Does Inter-Group Bias Render an Ecclesiology Which Embraces Out-Groups Impossible?

Tobias Tanton
Wednesday 13 July 2022
  1. Introduction
  2. Fields of Study
  3. Discussion
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction and Hypothesis

The day after Martin Luther King was assassinated, Jane Elliott, a third-grade school teacher, divided her class into those with brown eyes and those with blue eyes. She then used this arbitrary distinction to designate each group in turn as ‘superior’ to the other for a week. The group marked out as superior became more arrogant and bossier, and treated those labelled inferior poorly. The ‘superior’ group’s academic performance also increased while the inferior group’s suffered. This experiment has been replicated numerous times across different cultures, and has become a classic example of the way in which identity markers generate bias towards in-groups and prejudice against out-groups. Subsequent empirical research in psychology (and sociology) has generated a vast literature documenting inter-group bias under a wide range of conditions. Inter-group bias has also been integrated into evolutionary accounts in psychology;  Jonathan Haidt, for example, argues that although humans can rise above selfishness to acts of altruism, this altruism remains parochial, favouring members of one’s own group.

Religion has the capacity to create identity markers akin to those in Elliott’s famous experiment, whether through identification with a particular community, a larger religious grouping (e.g. a denomination), or a religion as a whole. Writing in the mid-twentieth century, Gordon Allport, a seminal figure in the psychology of prejudice (and himself a religious adherent), observed the propensity for religious grouping to be caught up in inter-group bias:

On all sides we see how bigotry and escapism accompany certain forms of piety. One travels through America and notes its Jim Crow churches, its store-front tabernacles, its anti-Semitic “Christian” crusaders, and marks how often the darkness of the human mind is sanctified with a religion of superstition. Religion in many lives seems merely symptomatic of fear and frustration. (Allport 1951, x)

This observation has found support in experimental studies; for example, religious priming has been found to trigger negative attitudes towards out-groups (Shariff et al. 2016, 41).

The way in which religious belonging can foster such inter-group bias should be alarming to Christian theologians (among others). The gospel narratives are replete with examples of Jesus failing to respect established in-group boundaries; and his teaching explicitly broadens the command for neighbour-love to embrace out-groups, and indeed exhorts love of enemies (Mat 5:44). Can church communities actually enact such an ethic, or is it merely a theological pipe-dream in the face of inter-group bias? Here, then, is the hypothesis for this puzzle: the presence of inter-group bias present in religious groupings renders an ecclesiology which embraces out-groups impossible. In this puzzle I shall argue that this hypothesis is too strong: although the wide-spread presence of inter-group bias should be a major concern for ecclesiology, it does not ultimately rule out the possibility of an ecclesiology rooted in universal love.

2. Fields of Study

This puzzle draws upon the resources of the psychology of prejudice to think through the church as a social group, and ecclesiological themes related to inter-group bias.

2.1 Ecclesiology

Ecclesiology, the Christian doctrine of the church, considers questions about how church is defined, its scope, its relationship with salvation, and many others. In this section I focus on what some ecclesiologists say about church in relation to human social groups.

2.1.1 Ethics of Outwardness

The Christian tradition (and its Jewish inheritance) contains many examples of ethical teaching which exhort care, compassion, and love towards out-groups. Many passages in the Hebrew Bible mandate hospitality and concern for ‘aliens and strangers’ (e.g. Deut 10:19; Exo 22:21). Although the Levitical command to ‘love one’s neighbour as one’s self’ (Lev 19:18) only applied to fellow Israelites, in the well-known parable of the good Samaritan (Luk 10:25-37) Jesus characteristically intensifies the command by extending the category of neighbourliness to out-groups. It is the outsider Samaritan in this narrative who behaves in a ‘neighbourly’ fashion by offering compassion across group boundaries. Beyond explicit teachings, breaching of taboos is a common trope in accounts of Jesus’ ministry, and these breaches often involve a failure to respect social norms associated with particular identity markers.  The ethic is perhaps most forcefully expressed in the sermon on the mount, where Jesus teaches the gathered to ‘love your enemies’ (Mat 5:44).

