Evolutionary psychology Intelligent Design Religion

Surprise! War trauma makes people more religious

Spread the love

war
Will he return?/(CCO) Public Domain

If you are familiar with the saying, “No atheists in foxholes,” you mayn’t need to read this but:

To understand the relationship between war and religion, Henrich and his colleagues gathered data from more than 1,700 interviews with people in 71 villages scattered throughout Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, and Uganda. Their results showed that, among those who were most exposed to war, membership in religious groups increased by 12, 14, and 41 percentage points, respectively.

In addition, the researchers found that those who experienced the trauma of war were likelier to attend religious services and were likelier to rank religion as being significant in their lives than those who were not. And in some cases, those effects were surprisingly long-lived.

“One of the more interesting findings was that in some cases we found the effect endures,” Henrich said. “In Tajikistan we find the effect even 13 years post-conflict, and there’s no sense in which it declines.” Peter Reuell, “Study shows that many who experience trauma of war become increasingly religious” at Phys.org

The researchers offer various evolutionary psychology musings, bypassing the obvious point: When tragedy or disaster strikes, merely facile, trendy accounts of life don’t work anymore. So people turn to timeless questions and timeless truths.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

See also: Evolutionary conundrum: is religion a useful, useless, or harmful adaptation?

16 Replies to “Surprise! War trauma makes people more religious

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    I know a 102 year old WWII vet, George V. He is a devoted Christian with a great sense of humor, and who shamelessly flirts with all the nurses at the veterans home where he now lives. He is a genuine pleasure to be around. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japs bombed it. In fact, he was raising the American flag on his ship the morning of the attack. He subsequently, as a marine corp Sargent, went through all the major battles of the Pacific save for the last major battle on Okinawa. He will tell various stories about his WWII experience when prodded to do so. From the hell he went through and from his bravery in the heat of battle, he is a hero in every sense of the word. One of his favorite stories that I have heard him tell two or three times now is that of an atheist who would constantly ridicule and argue with his fellow marines who believed in God. Well it turns out, come the morning of a major battle in the Pacific, right before they were to storm a beach, they had a Christian service where communion was being offered. And lo and behold, when George V. walked in to the service to receive communion, who would be at the front of the line to receive communion than none other than the atheist who had given his fellow marines so much grief for believing in God.

    There are “No atheists in foxholes” is usually how George ends his story.

    There is something very humbling about the desperation of staring death in the face that brings the pride of man to its knees, rightfully submitting that man in reverence to God.

    To see that this religious “effect endures” and that “there’s no sense in which it declines” is even more telling that the conversion is indeed real and reasonable for the person who had the conversion experience.

    This study is definitely a keeper and is going in my notes. I might even show this study to George the next time I see him just so I can hear him tell the story of the atheist receiving communion before battle again.

  2. 2
    Brother Brian says:

    I suspect that this goes both ways. I would be interested to see how many people who were deeply religious before experiencing trauma in war dropped their religion. I can only speak with respect to one example. My grandfather was, by all accounts, a very religious person before heading off to WWI. During the war he was gassed. Other than this account, he never talked about the war. But when he got back, he never stepped into a church again.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    BB, no one claimed that it did not cut both ways. The claim is that “those who experienced the trauma of war were likelier to attend religious services and were likelier to rank religion as being significant in their lives than those who were not”

    Their results showed that, among those who were most exposed to war, membership in religious groups increased by 12, 14, and 41 percentage points, respectively.
    In addition, the researchers found that those who experienced the trauma of war were likelier to attend religious services and were likelier to rank religion as being significant in their lives than those who were not. And in some cases, those effects were surprisingly long-lived.

    i.e. the claim is, as an overall effect, people who have been through war are more religiously oriented, in one case by 41 percentage points, over ‘normal’.

