Beliefnet
Pontifications

Stressed out.jpgThe latest neuroscientific study (such research may be the economy’s lone growth industry) indicates that religious faith can help people chill when things go wrong–and that they will go wrong is one of life’s few guarantees these days.

According to this story in Canada’s National Post:

“These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one’s environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error,” said the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

Led by Michael Inzlicht, a University of Toronto psychology professor, researchers measured activity in the part of the brain — the anterior cingulate cortex — that is important for self control and acts as a warning signal that a mistake is being made.

“It acts as a cortical alarm bell,” said Prof. Inzlicht. “And the finding is that the more people believe in God the less the cortical alarm bell rings.”

Those with the deepest religious belief were more likely to let mistakes roll off their backs, while those who tend toward atheism were more likely to suffer stress and anxiety after committing an error.

“Karl Marx talked about religion being the opiate of the masses. Maybe he was on to something,” Prof. Inzlicht said.

Well, yes and no. As Marx says in the phrase before that famous quotation:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.

There is some interesting ambiguity there. Not that you’ll convince atheists, or that atheists will flock to religion for some stress relief. That’s why monks invented beer. (And pretzels, also a Lenten “practice.”)

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