Those of you who are religiously inclined may get uncomfortable when you read this. Or you may just laugh it off, I won’t guess which.
Results of a study published in Psychological Science support the hypothesis that religious indoctrination increases violent tendencies. The study involved reading a violent scripture to students at Brigham Young University where 99% report a belief in God and the Bible, and to students at Vrije Universiteit where 50% report belief in God and 27% in the Bible. Some were told that the passage originated from the Bible. Others were told that it originated from an ancient scroll.
The students then participated in an exercise designed to measure aggressiveness in which they attacked each other…not with weapons but with noise (I guess the researchers didn’t feel like reproducing a Kill Bill scene in the lab that day). The study found that students who were told that the scripture they had heard came from the Bible, especially the students at Brigham Young, were more aggressive in their noise blasts. Follow the link for more details.
Pretty interesting, eh? Note that the study does not suggest that religious people are more violent than nonreligious people or anything of the sort. Rather, it indicates that when a scripture of a violent nature is read to a person who believes in a God who sanctions violence, that belief presumably overrides whatever part of the brain is supposed to serve as a check on these impulses.
It may sound like a condemnation of religion, but I would suggest that what causes a person to carry out violence without restraint has less to do with trust in God per se than with trust in authority of any kind, which is something we’ve known for a long time. In fact, you would expect stronger results in a case like this than in the Milgram experiment, as subjects in the latter were asked to act against their own conscience.