if ever there was one), my research into warrior codes both past and present showed the core of martial greatness to be servanthood rather than masterhood, and Scott Farrell’s application of chivalric ideals to today’s gentleman is grounded in the relinquishing of dominance.

Smith also claims that the proliferation of gentlemen’s guides are the product of nostalgia, as evidenced by the anachronistic language used by most popular books on the subject. Given the attention paid by the media to the “metrosexual” and the 30-something who still plays Xbox in his parents’ basement as images of today’s man, and the often-heard claim that chivalry is dead (or at least badly wounded), it is not surprising that current thought on gentlemanliness often involves a desire to reconnect with something that is perceived to have been lost. However, the publication and popularity of the guides themselves cannot be attributed to mere nostalgia. From Geoffroi de Charny’s 14th-Century manual of chivalry to the writings of US President Theodore Roosevelt, men have always sought the advice of other men on the topic of how a man might live well, in the same way that women have always sought advice from other women. The current crop of “gentlemen’s guides” are no different.

Charles H. Hackney, PhD
Author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage, and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors (2010, Charles E. Tuttle Publications)

Living in Caronport

I saw my first election placard go up in town this week. (For my American readers, Canada is gearing up for a federal election). I quickly realized that I have some research to do. This will be my first election here in Saskatchewan and I already can tell that this will be different from voting in previous elections when I lived in Hamilton.

First, the riding that Caronport is a part of is huge geographically. The riding includes us, rural farm areas, Moose Jaw (town of ~30,000), and part of Regina (capital city). How diverse is that? In Hamilton there were five ridings for the whole city, and the riding I lived in was just the downtown core (Hamilton Centre).

Second, in Hamilton I would tend to vote for the person who would best represent the riding, rather than vote based on party platform. I don’t have enough information on the candidates out here to know who would best represent the interests of the riding.

Third, I don’t know what the ‘hot’ issues are out here in Saskatchewan. I’m assuming that they would be different issues than those in a metropolitan riding?

Fourth, I’m learning that Saskatchewan in general tends to swing its support between two very different parties.

Fifth, I haven’t heard anything about where our election ballots get cast. Usually there is a card in the mail with the information, but it hasn’t come yet. Do they set up polling stations here in Caronport or do we drive in to Moose Jaw to vote? Update: Turns out there will be a voting station at the Golden Age Centre.

Sixth, I wonder what candidates do with a town like Caronport? It is mostly a student community, which in this case won’t be a problem because classes will be done by the time the election rolls around. But the more permanent residents still tend to come from other provinces, communities, and I’m guessing a wide variety of political persuasions. Do any of the candidates even come and stump in Caronport?

Religious Attendance in Canada

The 50th anniversary issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion is out. In it, it includes a study looking at the changing patterns of church attendance in Canada between 1986-2008.

Overall, the study found a 20% decrease in religious attendance. Part of this is due to the increase in people reporting that they have ‘no religion’. The other part is due to a decline in Catholic attendance.

As for Protestants:

…the story is one of stability and even increase. Across age groups, Protestants in Canada are now more likely to attend religious services…These data do not allow us to disaggregate mainline Protestants from evangelical Protestants. This makes it impossible to determine whether the stability in attendance among Protestants is because of stability across Protestant denominations, or if evangelical groups have compensated for declining rates of attendance in mainline groups. (pg. 199)

I know of one mainline church that has been studied regarding declining attendance. There is research about the United Church of Canada that found that by 2025 the average United Church will have:
• 52 financially-supporting households.
• zero new members received.
• zero new members in Sunday school.
• zero baptisms (all ages).
• Zero weddings.
• Four funerals.

(It should be noted that in this research about the UCC, the author found that there is also decline in the evangelical churches, just not as fast as the UCC).

But, if as the newest research suggests, Protestants are holding their own in terms of attendance (be it due to an increase in evangelical attendance, or not), what does this mean for the announcement that religion in Canada is on its way to being extinct?