  4. 4

    I watched this film “They Shall Not Grow Old” earlier in the year and it set off a series of events in my life.
    I am a writer, and in late January I presented my recent book “Yearning for Liberty” (available on Amazon) to a local military/veterans group. Following the presentation, a young man approached me with a couple of items. One was a shoe box full of letters written in 1917-19 by a soldier, back home to family and friends in New Haven CT, also my home town.
    The young man Dan, a historian, recruited me to help produce some sort of book that would get this soldier out of that shoebox and out of the closet. Dan also has a 100 year old copy of the unit history book of the 302nd Field Artillery unit. Searching on-line, I found a PDF of that book and proceeded to edit it and clean it up to use as a framework for our new book.
    So now I am in the process of scanning in and reading 100 year old, very fragile letters and inserting them at strategic points in the unit history book.

    It also so happens the New Haven is the home of the Knights of Columbus which was very instrumental in providing tangible support for the soldiers deployed to France in those days. KofC, we are hopeful, will also help in producing this book.

    So at the end of this project we hope to get Pvt. Earnest Stevens out of that closet and out of the shoe box to where those of us 100 years later can know him again.
    And yes, young Pvt. Stevens was a church goer and did undergo gas attack,

    By the way, my books can be found at:
    https://www.amazon.com/Donald-L-Johnson/e/B00C0AZUDK

  5. 5

    Further to my last:
    This will be the second such project on my part, getting a compelling life story out of that box in the closet into the light of day.
    My first was editing and publishing the life story of sports legend Sam Jankovich.
    See it at http://www.blurb.com/b/7840762-sam-jankovich

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note:

    Atheism Was An “Error”: English Professor & Atheist Mark Bauerlein Converts to Christianity – March 8, 2019
    Excerpt: But no matter how profound Freud and Nietzsche could be in their writings they couldn’t save Bauerlein from approaching despair,
    “EVERY NIGHT IN BED I FORESAW MY PENDING NONEXISTENCE AND TREMBLED.”
    I shut my eyes and the walls closed in. That I was destined to join the nothingness that I spied in the bush was an intolerable prospect, an unthinkable thought. My mind was stuck on eternal death,” “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it, this can’t be happening.”
    But unlike what some atheists would claim, namely how rejecting belief in God and religion is both liberating and desirable, “The discovery didn’t free me, it crushed me. The universe was open, but my life was closed. Others might take the disappearance of God as liberating, a chance to forge their own future, but not me. Whatever plan I might commence, whatever identity I might pursue, it shrank to pointlessness beside the yardstick of boundless nothingness.
    I understood my atheism as an achievement, but it didn’t inspire any further achievements. My only creative impetus was to dramatize my own condition, my only critical one to despiritualize everyone else’s.,,,
    Bauerlein is brave to admit and share with others that he regretted his many years as an atheist “for three decades afterward I felt it to be binding truth, but at fifty-three years of age, I now see it as error, an unfortunate one whose cost to me was an anti-spiritual, depleted existence through the prime of my life.
    https://reasonsforjesus.com/atheism-was-an-error-english-professor-atheist-mark-bauerlein-converts-to-christianity/

  7. 7
    Brother Brian says:

    I suspect that the fuel that drives religious beliefs is the fact that we are the only animal, as far as I know, that clearly understands from an early age that we will die. As such, we all desire that there be more to our lives than born, live, reproduce, and then die. A desire for ultimate meaning and purpose. Whether there is an ultimate meaning and purpose, or whether our religious beliefs are just a grand self-delusion, is where the divide between atheist and theist arises. I am quite comfortable in the idea that there is no ultimate purpose, no ultimate meaning, no God. But I also fully understand the attraction that these have for people.

