Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do evangelicals choose their religious faith based on their pre-existing extrinsic values?

I went to a conference last week on values and climate change behaviour at which the main speaker was Professor Tim Kasser of Knox College, Illinois. Professor Kasser is a social psychologist who works on values and how they affect people’s outward behaviour. Part of this is the classification of values as either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic values are those of wanting to help others, helping the community or empowering others. Extrinsic values are about power, acquiring money or having status.  During the presentation Professor Kasser used the Schwartz Values Circumplex to show how people tend to be orientated towards either intrinsic or extrinsic values. Intrinsic people tend to be more satisfied, have lower levels of anxiety & depression and greater empathy towards others  than extrinsic people. Extrinsic people tend to be less satisfied and look for the approval of others, acquiring more of things in order to appear more successful. Extrinsic people are self interested and likely to engage with others mostly when this will benefit themselves in some way.

One point he made was that when peoples extrinsic values get activated this suppresses their intrinsic ones. The example given was that people in the UK are exposed to around 1600 advertising messages per day which activates their consumer needs and subsequently suppresses their need for community and empathy. People with extrinsic values associate with others of like minds and exhibit social dominance orientation, believing that their group is superior to all others.

The presentation left me feeling a bit uncomfortable as the model put forward looks so similar to the differences between evangelical and liberal Christians. Could it be that evangelical fundamentalists, with their overriding interest in personal salvation and concern with personal wealth are just exhibiting extrinsic values? If this is the case then the rise in evangelicalism, particularly Pentecostalism (the biggest movement of the urban poor in history) would appear to be caused by, or supported by, the rise in consumerism. If this is true then this rise can only continue.

I have always thought that people are attracted to the form of Christianity that best fits their personality. For example, I have known a number of charismatic churches where all the men worked in sales, but I had not thought about a link with values until I got involved in values in behaviour change, particularly values and frames. Could it be that people’s choice of religious faith is determined by their pre-existing values?

Here is the Schwartz Circumplex. The self-enhancement side relates to extrinsic values and the self-transcendance to intrinsic values.

Click on image for larger version

Post Script
This may go a good way to explaining why evangelicalism is synonymous with the conservative political position. The two come from the same value set. It may also explain why conspiracy theorists are so similar to fundamentalist Christians. Both come from the same values base.

Implications for Evangelism
Evangelical Christians already use marketing techniques to attract new converts. For example, targetting young adults - in particular students - because this tends to be the point that people's beliefs about the world are becoming more solidified. If I put my marketing hat on and apply these values models to evangelism the obvious lesson is that Christians should look for converts amongst those who already hold similar values. This includes people with an interest in achievement, power, conformity and tradition. In other words - those with right wing tendencies. This would not be conversion in the true sense (turning radically from one thing to another), but simply recruitment of the like minded.

Update 13th March 2013
Here is a related article from the independent brought to my attention by Bob Johnston:
God's bankers: How evangelical Christianity is taking a hold of the City of London’s financial institutions.