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Godliness is next to manliness

13 January, 2003 4:12 PM

from Melbourne paper The Age January 13 - By Kelly Burke

"Testosterone is keeping men away from church as religion fails to satisfy the thrill-seeking urge, according to research in the United States.

While women's over-representation in religious participation has been the case for centuries, the question of men's irreligiosity has been largely ignored, says Rodney Stark, a University of Washington professor of sociology and comparative religion. After studying data from 57 nations covering all the world's major religions, he has concluded that male physiology, not socialisation, has rendered them comparatively godless.

The reason men are less likely than women to be found in a house of worship is the same reason men are more likely to find themselves behind bars, Dr Stark claims.

"Recent studies of biochemistry imply that both male irreligiousness and male lawlessness are rooted in the fact that far more males than females have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses, especially those involving immediate gratification and thrills," he says in research published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Consequently, men tend to be more short-sighted about their souls. "Going to prison or going to hell just doesn't matter to these men," he says.

The theory is not just pertinent to Western society, according to Dr Stark, nor applicable only to those religions that threaten a negative payoff in the afterlife for non-participation. Although the gender gap was less pronounced in countries where religions such as Buddhism and Shintoism were dominant, the male/female imbalance was still there.

But Gary Bouma, professor of sociology of religion at Monash University, is sceptical about Dr Stark's findings. "The best you can say about his explanation is that at least it isn't insulting to women," he says, referring to the plethora of theories centred on female submissiveness and emotional capacity.

"(Stark) hasn't really changed the question and he does not give the answer... the physiological basis for risk-taking in itself has yet to be determined," Professor Bouma said.

According to 2001 census figures on religious affiliation, men significantly outnumber women in claiming agnosticism, atheism and professing no religious belief. But one of the most strident gender imbalances is to be found in Satanism - 1415 Australian men identified with devil worship, compared with just 383 women.

Dr Stark said says these figures were consistent with his risk-taking theory. "These men are possibly making a religion out of taking risks," he said.

"They're thumbing their nose at the church... making a religion of the irreligious." "

Thanks for the heaps up again Cam!

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