The Psychological Paradox Of Religion

In the search for the origins of violence in certain individuals, television, music, or video games have often been targeted as prime suspects. A study published in last March issue of Psychological Science investigated another possible cause for irrational violence: the fact that the perpetrators are convinced that God is on their side.

Experiments performed at two radically different universities – the religious Brigham Young University in Utah, USA, where virtually all students are believers, and the secular Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Holland, where only half of them believe in a god – demonstrated that the level of aggression and the intensity of the violent response correlated with the belief that God condoned the subject’s actions. The most “worrying,” according to the main author of the study, is that hostility was also heightened in the non-believers, although to a lesser extent, if they thought that their actions were backed by a divine entity.

This research highlights the possible cause of religious extremism and the violent actions that result from selective reading of the scriptures, focusing essentially on retribution instead of absorbing the overall message of tolerance that religions are supposed to convey.

ABSTRACT—Violent people often claim that God sanctions their actions. In two studies, participants read a violent passage said to come from either the Bible or an ancient scroll. For half the participants, the passage said that God sanctioned the violence. Next, participants competed with an ostensible partner on a task in which the winner could blast the loser with loud noise through headphones (the aggression measure). Study 1 involved Brigham Young University students; 99% believed in God and in the Bible. Study 2 involved Vrije Universiteit–Amsterdam students; 50% believed in God, and 27% believed in the Bible. In Study 1, aggression increased when the passage was from the Bible or mentioned God. In Study 2, aggression increased when the passage mentioned God, especially among participants who believed in God and in the Bible. These results suggest that scriptural violence sanctioned by God can increase aggression, especially in believers.


Source: Psychological Science

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