Terence Cuneo formalises this Christian ethic by describing it as an ‘ethic of outwardness’. Using the language of inter-group bias, he defines such an ethic

In contrast to an ethic of proximity, wherein we conform to various ethical directives and ideas—perhaps being open to meeting needs and obligations where we find them—but  sparing little effort to expand our attention to the needs and obligations beyond those which we encounter in the various in-groups to which we belong, such as family, friends, church, synagogue, or country. (Cuneo 2016, 25)

Hence, for Cuneo, a Christian ethical stance requires concern for out-groups, thus acting in the opposite fashion to the psychological tendency to favour in-groups explored below.

In Christian doctrine this ethic is often rooted in theological anthropology. The idea that humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) has been used to argue for universal human value and dignity (Vainio 2018, 144-146). As Barrett and King explain, this principle meets an obstacle in human inter-group bias:

In theory, Christianity extends high moral worth to all humans because all are created in God’s image and are potential “children of God” – an ideal that is difficult to achieve because it runs counter to other culturally enforced narratives about who constitutes the in-group. (Barrett and King 2021, 97-98)

It is not clear that inter-group bias is universally problematic from a theological perspective. For one, bias towards one’s in-group creates bonding and belonging, and can provide the foundations for trust, cooperation and love (Haidt 2012, 281). As Gordon Allport, a pioneer in the psychology of prejudice observed,

Positive attachments are essential to life. The young child could not exist without his dependent relationship on a nurturant person. He must love and identify himself with someone and something before he can learn what to hate. Young children must have family and friendship circles before they can define the “out-groups” which are a menace to them. (Allport 1979/1954, 35)

Theologians would readily recognise such love and trust as theological goods. In a different vein, Liberation theologians have argued that Biblical texts reveal a God who has a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and that we should adopt the same – this privileging could be understood as a positive bias. Furthermore, on a pragmatic note, Vincens points out that challenging unjust social structures sometimes requires strengthening inter-group boundaries and intensifying anger – and hence prejudice reduction may not be a panacea if such change is the ultimate goal (Vicens 2018, 119). Hence inter-group bias may not be theologically problematic in all cases; however, these complexities notwithstanding, when it leads to out-group animosity it is typically an affront to a Christian ethic of outwardness.

2.1.2 Ecclesiologies of Embrace

The Christian ‘ethic of outwardness’ is not simply a principle for individual moral duties; it also has implications for how human groups ought to function and therefore impacts on ecclesiology. Does the church in its teachings, its institutional structures, and its missional priorities likewise reflect an obligation to those beyond in-groups?

It is clear that group distinctions and divisions posed challenges from the very earliest days of the church. Biblical authors writing to particular church communities often chastise them for creating divisions and showing favouritism to particular groups. The book of James, for example, criticises ecclesial communities which accord special status to wealthy members while dishonouring the poor (James 2:1-7). In Galatians, Paul grapples with the status of the Jewish law for the nascent Christian community made up of both Jewish Christians and gentile converts. He forcefully argues that gentiles equally belong to the ‘family of God’ as fellow heirs: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”(Gal 3:28-29 NRSV). Hence as Paul writes to the church community in Galatia, he affirms that their theological identity stems from being ‘in Christ’, and this thereby relativises or even negates any other social group identities.

Subsequent theological reflection has continued to develop this theme of inclusive church practices. For example, the theologian and ecclesiologist, John Zizioulas, circumscribes the Eucharist in the following fashion:

A eucharist which discriminates between races, sexes, ages, professions, social classes etc. violates not certain ethical principles but its eschatological nature. For that reason such a eucharist is not a ‘bad’—i.e. morally deficient—eucharist but no eucharist at all. It cannot be said to be the body of the One who sums up all into Himself. (Zizioulas 1985, 255)

As an Eastern Orthodox theologian, for Zizioulas the Eucharist constitutes the church and is its foundational act. One could readily substitute ‘Church’ for ‘Eucharist’ in the above quote without distorting Zizioulas’ thought. Hence many of the categories which might be the foundation for group divisions are sublimated in Zizioulas’ vision of the church.

The vision of a church which draws together all groups has also been deployed to call the church to account when particular constituencies are marginalised. For example, the pioneering theologian of disability, Nancy Eiesland, likewise reflects upon the Eucharist as a litmus test for inclusion:

The Eucharist as a central and constitutive practice of the church is a ritual of membership. Someone who can take or serve communion is a real Christian subject. Hence inclusion of people with disabilities in the ordinary practice of receiving and administering the Eucharist is a matter of bodily mediation of justice and an incorporation of hope. (Eiesland 1994, 112)

As Eiesland’s critique implies, in its messy history the church has often failed to live up to the principle of inclusion. Nevertheless, the ethic of outwardness translates into an ecclesiology of embrace, which functions as an ideal for which the church ought to strive and can be measured against.

