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Psychology of Religion – Good and Bad Aspects

Looking into the psychology of religion and investigating why people follow certain beliefs, including which personality traits make someone more and less likely to be religious. What people they get out of it, including benefits, the limitations it creates, and generally the good and bad aspects of religious belief.

Psychology of Religion, the Good and Bad.

Opinions on religious belief can vary in their extremes on whether religion is a force for good, or a force for bad. Those with strong beliefs will obviously see the good and positive aspects. Then you have the atheist types, that not only don’t believe in any type of God, but they also see religion as a root cause of much that is bad in this world, in-fact many can’t see any positive aspects to religion. You could say that both are absolute in their beliefs.

The Good

Religions are the great healing-systems for the ills of the soul. Carl Jung

Marriage is a religious construct that helps to keep families together, and the social science strongly suggests a connection between family, and societies being more stable. For example, there is a strong correlation between an absence of a father figure, and young men joining gangs, and going into a life of crime in general.

You also have the question of morality and values. Friedrich Nietzsche feared that after the death of Christianity in the West, many people would lose their sense of morality, and meaning, and nihilism would become more dominate. This question of religion and values/morality is still currently being debated by psychologists, philosophers and public intellectuals. So the argument for religion is that it provides an ethical or moral framework that can help to give people meaning, and also to create a more stable society. You could say religion helps to create order by imposing certain controlling rules on individuals, therefore society.

Christianity also promotes an individualist approach, it teaches that the most important relationship is that between the individual and God. This moves away from tribal and collectivist thinking, which has led to genocides and other crimes on a mass scale.      

The Bad

Nietzsche: Critique of Christianity Quote.

Imposing rules on individuals is also to limit them in some sense. Rules help to create order out of chaos, however too many rules, therefore too much order can also be problematic for individuals and society. The problem really comes from things going out of balance, or in this case when a religion gains too much control over the individual and society. Too much order is also pathological to a society, it reduces flexibility, growth and general advancement.

Nietzsche was a big critique of religious beliefs that promoted suppression of natural human desires and impulses. He believed that in order for humans to evolve mentally and spiritually they needed to not suppress, but rather integrate, therefore control those sometimes undesirable aspects of ourselves. He suggested that creativity was created out of the chaos and uncertainty within, and to deny and suppress those aspects was to limit the individual.      

Why some people are more religious?

Some cultures have a greater religious influence, therefore the members of those cultures are far more likely to develop strong religious beliefs. So the culture in which one is born is obviously a big factor.

Personality traits also influence how religious a person is likely to be. Those high in trait conscientiousness, particularly the orderliness aspect are more likely to like and follow traditions, and they tend to like the rules and order that a religious belief encourage or preach. These traits are predictors for those who have more conservative views.

Those who are high in trait openness are more creative in temperament. They are more likely to resist traditions, and the rules and order that a religious belief can impose upon those who follow it. Being high in trait openness is a predictor for those who have more liberal views, (classic liberal).

Religious vs Non Religious Societies

Extremely religious societies tend to be very limiting to those who live within them. Research suggests that scientific advancements slow and even stop, as science and scientific thinking often conflicts with very strong religious beliefs.

Non religious or secular societies can suffer with the population lacking a sense of meaning, resulting in an increase of nihilistic behaviours. With less social programming, (religious beliefs), the people within those societies resort more to their biological instincts. People start to resort more to impulsive pleasures and instant gratification. Hierarchies will also be left largely unchecked, resulting in more inequality, therefore potentially an increase in resentfulness, a leading cause of an increase in crime. This is very obvious to what is currently happening in many western countries.      

Fools & Fanatics Quote

Final Thoughts

My thinking on this is that perhaps a balance is required. The worst, least advanced and most oppressive societies tend to be highly religious. However none religious or secular societies have their own problems. These problems are apparent in the modern west, with an increase in inequality, meaninglessness, shallow pursuits and general mental health issues on the rise. With the decline of Christianity, collectivist and tribal thinking is also becoming more common, along with radical ideologies, which are in a sense, new religions in their own right. On a final note, many problems also come from those who have too few doubts, those who think in absolutes. There is an obvious connection to absolute thinking and extremism, and you have absolute thinkers on both sides.

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