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    Spiritual Well-Being and Life Satisfaction When Part of a Diverse Religious Affiliation
    By Kim Wombles | June 19th 2010 12:58 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Religion, regardless of one’s personal religious or spiritual beliefs, matters. The chances of being part of a diverse religious affiliation increase as our global community expands. McFaul (2006) points out that while two out of every three people in the world belong to one of the three major religions of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, there are hundreds of religions in the world today. McFaul contends that “religion is one of the major driving forces of the future” (p. 31). Christopher Hitchens and others in the atheist world might like to rail about god’s lack of existence and the damage that people who hold beliefs in god do, but the reality is that whether or not god or gods exist, people use religion (or lack thereof) to create systems of meaning. Baumeister (1991) as cited in Parks (2005) contends that meaning is the “central topic” in psychology (p. 295). It seems entirely appropriate and vitally necessary to study scientifically this intersection of meaning between psychology and religion and how people are impacted in their quality of life and their spiritual well-being both when they are part of a homogeneous religious group and when they are part of a heterogeneous religious group.

    While religion and spirituality can and are intensely personal experiences, there is an important social component to the concepts that cannot be overlooked. A person’s religious beliefs shape his or her attitude towards life and towards others and are “a large factor in most people’s philosophy of life,” as Allport (1979) notes (p. 456). Despite this internal, personal aspect, Donahue and Nielsen (2005) define religion as “an inherently social phenomenon” (p. 275). Religious and spiritual belief systems act as global meaning systems and are “pervasively present” (Parks, 2005, p. 301). Understanding how various religious belief systems create both areas of conflict and areas of agreement and the impact specifically on life satisfaction when members of the same family unit have different “religious identification” is an important endeavor as the number of interfaith couples increases, with over 28 million such couples in the United States alone as of 2001 (Kosmin and Mayer, 2001, p. 29). In addition, it might be of considerable benefit to look at how literally individuals take their religious identification. The Pew Center (2002) found that only 18% of Americans held their religion to be the “one true faith”, with a full 75% holding that there were many possible path to “eternal life” (p. 2). This openness to other religions being viable and valid leads to the opportunity to test whether there is an impact on life satisfaction and spiritual well-being when one of the couple holds to the concept of one-true faith.

    Review of research and theories

    Several avenues of psychological research converge in this topic: religion, relationships, subjective spiritual well-being, and life satisfaction. The psychology of religion remains a fairly contentious and fractured field with little overarching theory to guide it (Paloutzian&Park, 2005), difficulty in operationalizing definitions of both religion and spirituality (Miller&Thoreson, 2003), and little “consistency in the measurement” of religious and spiritual constructs (Rippentrop, 2005, p. 282). Despite the obstacles, a growing body of research points to the importance that religious and spiritual beliefs play in multiple domains (Paloutzian & Park, Miller & Thoreson).

    Research into the role of spirituality and religion to life satisfaction is beginning to be pursued vigorously, with multiple assessment tools and with mixed results. Dorahy, Lewis, Schumaker, Akuamoah-Boateng, Duze, and Sibiya (1998) used The Theism Scale (Maranell, 1974, as cited in Dorahy et al.) to assess across four distinct cultures whether religiosity and life satisfaction had any association, finding that there was no association among females from any of the four samples, while men in three of the four samples did have “a significant association” (p. 41). Interestingly enough, women had “higher religiosity scores than males” but this did not lead to greater life satisfaction, leading Dorahy et al. to offer the conclusion that “the relationship between religion and life satisfaction may be largely dependent on gender” (p. 41).

    Perrone, Webb, Wright, Jackson, and Ksiazak (2006) also examined how spirituality was linked to life satisfaction, but focused on how it related to work and family satisfaction in gifted adults who were being followed longitudinally. Perrone et al. found that existential well-being ( a sub-component within the Spiritual Well-Being) and life satisfaction were “positively related” (p. 265) as was marital satisfaction, but “religious well-being, work satisfaction, and parental satisfaction” did not “contribute significantly to the variance in life satisfaction” (p. 259).

    Roemer (2006) took a different route in measuring the religious/spiritual component when considering how life satisfaction and religious belief impacted people in Japan and did not use a measure specific to spiritual well-being or religiosity, instead data was extracted from the “2002 Japan General Social Survey (J-GSS)” (Roemer, p. 9). Roemer did find a positive relationship between religion and life satisfaction among people in Japan.

    In order to compare studies measuring life satisfaction and spiritual well-being or religiosity across cultures, genders, and ages, it will be necessary to arrive at a consensus of the concepts being measured and the creation of a measurement tool that most researchers can agree upon. It is in this specific area that the psychology of religion and spirituality has its greatest challenge.

    In a study of marital satisfaction in interfaith marriages, Hughes and Dickson (2005) found that whether each individual’s religious beliefs are intrinsically oriented (important to the individual in its own right) or extrinsically motivated (as a way of achieving external benefits such as networking) matters more in how well interfaith partners communicate with each other than it appears to for marital satisfaction.

