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Moralizing Gods And… Kissing?

04 Aug

Here’s a relationship I bet you didn’t see coming.

A while back I posted a summary of Ara Norenzayan’s findings about the relationships between prosociality and religious belief. Here are some of the bullet points I took note of in his video:

* Small foraging societies typically don’t have moralizing gods. Big societies generally have moralizing gods. Causal or correlational?

* Economic games and small/big religions: Big religions, that is, the world religions, show more cooperative behavior in economic games. Small religions are more selfish. Again, causal or correlational?

* Belief in god in and of itself doesn’t correlate with any behavior in monetary generosity (belief in god per se doesn’t lead to moral behavior; you need to go to church to reap the benefits! And you get those same benefits being an atheist in church). Though in the context that Norenzayan was mentioning this fact, it was in the context of religious priming. Just declaring theism didn’t make someone more cooperative, but religious priming does. On the other hand, being non-religious makes you sort of impervious to religious priming; though secular priming has the same cooperative effect on the non-religious.

* Prosocial behavior correlates with a belief in a punishing god. Belief in a forgiving god correlates with cheating. Same for hell/heaven belief, respectively (though belief in hell seems to make people less happy).

* Religions are also correlated with extreme rituals for possibly belief in belief (i.e. costly signaling) reasons.

These are the social things that are correlated with types of religious beliefs. Religions that are spread across large areas (i.e. the eponymous Big Gods) are associated with different prosocial behavior than small gods.

Now, one of the concepts I kept with me when I joined the military 20 years ago and had to learn statistics/hypothesis testing was that, if you see a correlation, there are three possible causes you should automatically think of, and see if any of them make sense. So if you see that A and B have a correlation, then:

1. A causes B

2. B causes A

3. A and B are caused by C

There are others, but this is the simplest way of looking at the data since all of the variables to work with are already there. You just move them around and see which formulation fits.

It turns out that romantic kissing is correlated with large societies

From pop culture to evolutionary psychology, we have come to take kissing for granted as universally desirable among humans and inseparable from other aspects of affection and intimacy. However, a recent article in American Anthropologist by Jankowiak, Volsche and Garcia questions the notion that romantic kissing is a human universal by conducting a broad cross cultural survey to document the existence or non-existence of the romantic-sexual kiss around the world.

The authors based their research on a set of 168 cultures compiled from eHRAF World Cultures (128 cultures) as well as the Standard Cross Cultural Sample (27 cultures) and by surveying 88 ethnographers (13 cultures). The report’s findings are intriguing: rather than an overwhelming popularity of romantic smooching, the global ethnographic evidence suggests that it is common in only 46% (77) of the cultures sampled. The remaining 54% (91) of cultures had no evidence of romantic kissing. In short, this new research concludes that romantic-sexual kissing is not as universal as we might presume.

The report also reveals that romantic kissing is most common in the Middle East and Asia, and least common of all among Central American cultures. Similarly, the authors state that “no ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan African, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic–sexual kiss”, whereas it is nearly ubiquitous in northern Asia and North America.

[…]

Among the indigenous Tapirapé people of Central Brazil, Wagley (1977) found that “couples showed affection”, but “kissing seems to have been unknown”. He explains,

When I described it to them, it struck them as a strange form of showing physical attraction … and, in a way, disgusting. It was common, instead, to see a married couple walking across the village plaza with the man’s arm draped over his wife’s shoulder. A couple might stand close to each other during a conversation with the man’s arms over his wife’s shoulders and she holding him around the hips (Wagley 1977: 158).

Across the Pacific Ocean in Melanesia, Bronislaw Malinowski’s (1929: 330) classic account describes the impression of kissing among Trobriand Islanders, who were equally bemused by the foreign custom:

Certainly it never forms a self-contained independent source of pleasure, nor is it a definite preliminary stage of love-making, as is the case with us. This caress was never spontaneously mentioned by the natives, and, to direct inquiries, I always received a negative answer. The natives know, however, that white people “will sit, will press mouth against mouth–they are pleased with it.” But they regard it as a rather insipid and silly form of amusement.

The Tsonga people of Southern Africa are also openly disgusted by the practice: “Kissing was formerly entirely unknown… When they saw the custom adopted by the Europeans, they said laughingly: “Look at these people! They suck each other! They eat each other’s saliva and dirt!” Even a husband never kissed his wife” (Junod 1927: 353-354).

…and thus, romantic kissing is correlated with Big Gods. Check out the religion of the Tapirapé people, or the religion of the Trobriand Islands peoples, or the religion of the Tsonga people: No romantic kissing, and no large moralizing gods.

So I have to ask, is belief in a large universal god the thing that causes kissing to have a romantic component? Or is it that romantic kissing causes people to believe in large, moralizing gods? Or is it that both are being caused by some other factor? I lean towards C, but who knows.

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2 Comments

Posted by on August 4, 2015 in economics/sociology

 

2 responses to “Moralizing Gods And… Kissing?

  1. iarwain1

    August 4, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    On the subject of prosociality / wellbeing and religion, this article challenges the conventional wisdom:

    http://smithandfranklin.com/current-issues/Atheism-Wellbeing-and-the-Wager-Why-Not-Believing-in-God-With-Others-is-Good-for-You/9/16/120

     
    • J. Quinton

      August 13, 2015 at 10:45 am

      That’s a great study, thanks!

       
 
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