Pope Francis: Do I have your attention?

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‘God gives us not only the truth but also the ability to believe it; not only the new thing to see but also the new eye to see it with’,  Peter Kreeft once said.

We do not passively perceive the world but we actively explore it. The New Look perspective on human perception claims that the way we look at the world reflects our moods, needs, expectations, and beliefs.

Roman Catholicism (cf. Pope John Paul, 1987) is a religion that puts a stronger emphasis on social solidarity and context than Protestant religions do. This different emphasis is obvious from the most basic practice of living these religions: Whereas Protestant believers are encouraged and actually expected to engage in direct dialog with God (a process that Luther intended/aimed to facilitate by translating the Bible from Latin), Catholics mainly communicate with God more indirectly, through socially shared prayers and religious rituals guided by dedicated mediators (priests). Numerous authors since de Tocqueville (1835) and Weber (1930) have considered that the much stronger emphasis on individualism in Protestant religions has systematically biased both individual cognition and political preference, which among other things is likely to have shaped the political constitution of the United States of America and facilitated the emergence of capitalism (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985).

Well, the point is: does this difference in emphasis, with on the one hand a focus on rules, individual responsibility, and control in Calvinism, and on the other hand more stress on communal solidarity and external authority (fate lies in the hands of God) in Catholicism, bias the way we perceive the world in opposite ways?

My team and I tested this idea by means of the so called global-local task. In a nutshell, our participants were confronted with either a square or a rectangle, which themselves were made up of smaller squares and rectangles. The task was to spot the shape of either the ‘big’ picture or its components. Dutch Calvinists turned out to be ‘detail’ people, putting more emphasis on the components of the shape, at least when compared with atheists, whereas Italian Catholics were more prone to see the ‘big’ picture than non-believers.

I believe that followers of a particular religion acquire a unique way to look at the world because the behavior their religious experience generates is rewarded by the religious community they live in. For this reason, different religions influence the way we look at the world in different ways, suggesting Catholics see ‘the forest before the trees’, whereas Calvinists first see the ‘trees’.

Read more in the article: God: Do I have your attention? by Colzato LS, van Beest I, van den Wildenberg WP, Scorolli C, Dorchin S, Meiran N, Borghi AM, Hommel B., published in 2010 in the magazine ‘Cognition’.

(previously posted here)

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