    Building on the above four studies (Dorahy et al., 1998, Hughes and Dickson, 2005, Perrone et al., 2006, and Roemer, 2006), several research questions occur, of which none of the above studies considered: what impact does heterogeneous religious affiliation have on life satisfaction and on spiritual well-being? How are spousal, familial, and communal relationships impacted when the religious beliefs are not identical or similar? When religious identification is at odds with family and friends, does life satisfaction decrease?

    Hypothetical Questions Worth Looking At

    Do spiritual well-being and identification with a specific religious belief system have an effect on life satisfaction, on work satisfaction, on familial satisfaction, and in relationships with community members? Additionally, where religious identification is heterogeneous, will there be decreased life satisfaction, decreased satisfaction with work and family relationships and a negative impact on social relationships outside the immediate family? To date, it doesn’t appear from an extensive search of the literature that these questions have been examined.

    There are some available assessment scales that could provide the information needed to answer these questions:

    The Spiritual Well-Being scale (SWB; Paloutzian and Ellison, 1982, as cited in Perrone et al.)

    The SWB measures spiritual well-being; it consists of two separate scales: Religious Well-Being and Existential Well-Being and has high test-retest reliability as well as construct validity when compared to a similar measure of spiritual well-being (Perrone, Webb, Wright, Jackson, and Ksiazak, 2006).

    The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SLWS; Diener, Emmons, Larson, & Griffen, 1985, as cited in Perrone et al.)

    The SLWS is a 5-item 7-point Likert scale created by Diener et al., 1985). According to Pavot and Diener (1993), the SLWS assesses a “person’s global judgment of life satisfaction” (para. 7). A score of 20 is a neutral score, while a 26 to 30 would indicate “satisfied” while a score of 5 to 9 would indicate “extremely dissatisfied” (Pavot and Diener, para. 10). The SLWS has both “strong internal reliability and moderate temporal stability” (Pavot and Diener, para. 13). Perrone, Webb, Wright, Jackson, and Ksiazak (2006) note that the SLWS demonstrated concurrent validity with “moderate correlations between SLWS and 11other measures of subjective well-being” (pp. 256-257).

    The Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale (Schumm, Paff-Bergen, Hatch, Obiorah, Copeland, Meens, et al, 1986).

    The Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale is a 3-item 7-point Likert scale measuring marital satisfaction with (Schumm, Paff-Bergen, Hatch, Obiorah, Copeland, Meens, et al, 1986). Schumm et al. acknowledge the limitations of the scale but note that it does “have quite adequate reliability” as well as “some degree of concurrent validity” (p. 383, p. 385).

    The Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale (KPSS; James, Schumm, Kennedy, Grigsby, and Shectman, 1985)

    Perrone, Webb, Wright, Jackson, and Ksiazak (2006) note that the KPSS is a 3-item 7-point Likert scale measuring parental satisfaction which has “adequate internal consistency reliability” (p. 257). James, Schumm, Kennedy, Grigsby, and Shectman contend that this scale has validity for the measurement of “personal satisfaction” with parenting skills, children’s behavior, and relationship with children (1985, p. 1 of summary).

    The Multidimensional Job Satisfaction Scale (MJSS; Shouksmith, Pajo, & Jepson, 1990)

    According to Perrone, Webb, Wright, Jackson, and Ksiazak (2006), the MJSS used a 5-point Likert scale which contains 4-items for personal growth and 1-item for global job satisfaction; this scale has good internal consistency reliability and the two subscales correlate with each other. Shouksmith, Pajo, and Jenson (1990) describe the assessment as “comprehensive” and “multidimensional” (p. 1 of summary).

    Implications

    Without clear research on the effects of different spiritual and religious belief systems in romantic partners, extended families, friends, and coworkers, the growing global nature of our societies and its likelihood for being peaceful and cooperative or hostile and war-like cannot be reasonably predicted. Such research would help further our understanding of how various religious belief systems create both areas of conflict and areas of agreement and the impact these have on life satisfaction when members of the same family unit have different religious identification. This is an incredibly important endeavor as the number of interfaith couples continues to increase, with over 28 million such couples in the United States alone as of 2001 (Kosmin and Mayer, 2001, p. 29). In addition, determining the literalness with which individuals take their religious and spiritual beliefs would also provide additional information regarding the nature with which various individuals will react towards those of differing faiths. The Pew Center (2002) found that only 18% of Americans held their religion to be the “one true faith”, with a full 75% holding that there were many possible path to “eternal life” (p. 2). This openness to other religions being viable and valid leads to the opportunity to test whether there is increased interaction with those of different faiths and if these relationships have an impact on life satisfaction and spiritual well-being. While the results of previous studies tend to be mixed, the need for additional research and the refinement of assessment tools for spiritual and religious variables remain. Also, as the rates of atheism and agnosticism continues to increase, with over 45 million Americans in 2004 willing to self-identify as either nonreligious/secular, atheist, or agnostic, according to Kosmin and Mayer, so too does the need to develop measures of spiritual belief systems that are sensitive to the multiplicity of traditional and nontraditional religions as well as to those who eschew all relations with religious or spiritual systems.