  8. 8
    kairosfocus says:

    BB, awareness of mortality has little to do with the roots of theistic belief. Most people have an awareness of living in a world that shows that it is a creation, and that points to a creator. Similarly, most people have a sense of being under moral law which points to lawgiver; and as this includes the moral government of our rational life, to deny this leads to the implication of grand delusion, which is absurd. Many have a sense of the presence of God that is felt and which has had positive impact in their lives and/or the lives of those they know. Further, for some there is a strong sense of purpose, of calling that leads people to believe that they are called by God to do something in this life. Others are familiar with a religious tradition, which intersects with the above. In the case of the Christian-Hebraic tradition, we have prophecy of Messiah and fulfillment, where this includes 500 witnesses to the resurrection from the dead. The testimony of One who has so come back will be decisive. Of course, you may disagree, deride, dismiss or set aside, that has nothing to do with why people may responsibly and rationally be theists and theists within faith traditions. KF

  9. 9
    asauber says:

    Brother Brian,

    “the idea that there is no ultimate purpose, no ultimate meaning, no God”

    -is a religious belief, unsupported by physical evidence. So while I don’t mean to single you out for criticism, I do mean to make a general statement about people who believe this way and it goes like this: if you think this belief is a superior one for some reason, I got news for you- it doesn’t have any value. If you think it does, please tell me what you think that value might be.

    Andrew

  10. 10
    ET says:

    Minds from the mindless via blind, mindless and purposeless processes is the ultimate desperate plea. One that I am sure Brother Brian is OK with.

  11. 11
    Brother Brian says:

    Andrew

    if you think this belief is a superior one for some reason, I got news for you- it doesn’t have any value.

    I don’t think that it is a superior belief. And, as a belief, I agree that it has no value. However, I do believe that there can be value in believing in an ultimate purpose, an ultimate meaning and God, even if I believe that it is a delusion. These beliefs, when shared amongst a community, bring people together, provide a sense of belonging. These aren’t things to toss off lightly. For me, however, I can’t bring myself to believe in something that I think is a delusion. But I don’t begrudge anyone who does. After all, I could be wrong.

  12. 12
    asauber says:

    Brother Brian,
    re: “I could be wrong”

    Thank you for your response, but as you said yourself, the idea that there is no God is a belief that has no value. So philosophically, why start with and then cling to a bad assumption? Why arrange other beliefs around it?

    Andrew

  13. 13
    ET says:

    Brother Brian:

    These beliefs, when shared amongst a community, bring people together, provide a sense of belonging.

    Judging by the way a-mats tend to cling together tells me they find a sense of belonging, too.

    But anyone who thinks that blind, mindless and purposeless processes could give rise to beings with minds that allow them to contemplate and examine their existence, is most definitely bound to be wrong. A process that didn’t try to produce life, produced life. And in the process defied logic by producing codes to rule over that life. Our best and brightest can’t even do that.

    But there’s even more. An amazing coincidence pertaining to those beings with contemplating minds, interested in discovery.

    There is a final, even more bizarre twist. Because of Moon-induced tides, the Moon is gradually receding from Earth at 3.82 centimeters per year. In ten million years will seem noticeably smaller. At the same time, the Sun’s apparent girth has been swelling by six centimeters per year for ages, as is normal in stellar evolution. These two processes, working together, should end total solar eclipses in about 250 million years, a mere 5 percent of the age of the Earth. This relatively small window of opportunity also happens to coincide with the existence of intelligent life. Put another way, the most habitable place in the Solar System yields the best view of solar eclipses just when observers can best appreciate them.- “The Privileged Planet”

    There are just way too many coincidences that go into accounting for our planet/ moon system and out just-so rotation. The only delusion is thinking that it all just happened due to cosmic collisions in a condensing cosmic cloud.

  14. 14
    Brother Brian says:

    Andrew, thanks for the discussion.

    Thank you for your response, but as you said yourself, the idea that there is no God is a belief that has no value. So philosophically, why start with and then cling to a bad assumption? Why arrange other beliefs around it?

    Does a belief have to have any intrinsic value to be true? Or, conversely, is it not possible for a belief that is not true to have value? I would argue yes to both.

  15. 15
    ET says:

    Is intrinsic value self-evident? What about value? Is it objective? Will we know it when we see it? Are the needs of the few, or the one, greater than the intrinsic value of the many?

  16. 16
    asauber says:

    Brother Brian,

    Your comment puts truth as something you can compare any belief against. Evidently, you think truth can stand on its own. This is good. Don’t let your a/mat friends confuse you anymore. 😉

    Andrew

Leave a Reply