2.2 Psychology of Prejudice

In his pioneering work The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Allport (1979/1954) recognises that prejudice is a complex phenomenon which cannot be captured by simple mono-causal explanations. He proposes a multifaceted lens model, in which historical, sociocultural, situational, personality, phenomenological, and stimulus-object related factors all influence prejudice (Jones, Dovidio, and Vietze 2013, 90-92). There are many potential points of contact between these complex factors and themes in ecclesiology. For the purposes of this puzzle, however, I shall focus, first, on Jonathan Haidt’s influential account of human ‘groupishness’ and, second, on some select strategies for reducing or avoiding prejudice which speak to the ecclesiology sketched above. Haidt is generally pessimistic about humans’ ability to escape inter-group bias, and hence his work tends to speak in favour of our hypothesis. The strategies for reducing prejudice, however, offer some alternative possibilities.

2.2.1 Human “Groupishness”

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (2012, 219-366) argues that humans are fundamentally ‘groupish’. By ‘groupish’, Haidt means that we promote our group’s interests in competition with other groups. He observes that “we love to join teams, clubs, leagues, and fraternities. We take on group identities and work shoulder to shoulder with strangers toward common goals so enthusiastically that it seems as if our minds were designed for teamwork” (Haidt 2012, 221). Human beings, it would seem, have a penchant for cooperative and cohesive groups.

To be sure, groupishness is only part of the story. It co-exists alongside selfishness, of which there is also no shortage of evidence. Haidt (2012, 255) expresses this mixture of competing tendencies by coining a motto: “We humans have a dual nature—we are selfish primates who long to be a part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.” Chimps are largely selfish; they do not cooperate in groups. Bees, by contrast, are highly groupish since they form hives and are even willing to sacrifice themselves for the hive. In the case of bees, this groupishness can be accounted for in evolutionary terms because the members of the hive are all biological siblings, and hence sacrificing oneself for the good of the hive nevertheless serves to propagate one’s genetic material. But humans, Haidt argues, are able to form cohesive groups which extend beyond bonds of kinship.

In order to form such groups, Haidt suggests that there are a number of psychological mechanisms which create strong bonds that both foster cooperation within groups and deter free riding. Examples of these mechanisms include ecstatic group rituals involving synchronized dancing which generate collective emotions; awe in nature which is accompanied with feeling part of a larger whole; and use of hallucinogens which generates a loss of a sense of self and feelings of oneness. Haidt also points to neurotransmitters like oxytocin and mirror neurons as the biological building blocks on which these psychological mechanisms are implemented.

2.2.2 Groupishness and Religion

Not only are humans groupish, but for Haidt religion is a crucial cultural technology for binding humans into cohesive groups. He observes that gods do not seem equally concerned with all aspects of the lives of their adherents. In particular, gods of large societies “are usually quite concerned about the actions that foment conflict and division within the group…” (Haidt 2012, 297).  This moral policing function is significant in larger groups because it deters free riding: benefiting from the rewards of group membership without contributing (Norenzayan 2013).

Moreover, the kinds of bonding mechanisms which Haidt identifies are often deployed by religious traditions. For example, religious traditions regularly employ synchronised movement, through processions, religious rituals, and communal singing or chanting. Although Haidt focuses on awe in nature, studies on awe define it as the emotion aroused by any vast stimuli and list cathedrals as a prototypical awe-inducing stimulus (e.g. Keltner and Haidt 2003, 305, 310).

Haidt also points to Sosis and Alcorta’s (2003) study of two hundred communes: groups which rely on tight-knit cohesion if they are to survive (as groups). They found that only 6% of non-religious communes survived for twenty years or more, whereas 39% of religious communes achieved this degree of longevity. The variable which was the strongest predictor for success was costly signalling: communes which demanded significant sacrifices from their members, a signal of their commitment, were more likely to last longer. Moreover, these costly signals were more effective when they were seen as sacred, and thus seemed less arbitrary.

