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← Anxiety May Be at Root of Religious Extremism, Researchers Find

Anxiety May Be at Root of Religious Extremism, Researchers Find - Comments

Dean Buchanan's Avatar Comment 1 by Dean Buchanan

Ties in well with other research showing that economic or social uncertainty increases religiosity.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 01:48:20 UTC | #487406

antitheist4all's Avatar Comment 2 by antitheist4all

Well I was certain it was some type of neurosis.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 02:49:20 UTC | #487418

NH King's Avatar Comment 3 by NH King

I think this lends evidence to the debate in favor of instability feeds religiosity and against religiosity raising instability, as a general rule. I was hoping for evidence to the contrary, but as John Lennon said, "That's reality."

And yes, I know that lab research like this does not paint a clear picture of the world around us, but this is good evidence regarding the human tendency. No, I don't think the Taliban just needs a hug.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 02:54:42 UTC | #487419

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 4 by Alternative Carpark

No shit...

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 03:30:36 UTC | #487422

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 5 by mordacious1

...Sherlock.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 03:59:45 UTC | #487425

Michael Gray's Avatar Comment 6 by Michael Gray

Religion has evolved to exploit this base reaction.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 04:39:18 UTC | #487434

bigJ's Avatar Comment 7 by bigJ

This evening, I saw this on a sign outside a church: "When you are at your wits end, you'll find god lives there"

This pretty well supports Michael Gray's comment.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 04:50:51 UTC | #487435

Haymaker's Avatar Comment 8 by Haymaker

It is the straw that the drowning man clutches.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 05:23:24 UTC | #487439

steve_hopker's Avatar Comment 9 by steve_hopker

From a biological view, this ties in with long held ideas of a sub-cortical drive for religiosity (for example, a role for the amygdala, a basal nucleus implicated in fear / aggression). Such emotional sources by-pass or pre-empt frontal (cortical) processing (rational / reality cheacking) ie nameless / free floating anxiety. Psychologically this can be linked to anxiety states in one context spilling over ('irrationally') into others.

From an evolutionary view, the role of pre-human, indeed pre-mammalian fear/aggression circuits would then be compatible with overt religiosity emerging alongside speech, early technologies etc - perhaps also alongside pre-human social groups (perhaps having some parallel in our chimpanzee cousins) shifting over generations to our own societies. Neanderthal burials, some with flowers, may even be evidence of parallel non-Homo sapiens religion

Certainly, the origin of Homo sapiens religion is lost in time, as is the origin of speech. But religion is (sadly) not to practical living what the human appendix is to digestion - an evolutionary hangover of ancient and now irrelevant structure. Anxiety is very much with us (and, actually, adaptive within limits). But the reality override suggests religion may persist in a way that other negative cogntions persist - through a positive feedback system, cognitively through anxiety provoking negative thoughts and the negative thoughts then building anxiety: neurologically the frontal lobes and the amygdala locked into a toxic spiral.

In the cognitive treatment of anxiety or indeed depression, the client is both informed about these processes in general, helped to gain insight into what is happening for them - and then, crucially, helped to tease out and then challenge the negative cognitions (eg negative automatic thoughts about self ability). By contrast, whilst some religions may encourage self reflection, this is undertaken in the context of the fear inducing cognitive set (eg hell fire) and the beliefs themselves are actually reinforced.

If there was a medical parallel for religion, perhaps it would be allergy reactions: everyone needs an immune response - but no-one needs hay fever.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 08:10:39 UTC | #487454

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 10 by Bernard Hurley

"Taken together, the results of this research program suggest that bold but vulnerable people gravitate to idealistic and religious extremes for relief from anxiety," McGregor says.

Perhaps this is what people who say that religion gives them strength are experiencing.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 08:31:24 UTC | #487457

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 11 by Rich Wiltshir

Am I the only one to ponder whether ardent atheism has a similar spark in its engine?

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 09:29:51 UTC | #487459

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Comment 12 by Stephen of Wimbledon

This is fascinating stuff. I hope this community will continue to highlight this kind of advance.

I wonder if the big rise in rates of anxiety and depression in Western Europe in recent decades might be linked to the parallel growth in atheism?

No religion to 'use' means no way to hide from reality. Would that mean many people in the World are increasingly facing up to the depressing realities of life on Earth?

If true, such a link would negate Comment 11.

Updated: Fri, 09 Jul 2010 09:54:28 UTC | #487463

Nick LaRue's Avatar Comment 13 by Nick LaRue

Comment 11 by Rich Wiltshir :

Am I the only one to ponder whether ardent atheism has a similar spark in its engine?

