By Doni Joszef

Religious. Closed-minded. Prejudiced. Opinionated. Judgmental.

Many of us tend to lump these labels together.

Regardless of where we stand on the “religious spectrum,” we blindly presume that those to our right judge us for not conforming to their standards–while those to our left presume the same about us. I call these presumptions blind because that’s exactly what they are. Were we to investigate the matter, we would discover many exceptions to our generalized rule.

Fortunately, a psychologist has already investigated the matter for us.

In 1950, Gordon Allport summarized his research in a book entitled The Individual and His Religion, in which he distinguishes between “mature religion” and “immature religion.” Allport discovered that while, indeed, religion tends to make judgmental people even more judgmental (what he calls “immature religion”), it also makes non-judgmental people even less judgmental (what he calls “mature religion”).

So, in essence, religion serves as an intensifier; if you’re an insecure, closed-minded, judgmental person to begin with, religion will only serve to exacerbate these unappealing traits. If you’re a more open-minded, accepting, understanding person, religion will serve to polish these sterling traits and reveal an even more refined version of these character gems.

For better or worse, we all know what “immature religion” looks like. We see it all over the news. All over the blogs. All over the media. But “mature religion” doesn’t seem to get as much press.

We look to our right and think, “Those judgmental fanatics!” But when we do, we blindly bunch the roses with the thorns. Yes, there are plenty of immature, judgmental members of the religious community. But there are an equal and opposite number of mature, accepting members. Our minds are tainted by biases which present the loudest group as the largest group, but the reality is far from this perception. When we think in generalities, we see judgmental fanatics; but when we think in actual particularities, we see many genuine, loving, sincere people who are of the “mature” variety.

Immature religion says: “I’m better than you, let me tell you why.” Mature religion says: “I can be better than I am, let me show myself how.” While the former grabs most of our attention, the latter depicts an authentic illustration of what healthy religion looks like.

May we merit to notice more of the latter than we do the former. v

Doni Joszef, LMSW, works in private practice and presents innovative workshops on a variety of psychosocial topics. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in media psychology. For more information, call 516-316-2247 or visit DoniJoszef.Com.

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