There are some really dodgy theories about sex chromosomes and their influence on human behaviour, but this one shocked me on account of the source and context. I was listening to the Christmas Eve edition of the Infinite Monkey Cage, which was a really good episode and had three guests I'd turn on the radio for - Mark Gatiss, Richard Wiseman and Steve Jones (of the snail fame). Their other guest was Victor Stock, the former Dean of Guildford Cathedral, who was rather brilliant.
But the great Steve Jones was talking about the evolutionary psychology of religion and came out with the following;
"Universally, worldwide, it's always been the case that those who are crippled and afflicted by having a Y chromosome - that's all of us on this platform - are less religious, and less willing to accept religion that women who don't have a Y chromosome. It's very hard not to argue that there's not some kind of biology there. We may not know exactly what it is, but biology is in there somewhere."He then goes on to explain that people on the autistic spectrum are much less likely to be religious, which must, he feels, have a biological explanation. I'm sure someone else can clear that one up.
Of course, the important phrase is "in there somewhere", but does it have to be? It may be that biology does play some role in religiosity, but before the end of the programme, I had thought of a number of reasons why women may exhibit greater religiosity than men. And I think only someone living in the West could possibly assert that biology must play a role. So...
The Possible Reasons Why Women Would Be Typically More Religious Than Men
as came into my head in the space of five minutes - okay, it took longer to write down!
- Cis men typically possess an XY pair of sex chromosomes, cis women typically possess an XX. There may be something about the difference between these particular chromosomes which alters men and women's brains to make women more prone to religious feeling - however that may be defined - than men.
- Globally and locally, women are more likely to live in poverty. Across the world, there is a strong inverse correlation between wealth and religiosity. There are many exceptions and complexities, but these trends are pretty crystal; women are more likely to be poor, poor people are more likely to be religious.
- Women are more likely to witness birth and death first-hand. Obviously, women are more likely to give birth but, although it's commonplace for fathers to be there in this country, across the world, women are more likely to attend births. Women are more likely to care for the sick and dying, and to be with people in their last moments. Understanding, celebrating and coping with birth and death is one of the major themes of all religious and folk traditions. Religion often gives people the language to use and the stories to tell on such occasions.
- Women are more likely to live with chronic illness. Faith can help people cope psychologically with loss, pain and other difficulties, but organised religion is also good at combating social isolation and in many cultures, providing nursing care and assistance where state help is absent.
- Women like dresses. Although predominantly men, most religious leaders wear dresses, often with elaborate trims and accessories, depending on the occasion. Women may attend places of worship to see the dresses their leaders are wearing.
- Across the world, women are much less likely to get very much school education. Women are less likely to be literate. Women are less likely to learn about other belief systems or acquire the intellectual tools and information which allow some people to doubt the messages they've been taught all their lives.
- Women are more likely to be widowed and/ or to live alone for significant periods of their lives. Organised religion is often excellent at combating social isolation. There ought to be, but there is no organised humanist system for holding communities together and looking out for people on their own.
- Women are more likely to find themselves in situations of abject helplessness; rape, slavery and domestic abuse. Faith gives some folk something to hold onto when everything else is out of their control. This isn't necessary faith in God or gods, but it often is.
- Kate Middleton got married in a really big church. All women are interested in the life of Kate Middleton and so are more likely to go to church in an attempt to emulate their idol.
- Women are more likely to be responsible for the moral and intellectual education of their children. In many parts of the world, organised religion is at the centre of all available education - even in the UK, many better state schools are church schools. One big reason some religious institutions spend so much energy trying to subjugate and control women is because mothers are seen as the key to their children's religiosity; control the women and you control the next generation.
- Because certain religious institutions do spend so much energy trying to control and subjugate women, that tends to keep women hooked. You're nothing, you're a spare rib, you're weakness, you're a temptress and a slut who brings violence upon yourself, but come here every Sunday and you will be forgiven. Men can feel tremendous religious guilt, of course, but often having less laid on their heads, it may be easier to walk away. If you have grown up believing that your very physical being is responsible for not only your sin but the sin of those around you, it's really difficult to finally stop apologising.
- Women are less likely to have opportunities for fulfillment in paid work. Religious institutions are very good at organising and valuing unpaid volunteers who care for the sick, provide childcare and other social services, produce and distribute clothes and food for the poor, make crafts, raise-money and so forth.
- The major religious festivals almost always involve a lot of baking (with and without yeast). Women are really good at baking. Women become involved in religion so that they can show off how good they are at baking.
I think there are probably other ways that religions allow women, who often live in circumstances of very little power, to have some power, even if they're very rarely the ones in charge. Even in ancient Athens, which was an extraordinarily sexist place, the city cult was headed by a massively powerful priestess.
None of this means that biology has nothing to do with religiosity, but as is almost always the case with the claims of evolutionary biology around gender, there are other more obvious explanations that need exploring first.