So you feel atheists have high anxiety and uncertainty and that's why we're 'ardent'? Funny I thought we were being rational about the whole thing.

Atheists are human beings of course we have emotional triggers we're not robots.

However I disagree with your statement unless you wish to clarify? I don't see how I am similar to a religious person. I don't get stronger feelings for being an atheist in times of crisis. I react emotionally to the situation without 'hoping' for strength or courage from some unknown deity.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 09:59:39 UTC | #487465

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 14 by Carl Sai Baba

This description makes the effect sound general, and only applies to religion because the specifically chose to evaluate it that way:

"anxious conditions caused participants to become more eagerly engaged in their ideals and extreme in their religious convictions."

It sounds like religion is just one of many ideals people fall back on when desperate.

There are some problems with the general concept. "Extremists" seem anxious about issues which are only issues if you already believe wacky religious things. Fred Phelps is probably worried about God punishing humans over homosexuality, but he wouldn't be worried about that unless he already believed it. Maybe some other thing caused him anxiety, but his life seemed to be going just fine before he went to full lunatic mode.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 10:20:54 UTC | #487471

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 15 by Rich Wiltshir

@ SmilingAtheist

Thanks for the response, though my comment was merely a thought.

I suspect religoons may accuse us of being 'stressed by the insecurities of uncertainty' or some such drivel. If so, it's reasonable to scrutinise the notion.

Presenting a thought, not an opinion, I always strive to doubt my own conclusions as reasonably as I can; as expressed in comment 11.

Atheism is NOT a religion, but I PONDER whether some of the more assertive aspects of MY own atheism MAY stem from similar sources to the religoon extremist.

Perhaps MY need to address MY anger at the disabling teachings of these monstrous cults is born from or fuelled by some of MY stresses and insecurities. As I am far from unique, it seems a reasonable enquiry to ASK '...whether ardent atheism has a similar spark in its engine?'

Of course, I could be wrong... but would like to find out...

On the premise that there's scant difference between my DNA and a religoon's, I'd be a fool to discount a similar chain of emotions behind MY most ardent opinions, wouldn't I?

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:38:35 UTC | #487476

Logicel's Avatar Comment 16 by Logicel

Though anxious people can self medicate through other means than religion, like alcohol, excessive sex/eating/exercise, drugs, 'health' food, etc., there are studies pinpointing those activities, emphasizing the common denominator. Because of the oppressively mind-numbing deference to religion, religious beliefs have been excluded from this focus. It is refreshing to see that is ending.

Just like alcohol consumption can be done moderately, so can the consumption of religious beliefs be moderate. As a relative is fond of saying, a little religion is OK, just like a small glass of red wine daily is OK. However, society in general is well aware that some people are prone to overdoing it with alcohol, and yet we are dragging our feet regarding the same with some religious believers. And that is because of the ridiculous coddling of religion in general.

Other than Prohibition, the moderate drinkers have no problem in not perceiving abstinence by vulnerable people as an affront or a danger for their own continuing drinking. Yet that is what moderate religious believers and their accommodationists do, bending over backwards to obfuscate the dangers of religion. These kind of believers and their supporters are similar to the corporate interests behind tobacco/alcohol consumption. They will white-wash the reality as long as they can because of their vested interests.

Updated: Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:47:46 UTC | #487478

Logicel's Avatar Comment 17 by Logicel

Comment 12 by steve_r_w :

I wonder if the big rise in rates of anxiety and depression in Western Europe in recent decades might be linked to the parallel growth in atheism?

When Europe was more religious there was no stats on anxiety disorders. As the ability to diagnose them more accurately through recent years happened, just like autism, it may only seem that these conditions are on the rise.

Updated: Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:59:58 UTC | #487482

Logicel's Avatar Comment 18 by Logicel

Rich W, the only idealism that I have encountered with atheists, and it has been very uncommon, is that some atheists think that the world would be a perfect place if everyone was atheist.

Anger can be justified, it does not have come from your own insecurity, but from your ethics.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:57:37 UTC | #487484

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 19 by Bernard Hurley

Comment 11 by Rich Wiltshir

"Extremists" seem anxious about issues which are only issues if you already believe wacky religious things.

