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Publication: The Humanist
Date published: November 1, 2010

Whose Golden Rule?

A study published September 1, 2010, in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion looked at the effect the golden rule's "do unto others" message has on attitudes toward homosexuals. Christian and Buddhist participants were primed with quotations espousing the golden rule, some attributed to Jesus and others to Buddha. The researchers found that the golden rule had no effect in raising people's level of compassion in their attitudes toward gays. Attitudes remained the same for Christians when the rule was associated with Jesus, however when the Golden Rule was attributed to Buddha, negativity towards gays and belief that homosexuality is a choice actually increased among Christians.

The authors of "'Do Unto Others': Effects of Priming the Golden Rule on Buddhists' and Christians' Attitudes Toward Gay People," conclude: "Our results suggest that although the golden rule has an important influence on believers, its message of compassion may produce more prejudice if it comes from an outgroup source compared to an ingroup source." In short, moral status trumps a universal message of compassion.

Scientia potentia est

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey" on September 28, 201 0, which found that atheists and agnostics know the most about world religions (including core teachings, history, and leading figures). Major religious groups' average of correct answers to 32 questions (after controlling for differing levels of education) were:

Atheist/Agnostic 20.9

Jewish 20.5

Mormon 20.3

White evangelical Protestant 17.6

White Catholic 16.0

White mainline Protestant 15.8

Nothing in particular 15.2

Black Protestant 13.4

Hispanic Catholic 11.6

Mormons and white evangelical Protestants showed the highest levels of knowledge about Christianity and the Bible. Jews and atheists/agnostics stood out for their knowledge of other world religions and also about the role of religion in public life, including a question about the U.S. Constitution. Among atheists/agnostics, 94 percent knew what an atheist was and 86 percent knew what it meant to be agnostic. For those who identify as "nothing in particular," 82 percent correctly defined atheism, while only 60 percent knew what agnosticism meant.

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