Religions, it would seem, have many ways to bind humans into close-knit communities which transcend kinship networks. Given this binding capacity, Graham and Haidt (2010) argue that approaches which focus on beliefs in the heads of individuals are likely to miss the fundamental sociological purpose of religion. Haidt (2012, 318) summarises: “We humans have an extraordinary ability to care about things beyond ourselves, to circle around those things with other people, and in the process to bind ourselves into teams that can pursue larger projects. That’s what religion is all about.” For Haidt then, religion fits into the larger picture of human groupishness by facilitating group bonding.

2.2.3 Strategies for Reducing or Avoiding Inter-Group Bias

Those investigating the psychology of prejudice have not been content merely to describe prejudice and understand its causes. Convinced that prejudice often leads to problematic discrimination, the field has also been concerned with proposing strategies for countering prejudice and testing their efficacy. As already noted, the factors which influence prejudice are legion; hence strategies for countering prejudice are likewise numerous. For the purposes of this puzzle, we shall focus on two strategies.

Recall Jane Elliott’s brown-eyes, blue-eyes experiment at the beginning of this puzzle. Her experiment relied on creating artificial group identity markers from arbitrary physical characteristics. Given that inter-group bias depends on such group categorisation, one strategy to address prejudice is to tinker with group identity markers. In particular, the ‘common in-group identity model’ relies upon finding a super-ordinate group to which members of different groups can belong. For example, in the case of Elliott’s classroom this strategy could be employed by emphasising the common membership of the class instead of other sub-groupings.

In a classic study on group formation, Sherif et al. (1961) took two separate groups of eleven twelve-year-old boys on a three-week-long summer camp. When the groups discovered evidence of each other, they developed strong leaders, more distinctive identities and group norms, and became increasingly competitive in sporting tournaments. By the end of the camp the groups were destroying each other’s symbols, vandalising the opposing group’s beds, calling each other derogatory names, and crafting weapons; only the camp counsellors prevented them from coming to blows. This tribal behaviour typifies groupishness: in-group cohesion for the sake of competing with out-groups.

However, the experimenters added an extra twist at the end of the camp: during the journey home they engineered a fake breakdown of the bus carrying both groups of competitive little campers back home. They then enlisted the campers to help ‘repair’ the bus, curious to see whether the groupishness would persist in the face of this shared challenge. Even though the group rivalries had only recently been deeply felt and ardently expressed, they proved fickle and, given the right conditions, fell away. The presence of a shared goal, fixing their ride home, fused the two rival tribes into a cohesive super-ordinate group. The strategy here, then, is to fight (smaller) groupishness with (larger) groupishness.

A second strategy for reducing prejudice can be found in Allport’s ‘contact hypothesis’, which proposes that contact with out-group members overcomes prejudice. Subsequent studies have continued to finesse the conditions required for positive inter-group interactions, such shared goals, equal status within the contact situation, and the sharing of information which allows for a personal connection (Jones, Dovidio, and Vietze 2013, 252). Such positive interactions can reduce anxiety associated with interaction with out-groups or challenge established stereotypes about them. A meta-analysis of 515 studies suggest that the right kind of contact can indeed reduce levels of prejudice (Pettigrew and Tropp 2006).

3. Discussion

3.1 Haidt on the Inevitability of Groupishness

At first glance, theologians might be heartened by Haidt’s account. Insofar as groupishness is a foil to selfishness, those concerned by the human propensity for self-centredness and inter-personal conflict will welcome a countervailing human tendency towards cooperation and cohesion.  Moreover, religious communities are a crucial locus for this bonding. However, this assessment takes a rather Pollyannaish view of groupishness. The darker side of groupishness is that the cooperation and cohesion it creates is limited to other group members. After all, if Haidt is correct, then groupishness is successful in evolutionary terms because it helps groups out-compete other groups. In the case of groupishness, selfishness simply becomes tribalism, and inter-personal conflict is merely substituted with inter-group conflict.

Given the extent to which religions are implicated in groupishness, Graham and Haidt see them as prone to this darker side of groupishness: “Religious narratives and teachings are often aimed at the creation and maintenance of a people, church, or nation, stressing the moral obligations of loyalty and self-sacrifice for this group above all other groups” (Graham and Haidt 2010, 114). Put even more starkly: “Religion is… well suited to be the handmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism” (Haidt 2012, 312). The picture which begins to develop here is one in which any cooperation and loyalty to one’s religious group comes at the expense of outsiders.