The wacky things don't have to be religious. For instance in the Cultural Revolution there were Red Guards believed that chanting the sayings of Mao Zedong over rice paddies would lead to "bumper harvests". On the other hand one could question how far from a religion Maoism was. It was atheist in the sense of not believing in a creator God, but so are the traditional Chinese religions.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 12:00:29 UTC | #487486

Nick LaRue's Avatar Comment 20 by Nick LaRue

Comment 15 by Rich Wiltshir :

@ SmilingAtheist

Thanks for the response, though my comment was merely a thought.

You're welcome.

I suspect religoons may accuse us of being 'stressed by the insecurities of uncertainty' or some such drivel. If so, it's reasonable to scrutinise the notion.

Religious people feel that we are this way but I think this research shows that religious people tend to be like this more. This study didn't include atheist but it would be interesting to see something similar done.

Presenting a thought, not an opinion, I always strive to doubt my own conclusions as reasonably as I can; as expressed in comment 11.

OK it was a thought so I passed on my own to you to ponder. Such is the way of thoughts and ideas.

Atheism is NOT a religion, but I PONDER whether some of the more assertive aspects of MY own atheism MAY stem from similar sources to the religoon extremist.

I'm glad you stated this. Also probably one of the main aspects of being an atheist is it is your own. It is the one thing that religious people do not understand.

Perhaps MY need to address MY anger at the disabling teachings of these monstrous cults is born from or fuelled by some of MY stresses and insecurities. As I am far from unique, it seems a reasonable enquiry to ASK '...whether ardent atheism has a similar spark in its engine?'

Being emotional (what you are doing) I find is very different than what this research shows, which is why I said something about your post. We want to see change in society and wish that believers would understand where we are coming from. The problem of course is the dull headedness that comes from the taboos of religion. Questioning the political correctness of the all 'religions correct' fallacy, their security blanket, their fears, and the smokescreen of religion. I have no doubt there are believers who would love to agree with us on some things but I think the taboos and the idea of agreeing with an atheist is what prevents many.

Of course, I could be wrong... but would like to find out...

Questioning oneself is always a good thing. We should all do it more frequently.

On the premise that there's scant difference between my DNA and a religoon's, I'd be a fool to discount a similar chain of emotions behind MY most ardent opinions, wouldn't I?

DNA does not determine how one reacts to situations when you're ignorant of the world (I'm not referring to some of the basics of human nature here). A lack of ignorance (earth quakes are because of tectonic plates not because of sin) is what makes a world of difference. Being overly superstitious and afraid of things like a gOd attacking us because we're sinful must be a scary world to live in. I've never been there thankfully but I did have some religious and superstitious times of my life.

When I read the article I found nothing to indicate that atheist would have anything in common with this research. But it is interesting and I'm glad it's being done.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 13:23:52 UTC | #487498

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 21 by Dr. Strangegod

I'll read this a little later, but in response to the headline, I just have to say, "Yeah, no shit." The socio-psychology of extremist religion has been well studied.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 14:27:32 UTC | #487508

PERSON's Avatar Comment 22 by PERSON

The wacky things don't have to be religious. For instance in the Cultural Revolution there were Red Guards believed that chanting the sayings of Mao Zedong over rice paddies would lead to "bumper harvests".

I'm pretty sure that just as saints filled the role of pagan deities when the Christians took over areas, that the communist party and its leaders and symbols (e.g. I think "the good worker" was a commonly used symbol) were dropped in to take the place of existing religious views. And as in the former case, with things like the green man on church bosses, celtic art and yew trees in the church yard, parts of the old religion were retained. I think that's where that kind of behaviour would come from. I doubt it was centrally or even locally sanctioned, except perhaps as a substitution to reduce discontent with the changes.

But I would say Maoism and Leninism are religions in that they make unsubstantiated, faith-based claims about the qualities of institutions and particular individuals. Less detached from reality than imagining a deity lives just over the farthest hill, whatever technology allows that to be, but still a kind of deification. Ironically in October (aka "Ten days that shook the world"), Eisenstein visually equates church priests with African animists. I'd put free-market capitalism in the same category as Maoism and Leninism. I suspect that even if a rational, just system of resource distribution were devised, there would still be a religious form of it. Atheism is not consistent enough for this to happen, short of an institution declaring itself definitively Atheist and prescribing a set of beliefs that true Atheists must follow. It would have to be larger than the trivial atheist set of beliefs: { "There are no gods" }. No such institution exists that I'm aware of, though I'm sure many have been slurred as being of that kind.

And ISTM the North Koreans pretty much literally regard their leaders as gods or at least super-human, the logical conclusion of Leninism or the dominance of any other cult of personality.

