Posted in Miscellany

*Anxiety and Religion

“There are no atheists in foxholes” is how the saying goes. At York University Ian McGregor, a psychology professor, and graduate students Kyle Nash, Mike Prentice, Nikki Mann and Curtis Phills set out to explore the conditions, aside from exploding bombs, that induce such religiosity.

Across all studies, anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions. In one study, mulling over a personal dilemma caused a general surge toward more idealistic personal goals. In another, struggling with a confusing mathematical passage caused a spike in radical religious extremes. In yet another, reflecting on relationship uncertainties caused the same religious zeal reaction.

Interestingly they found this most pronounced in action oriented people with high self-esteem, who were already feeling vulnerable, anxious and hopeless about their daily goals. This explains a lot about televangelists. It also explains how the extreme right and left have been able to mobilize in ways that the moderates don’t seem to be able to, by playing on people’s anxieties and leading those eager to act to act for the radical beliefs heightened by those anxieties.

And if the contrary is true, that thoughtful, humbler people are less certain in their religious views, that would explain why the people I admire are not chest thumpers or bible thumpers. They are the listeners, the people who don’t have ready answers and when they do answer don’t answer in bites. When they act, they make cakes and watch birds. They read and they write. They laugh at themselves. They live life at a slower pace than the bold. They don’t always know their own shining but they shine nonetheless. My world is brighter because of them.

(Full story here.)



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

13 thoughts on “*Anxiety and Religion

    1. Dorothy, thanks! It reminds me of another study that showed that public apathy (low voting return, low rate of demonstrations, etc) is linked with a generally good state of affairs. That made me feel better about it, too.

  1. oh my gosh! we have been having this conversation in our household — and wondering whether extreme ideas and ideals are the only ones being played out at this moment in our country. I see too many shades of gray to know much for absolute certain. I love the doubt is sanity mantra here.

  2. Lillian, have you read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson? I only ask because your description of the kind of person you admire fits my vision of the narrator of that book. I’d be interested to hear what you think…

  3. Super interesting, Lilian. It certainly reflects the political extremes here too – and it taps into part of my fear for Australia’s future, because increasingly admitting doubt is perceived as weakness, not sanity or strength, and squeezing out doubt in public discourse strikes me as a pretty unhealthy thing for a society to do.

  4. I loved that comment about people who don’t always know their own shining but who shine nonetheless. We should definitely celebrate them a lot more.

  5. Emily, that made me laugh–but sympathetically. I know how it feels.

    Pete, thank you. It reminds me of a Jewish legend, that the world rests on the shoulders of 36 hidden righteous, hidden because they are humble and seem ordinary. They could be anybody.

    Di, it is scary when that happens. There needs to be a place and time for thoughtful talk and thoughtful listening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s