“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.