Haidt is, of course, well aware that religions such as Christianity promote the ethic of outwardness sketched above. He simply thinks that they rarely succeed in living it out on account of human groupishness: “Whatever Christ said about the good Samaritan…, if religion is a group-level adapation, then it should produce parochial altruism” (Haidt 2012, 308). He later reiterates this point with an explicit contrast: “To the extent that some group-level selection occurred, we can expect religions and religious minds to be parochial—focused on helping the in-group—even when a religion preaches universal love and benevolence” (Haidt 2012, 311-312). In other words, groupish loyalty represents the genuine religious mind, and exhortations toward a universal ethic of love are merely a religious pipe dream – something which is paid lip service instead of genuinely enacted.

Haidt, then, argues for the hypothesis; for him the reality of groupishness prevails over the espoused universal love. However, before concluding that the pursuit of universal love is hopeless, I want to propose two counter-arguments to Haidt’s position: the first is drawn from the psychology of prejudice and the second is a meta-concern about the nature of psychological evidence in theology.

3.2 Challenging Groupishness with Super-ordinate Groups

In the previous section we surveyed two potential strategies for reducing or overcoming prejudice. The strategy of emphasising super-ordinate groups to make a common in-group more salient bears particular relevance to the category of religion. Religions typically do not rely on a visible characteristic intrinsic to their adherents. Moreover, religious people can feel a bond with co-religionists they have never met (Allport 1979/1954, 30).  Hence religions can unite a diverse cross-section of people who might be divided according to other categories.

Evolutionary theories of religion also suggest that its function is to create super-ordinate groups. For example, Noranzayin (2013) argues that ‘big gods’ interested in regulating moral behaviour allow humans to cooperate in larger groups.  Similarly, Haidt (2012, 299) points out that religion can solve ‘one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship.’  Hence religion seems adept at creating a super-ordinate group which can extend cooperation beyond categories which create more limited groups, such as kinship, tribe, or ethnicity.

The capacity for religion to create a super-ordinate group that becomes a common in-group bears a striking similarity to the ecclesiology of embrace sketched above. Recall that there is a common religious belonging or a common Eucharistic participation transcended and relativised by other group identity markers. Deployed in this way, religion can become precisely the opposite of what Haidt describes, undermining various forms of tribalism and nationalism.

However, while the strategy of pivoting to super-ordinate groups might aid in overcoming some prejudices, it risks introducing others; as Kessler and Mummendey (2001, 1099) explain: “recategorization is a 2-edged process: Although it reduces conflict at the subgroup level, it many initiate conflict at the common in-group level.” Hence, even if its religious groupings seek to transcend other kinds of groupings, they nevertheless introduce new identity markers.

This difficulty can be addressed by simply ‘thinking bigger’ and emphasising ever more expansive common in-groups. The theological anthropology (explored above) which draws on the imago Dei to underwrite universal human value and dignity is commensurate with such a move; it emphasises all of humanity as a common in-group. (Notions of common creatureliness could extend this even further to non-human animals.)

Hence one way to challenge the seeming inevitability of Haidt’s groupishness is to leverage strategies for reducing prejudice to find ways to achieve an ethic of outwardness. Although the example here has focused on recategorising group labels using super-ordinate groups, the same could equally be applied to other strategies for reducing prejudice such as positive inter-group contact. This route goes with the grain of the psychology of groupishness, but redirects it towards the desired theological ends.

3.3 Psychological Evidence in Theology

Another, more philosophical route for challenging the hypothesis is to question whether Haidt’s description of human groupishness and the ecclesial imperative for universal love even come into conflict. As an empirical discipline, psychology is only capable of describing human behaviour as it actually is, and not proscribing normative ethical behaviour as it ought to be. Following Hume, one cannot derive an ethical ‘ought’ from a psychological ‘is’ (the ‘naturalistic fallacy’). Haidt (2012, 315-316) himself recognises that his moral psychology is descriptive and does not count as normative ethics. The same divide comes into play if one considers ecclesiology as a normative discipline which sets out what the church ought to be like (rather than a descriptive one of merely documenting what it is like).

