Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Can We Prove Augustine?

Augustine’s famous opening lines in his The Confessions (Everyman’s Library)
says something like this: You [God] have made us for yourself and we are restless until we find ourselves in You. One way of putting this is that humans are hardwired for God.

In What Americans Really Believe the authors examine this question and wonder if the evidence available today from American surveys can probe into an answer to the belief Augustine confessed. It’s about personality. Is religiousness inherent to personality? The ability to determine the kind of evidence permissible and how to frame it so that it speaks to this issue are not easy, so the designers of this study were careful.
First, words. They ask Americans to describe themselves with words and arrive at the OCEAN study: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
Openness reveals artistic and deep vs. uncreative and shallow.
Conscientiousness reveals efficient and organized vs. undependable and sloppy
Extroversion reveals talkative and active vs. quiet and reserved
Agreeableness reveals kind and sympathetic vs. critical and selfish
Neuroticism/Emotional stability reveals anxious and moody vs. relaxed and calm
This study wants to see if there are correlations of these personality types and religiousness.

What they probed was the associations between religiousness, OCEAN, and personal beliefs and attitudes and ideology. So they are measuring correlations.

#1: Practices. There is a high correlation between self-reported religiousness (a person says she or he is religious) and religious practices, like church attendance and Bible reading. But there is no significant correlation between religious practices and OCEAN (the Big Five).
#2: Beliefs. There is a correlation between self-reported religiousness and beliefs – like biblical literalism, certainty of God and certainty of heaven.
#3: Moral attitudes. Self-reported religiousness correlates with particular moral views — abortion, divorce, marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem-cell. Notably, war did not correlate with religiousness. And in OCEAN, the highest correlation was found with “A” (Agreeableness). Those who were E (extroversion) and O (openness) were the least likely to agree with these moral attitudes/views.
#4: Politics. Those who self-reported religiousness were the least likely to be liberal in politics. O (openness) correlates with being Democrat.
Their conclusion: religiosity correlates with personality as personal beliefs, moral views and politics. The correlation is consistent. Therefore, they conclude, religiosity is a good predictor of important areas of social life.
Well, I don’t think they really answer the question about being hardwired for God. But they do show correlation of religiousness with a variety of issues.
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Sheldon Mann

posted June 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I am not sure of Augustine’s view absolutely, but it seems prima facie, being hardwired for God could possibly be understood a posteriori via illumination.

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Charles Hackney

posted June 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Dr. Ralph Piedmont of Loyola University Maryland has done a considerable amount of research looking at religion and the “OCEAN” five-factor model of personality. He argues that religiousness/spirituality is a personality factor, but not one that is captured in the five-factor model. His conclusion is that it should be a six-factor model.
Piedmont, R.L. (1999). Does spirituality represent the sixth factor of personality? Spiritual transcendence and the five-factor model. Journal of Personality, 67, 985-1013.
There are number of different ways that we can use psychology of religion research to address Augustine’s point. Terror management theory claims that it is fundamental to human motivation to seek meaning in something that transcends death (similar to Ecclesiastes). Newberg and d’Aquili’s neuropsych research indicates that seeking out and experiencing God has a biological component in the brain (talk about being “hardwired” for a relationship with God). A mountain of studies connecting religion and mental health indicates that we function better when our spiritual lives are firing on all cylinders. Oxford prof Justin Barrett argues that the cognitive psychology research indicates that “belief in God is an almost inevitable consequence of the kind of minds we have.”

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