Why are women more religious than men?

Why are women more religious, in belief and in practice, than men?

1. Religious belief is more of an emotional thing than a cognitive thing. (Consider the fact that merely thinking about religious beliefs is usually sufficient to reveal they’re unwarranted.) And women are raised to be more emotional than cognitive; men are raised to be more cognitive than emotional (in fact, they are encouraged, even taught, to deny their emotions).

2. Religious authority figures, mythological (God, Allah, Zeus, and so on) and real (priests, rabbi, ministers, and so on), are male. And since women are raised to be subservient to males, to regard males as authorities, it’s easy for them to accept God, for example, as an authority and subordinate themselves to him. Men, on the other hand, are encouraged to be the authority; they’re also encouraged to compete with other men. So to accept God, for example, as an authority and subordinate themselves to him would not be easy — in fact, it would be emasculating. (Which is why the macho Promise Keepers came to be.) (And why its popularity didn’t last very long.)

3. Except for the war element (note that men are okay with claiming religious belief when it’s associated with war), religion is very much about morality. (Or so people think.) And it’s women are the designated moral guardians: young women are the ‘gatekeepers’ when it comes to pre-marital sex (often considered immoral), wives are referred to by their husbands as ‘their better half’ (‘better’ referring to some quality of moral goodness), and mothers are assumed to have the primary responsibility of teaching their children right from wrong.

When a man introduces the matter of morality, questioning, for example, whether it’s right to do whatever it is that’s about to be done, he is accused of ‘going soft’, or being weak, or being a ‘boyscout’, or being a bleeding heart, and so on. (Note that the last accusation, with its reference to the heart, connects morals with the emotional realm, which neatly connects this point with the first one — as does this excerpt from a novel, whose author I unfortunately failed to note: “The boy’s nothing more than a bleeding heart waiting to cry over this injustice or that!…you’d think we raised a bloody priest.”)

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2 Responses to “Why are women more religious than men?”

  1. Colin Says:

    1. I agree in general, though I wonder if you’re underestimating the nature aspect of this. I certainly don’t mean to say that women are inherently less cognitive, but perhaps more emotional. I don’t think this is an emotional-cognitive scale with one on either end. I imagine that one can be highly-cognitive and highly-emotional.

    I offer counterexamples: I was taught not to shy away from emotion by my parents, and though I’ll admit that I’m probably both more sensetive and more emotional than the average man, I still consider myself to be more cognitive than emotional. My wife was taught to be more cognitive and emotional responses were (ridiculously, I’d say) not well-received in her home growing up… but fortunately, I think, her nature won out in that fight. She’s certainly smart and resourceful but I think she’d agree that she’s more emotional — at least compared to myself and, by extension, other men. That’s to her credit. At any rate, we’re both atheists.

    Of course, these are two examples, but I think it’s important to note that nature plays a role, that some people are more heavily influenced by society and their upbringing than others. I don’t think I’d characterize women as less cognitive, but I expect that they have greater empathy naturally, and perhaps feel emotions more strongly. Again, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but is that fair to say?

    Of course, if these are natural trends as well as social trends, that is not to say that their being in male or female nature on average across the population is an excuse for anything. The population is reducible to individuals and these traits, as you say, are not defined by gender alone. Prejudice would be absurd.

    2. I’m not sure what to say about this one. There may be something to it, but again your statements are somewhat general. Certainly, not all women are raised to be subservient to males. Some, of course. Maybe most. I’m not sure. It’s ridiculous that they would be, of course.

    It doesn’t make sense that women should not have leadership roles in religion, and there are historical societies in which they did. That said, religion tends to be ridiculous so this comes as no surprise.

    3. Let me say that religion is a horrible reason for war. Of course, as an atheist I think that religion is a bad reason for most things, but I think that plenty of men would agree with me. I offer those claims as counterexamples to replace your “men are okay with…” with “some men are okay with…”. Maybe it’s “most” but I’d need data to agree with that. I’m sure the same is true of “some women…”, based on the fact that I’ve met one.

    That said, there is a social idea that men ought to be tough and women empathic. I think that women probably are naturally more empathic, but perhaps that’s because I value empathy but am bad at it in certain contexts. That said, even though ethical arguments annoy me, I try my best to follow my ethical preferences.

    In fact, I whine about all kinds of ethical problems in society all the time. I’m a vegan, for one, but I’ve encountered little resistence to this. People disagree with me, sure, but I’ve never heard anyone characterize my ethical decisions as weak.

    Finally, when I refer to my wife as my “better half”, I usually say it in a joking context that she’s overall a better person than I am. I usually mean it light-heartedly, but I think it’s also true — not because of our genders but because she’s awesome and I am less so.

    I’m sure some of your ideas about who men are and what men think are the case for some men, and perhaps the most vocal of men. However, I am compelled to disagree with most of the things you say about men based on the simple facts that I am a man, and I disagree with those claims since they include claims about what I think or how I act, namely because, where you have stated them universally, they are proven false with the simple counterexample of myself or other men I know.

    That’s not to say that I’m wholly innocent and above the influence of social concepts of gender. Just… some of us aren’t the jerks we’re painted as, mostly due to those who are jerks loudly.

  2. Peg Says:

    lots to think about, thanks, colin, but for now, yeah, henceforth please assume that whenever i say ‘men…’ i really mean ‘most men…’ or even ‘men who have accepted their social conditioning and/or don’t struggle against their nature…’

    as for women being more emotional than men, i think they’re probably equally emotional, just depends which emotion. check out any sports game.


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