Jonathan Jong, Christopher Kavanagh and Aku Visala (2015) make a similar point in an article considering the philosophical implications of the cognitive science of religion. They argue that the kind of agents which the cognitive science of religion uncovers (for example those generated by hyper-active agency detection) are disanalogous to the concept of God of classical theism. Subsequently, the cognitive science of religion could equally be renamed the cognitive science of idolatry, since it studies theologically incorrect concepts of God. Their point applies specifically to the case of hyper-sensitive agency detection and divine agency in classical theism. But one can also extract a more general principle from their argument, namely that psychology is not normative for theology. Psychological explanations describe how people happen to think and behave, but do not prescribe how they ought to think and behave from a theological perspective.

This argument could readily be extended to the case of groupishness. Even if psychology finds that groupishness is a pervasive feature of human communities, this does not commit the ecclesiologist to accept it. By analogy, theologians are unlikely look at evidence of human selfishness and conclude that they should abandon the ideal of charity; instead, they tend to identify selfishness with sin given the normative virtue of charity. According to this vision, a core task of ecclesiology is to chart what Christian communities ought to be. Such a normative vision can then be used to judge whether features of actual human religious communities are desirable or undesirable. Groupishness, insofar as it excludes universal love, will belong to the latter category.

Even if one sees psychological and ecclesial assertions as incommensurate since they operate as descriptive and normative claims respectively, there may still be ways of bringing them into conversation. Philosopher Regina Rini (2015) points out that there are more complex ways of configuring descriptive and normative claims such that empirical findings can inform the latter. While she readily grants that an ‘is’ does not imply an ‘ought’, she argues that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. For example, it would seem odd to state that I had a moral obligation to rescue a child currently drowning on the other side of the world when I do not possess the requisite super powers to travel there in time. Thus, the moral obligations (‘oughts’) seem to predicated on the capacity or possibility to perform them (‘cans’). While empirical findings cannot determine moral (or in our case ecclesial) obligations, they are able to illuminate the human capacities which underpin certain moral obligations. Applied to the case of groupishness, Rini’s insight reframes the question of the compatibility of human groupishness with an ecclesiology which embraces outgroups. The question becomes whether it is ever possible to transcend human groupishness; and if it is, this possibility provides the ‘can’ which underwrites the ecclesial ‘ought’.

Given that Haidt develops his case for groupishness by way of an evolutionary story, groupishness should be thought of as a ubiquitous tendency in human behaviour rather than a deterministic and invariable description of human behaviour. There is nothing in Haidt’s account which prima facie rules out the possibility of exceptions to groupish behaviour. The story of the 16th century Dutch anabaptist Dirk Willems (Oyer 2002) captures well both the capacity for religious groupings to cause animosity but also the spirit to overcome it. Willems was condemned and imprisoned for his non-conformist religious beliefs and practices (rejecting infant baptism and being re-baptised)—he certainly belonged to the outgroup of the religious establishment of his day. He managed to escape from prison and fled across a frozen pond, but was pursued by a prison guard. Willems’ pursuer, not having benefitted from the slimming effects of prison rations, fell through the ice and began to drown. Hearing the cries for help, Willems overcame his groupishness, turned back, and rescued his pursuer. He was subsequently recaptured and burned at the stake. Even if Willems’ example is exceptional in the ocean of human groupishness, it nevertheless establishes the ‘can’ which allows for the ecclesial ‘ought’.

4. Conclusion

It is certainly the case that religious identity markers can feed into inter-group bias. However, I have argued that inter-group bias does not make an ecclesiology which embraces out-groups impossible (thus rejecting the hypothesis). Various theological affirmations about the church already suggest ways of countering groupishness which echo psychological strategies for reducing prejudice. Moreover, striking examples of self-sacrifice for out-groups holds open the possibility for an ecclesiology of embrace. Hence, Haidt’s (2012, 221) contention that “we are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players” seems too strong. Theologians should not give up on the ideal of saintliness, such as that exemplified by Dirk Willems. A more nuanced account of religion and prejudice can be found in Allport (1966, 447), when he observes: “there is something about religion that makes for prejudice, and something about it that unmakes prejudice.”

In Other Media

Jane Elliot’s “Blue Eyes – Brown Eyes” experiment:


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Cite this article

Tanton, Tobias. 2022. Does Inter-Group Bias Render an Ecclesiology Which Embraces Out-Groups Impossible?” Theological Puzzles (Issue 12).

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Tobias Tanton
Email: [email protected]

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