APA’s resolution on religious, religion-based, and/or religion-derived prejudice


Just got my 2007 annual report from the American Psychological Association. I rarely read this thick document except for the ethics violation reports. But I saw that the board and council passed the above-named resolution. Some key passages to consider in the long document:

Prejudice based on or derived from religion and antireligious prejudice has been, and continues to be, a cause of significant suffering in the human condition. …

Prejudices are unfavorable affective reactions to or evaluations of groups and their members…

…it is a paradoxical feature of these kind of prejudices that religion can be both target and victim of prejudice, as well as construed as justification and imperative for prejudice. The right of persons to practice their religion or faith does not and cannot entail a right to harm others or to undermine the public good.  …

While many individuals and groups have been victims of antireligious discrimination, religion itself has also been the source of a wide range of beliefs about and attitudes and behaviors toward other individuals…

Allport and his colleagues observed that the relationship between religion and prejudice is curvilinear rather than linear, with highly religious individuals having lower levels of prejudice than marginally religious adherents.

It is important for psychology as a behavioral science, and various faith traditions as theological systems, to acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological, epistemological, historical, theoretical, and philosophical bases. Psychology has no legitimate function in arbitrating matters of faith and theology, and faith traditions have no legitimate place arbitrating behavioral and other sciences.

The document goes on to list multiple “whereas” and “therefore be it resolved” statements. The gist of which is to say, don’t discriminate; respect religion and spirituality; avoid prejudice; give no preference (as an Association to either belief or unbelief; recognize that psychology and religion cannot adjudicate either party’s tenets (but psychology can comment on the psychological impact of spiritual beliefs and religion can comment on theological implications of psychology); and try to collaborate if you can.

Problems galore despite their effort not to just paint religion as the bad guy. I’ll post just two. First, what is prejudice? They mention it as an “unfavorable affective reaction.” Okay. So, if I gently and cognitively say that my faith disapproves of certain behaviors or beliefs and based on those differences I decide not to hire you in my private, faith-based school, is that prejudice? I think some would say so. Currently, the debate over the appropriateness of having someone seek counseling to change sexual orientation has plenty of folk arguing that the problem is not affective but cognitive. If you believe you can or should change your orientation then you are accepting dominant prejudices.

Second, the whole document stinks of the separation of science and faith–as if science is all empirical and faith is all unsubstantiated belief. Also, what do those psychologists do who find themselves well trained in both worlds. It would seem from this document that the psychologist training trumps theological training. Again this is thought to be best for “the public good” and yet they do not recognize this as value, non-emprically based statement.

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Filed under church and culture, philosophy of science, Psychology

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