Earlier I noted that the authors of American Grace, Robert Putnam and David Campbell, had suggested that religious people are more generous and more likely to volunteer, not just for religious causes, but secular ones as well. That's the good news, religious people tend to be more neighborly, but on darker side of things, they tend to be more intolerant of dissent and the civil liberties of others than are their secular neighbors. The possible reason for this is that religious people tend to be more concerned about obedience than seculars, who are more likely to embrace self-reliance (which may explain why they are less engaged civically). They suggest that "one reason that religious people are readier to suppress dissent seems to be that they are particularly concerned to safeguard authority" (American Grace, p. 489).
But, that said, even the most religious Americans have become more tolerant of dissent than they were forty years ago -- despite all the recent intolerant rhetoric we've been hearing. Still, the more you go to church, the more intolerant you seem to be.
The authors write:
Something about American history over the last century led younger religious cohorts to adopt a "live and let live" attitude to cultural differences. So the dark side of religion's civic impact has become slightly less dark in recent decades, but the shadow remains. A substantial gap persists between religious American and secular Americans in their support for civil liberties, even among the youngest cohort. (p. 487).
As noted before, the reason for this is greater respect for authority, which is one of the reasons why I continue to say that if we're going to deal with social questions like homosexuality, we have to wrestle with those authorities that guide religious life.
That said, we in the church need to be aware that one central reasons why younger adults are leaving the church or reject religion is that they perceive it to be intolerant, especially of especially of gays and lesbians. So, the question then is this: how do we remain true to our faith traditions and not be intolerant? Or maybe the better question is this -- is at least a degree of intolerance of other ideas and beliefs inherent in religion? I'm not sure that it is, but it would appear that even the most broadminded of religious people express a degree of intolerance of certain ideas and practices. So, what shall we do?