Friday, March 16, 2007

Origins of Religious Violence

An essay by Ledford in the News section of the March 8 issue of Nature points out an interesting study on bad behavior that follows reading religious texts. A group of religious Mormon students in Utah and a group from the Free University in Amsterdam (in which only 50% believed in God and 27% in the Bible) read a passage from the Old Testament in which God commanded a tribe to "take arms against their brothers and chasten them before the Lord". Control groups did not read the passage, and then all participated in an exercise to measure aggression.
...whether the students were based in the Netherlands or the United States, and believed in God or not — the trend was the same: those who were told that God had sanctioned the violence against the Israelite were more likely to act aggressively in the subsequent exercise.
This simple experiment:
...does suggest that selective exposure to violent passages in a scriptural canon can promote aggression....That response probably reflects a long-standing finding in psychology that people respond more aggressively to a depiction of violence that they feel is justified.
What about:
...a radical solution to theologically inspired violence — cut the violent passages out of the scripture....It's a wildly controversial idea that ought not to be...because spiritual leaders effectively do that on a regular basis. "A lot of churches have a series of passages that they read during the year," says Avalos. "And usually they don't choose the passages involving genocide."

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