Updated: Fri, 09 Jul 2010 14:50:14 UTC | #487513

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 23 by Steven Mading

Comment 14 by RightWingAtheist :

This description makes the effect sound general, and only applies to religion because the specifically chose to evaluate it that way:

"anxious conditions caused participants to

become more eagerly engaged in their ideals

and extreme in their religious convictions."

It sounds like religion is just one of many ideals people fall back on when desperate.

There are some problems with the general concept. "Extremists" seem anxious about issues which are only issues if you already believe wacky religious things. Fred Phelps is probably worried about God punishing humans over homosexuality, but he wouldn't be worried about that unless he already believed it. Maybe some other thing caused him anxiety, but his life seemed to be going just fine before he went to full lunatic mode.

To put it another way, the test might merely be showing that anxiety makes people strengthen their convictions, whatever those convictions may happen to already be. The test didn't test for other things besides religion. An interesting variant could be to check against political positions the same way. (Although since politics and religion overlap, it would be important to pick issues that are more "purely" political. (i.e. talk about economics, or the role of federal versus local government, but don't talk about abortion.)

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 15:20:27 UTC | #487519

PERSON's Avatar Comment 24 by PERSON

Maybe some other thing caused him anxiety, but his life seemed to be going just fine before he went to full lunatic mode. I suspect Phelps beliefs are based on his perception of other people's anxieties as well as his own. Also, lack of self-confidence, perhaps the internal critic, can cause anxiety in the most successful of people.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 15:39:45 UTC | #487521

Dave H's Avatar Comment 25 by Dave H

That's funny. When I was young, religious obfuscation and threats were my largest source of anxiety. When I dumped religion, the anxiety went with it. I guess I'm just a scientist at heart, and my brain was anxious without something real to grip.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 15:51:39 UTC | #487523

katt33's Avatar Comment 26 by katt33

I can attest to that. When I was faced with a health crisis, surgery and heard the word Cancer associated with my endometriosis, I grabbed on to religion for dear life. I became very narrow minded about all that stuff, but luckily it did not least long.

I then realized a pattern. Whenever I would have a crisis point, I sought some kind of religious anchor, thinking that would make it all okay. Then I realized it only made me feel worse because I started to think I was being punished for being less than perfect and it just created more anxiety.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 17:44:25 UTC | #487551

Rich Wiltshir's Avatar Comment 27 by Rich Wiltshir

@ SmilingAthiest, Comment 20.

This is great, isn't it? A pair of atheists, thousands (?) of miles apart and scrutinising how we criticise our own mindsets and opinions. I truly hope that some religoons read this; would they understand it?

A pleasure to exchange words with you; I'll go back and re-read the item = seems I may have missed something. Thanks for helping me realise that.

Cheers

And a question to any religious types who read this; isn't doubt wonderful?

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 19:11:31 UTC | #487579

Nick LaRue's Avatar Comment 28 by Nick LaRue

Comment 27 by Rich Wiltshir :

@ SmilingAthiest, Comment 20.

This is great, isn't it? A pair of atheists, thousands (?) of miles apart and scrutinising how we criticise our own mindsets and opinions. I truly hope that some religoons read this; would they understand it?

I'm currently in Finland (originally from Canada and lived/moved from Australia). It's good to critique one's thinking and to hear other's opinions. I do my best to be open, not always easy! Would a religious person understand? Probably but maybe not when it comes to religion.

A pleasure to exchange words with you; I'll go back and re-read the item = seems I may have missed something. Thanks for helping me realise that. Cheers

You're welcome again. :) I've made mistakes reading an article many times and realised afterwards I missed something. I'm not a big commenter but if something interests me I will say something.

And a question to any religious types who read this; isn't doubt wonderful?

Doubt and questioning is what keeps me going. :)

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 19:49:17 UTC | #487587

Red Foot Okie's Avatar Comment 29 by Red Foot Okie

An interesting study, I know/work with a number of people who have high self-esteem, big dreams, and strong religious faith who are very much blind to their mistakes.

I wonder though, the study says that nonbelievers/skeptics made more mistakes, but did they CATCH them? In the end, which group let more mistakes through?

Sat, 10 Jul 2010 01:50:29 UTC | #487638

magnumdb's Avatar Comment 30 by magnumdb

But did you read the related article?

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090304160400.htm

Brain Differences Found Between Believers In God And Non-Believers

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2009) — Believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress, according to new University of Toronto research that shows distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers.

Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

I find it interesting these two studies and how they appear to conflict somewhat.

Sat, 10 Jul 2010 09:11:53 UTC | #487675