    Directions for Future Research

    Despite psychology of religion’s long history dating back to the mid 1880s and its inception as a topic of research by G. Stanley Hall, William James, and their students Leuba and Starbuck (Vande Kemp, 1992), there remains much work to do in the field. In today’s ever-increasing global interdependence, this particular field of psychology is more vital then ever. There is much work to be done. Better measures that have greater clarity and wider applicability than to just the Christian faith must be developed. Somehow we need to find ways to measure and discuss religious and spiritual belief systems without being overly specific towards a particular deity. Interest and awareness in the differences of cultural perspectives in religion are altering the ways in which research is conducted, in addition to creating a richer and more varied array of questions to ask about the topic. This acceptance that culture matters, just as religion matters, is creating vast new areas of interest to research.

    Dorahy, Lewis, Schumaker, Akuamoah-Boateng, Duze, and Sibiya (1998) in their examination of cross-cultural groups and the intersection of religious beliefs and life satisfaction found that for men, religion seems to make a greater difference in life satisfaction than for women, although women may express greater religiosity. Additional research needs to be done that looks in greater detail at how gender differences alter the ways in which religion impacts life satisfaction, especially when there are differing faiths within the family structure. Conflict within the family needs to be looked at to determine the role it plays in reducing life satisfaction. Is there more conflict in interfaith marriages? Is the conflict in those marriages a result of the faiths or are other variables implicated? How do social structures differ for interfaith couples compared to one-faith couples? Hughes and Dickson (2005) found that interfaith couples were more likely to have separate social structures and more separate lives because of the difference in religious events attended. Where those couples had “constructive communication” with each other these effects were minimized (p. 25). Hatch, James, and Schumm (1986) found that where religiosity did not have a direct impact on marital satisfaction, it appeared to operate “through intervening variables” (p. 544). These researchers were looking at homogeneous couples, though, and not interfaith couples. It seems likely that couples with faiths that are diametrically opposed would appear more likely to see a direct effect of their religiosity on their marital satisfaction, and the more literally they take their own faith, the greater the likelihood of conflict. Research looking into these areas specifically would be beneficial.

    While there are thousands of religions in the world today, “two out of every three persons on Earth belong to only three huge faith traditions” (McFaul,2006, p. 31). To counter Christopher Hitchens’ (2007) argument that God is not great and to emulate his reiterating throughout his work “Religion poisons everything” (p. 13), religion MATTERS, real or not, and a belief structure that focuses on the negative sides of religion avails us nothing as global citizens. Joseph Campbell wrote and often said that “the only in-group that’s proper for today is the planet” although no “universal social image” exists as of yet (1989, p. 114). McFaul (2006) offers three potential futures for us as global citizens: exclusivism leading to increased turmoil and hostility, pluralism which could collapse back to exclusivism, and inclusivism, an acceptance of all of humanity as one family. I personally believe that it is possible to relate to all of humanity when one is willing to look at those underlying questions we all ask about ourselves, this world, and the inherent meaning we all fervently hope there is to this life. In order to do so, though, we have to work to remove those blinders that allow us to obscure the other’s humanity. Religion, unfortunately, often is to blame for those blinders, but it also offers great hope where those of faith have recognized that the historical literalness of their faith closes them to transcendence and to mutual dialogue and respect with those of differing faiths. Research into all the varieties of religious and spiritual beliefs and how these differing systems increase or decrease conflict and impact quality of life is paramount in today’s global society.

    References

    Allport, G. W. (1979). The nature of prejudice: 25th anniversary edition. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.

    Campbell, J., & Toms, M. (1989). An open life: Joseph Campbell in conversation with Michael Toms. NY: New Dimensions.

    Diener, E., Emmons, R., Larsen, R., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction With Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    Donahue, M. J., & Nielsen, M. E. (2005). Religion, attitudes, and social behavior. In R. F. Paloutzian and C. L.Park’s (Eds.), Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. (pp. 274-294). NY: The Guilford Press.

    Dorahy, M., Lewis, C., Schumaker, J., Akuamoah-Boateng, R., Duze, M., & Sibiya, T. (1998). A cross-cultural analysis of religion and life satisfaction. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 1(1), 37. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    Hatch, R., James, D., & Schumm, W. (1986). Spiritual intimacy and marital satisfaction. Family Relations, 35(4), 539. Retrievedfrom Academic Search Premier database.

    Hitchens, C. (2007). God is not great: How religion poisons everything. NY: Twelve.

    Hughes, P., & Dickson, F. (2005). Communication, marital satisfaction, and religious orientation in interfaith marriages. Journal of Family Communication, 5(1), 25-41. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    James, D.E., Schumm, W.R., Kennedy, C.E., Grigsby, C.C., Schectman, K.L. & Nichols, C.W. (1985). Characteristics of the Kansas Parental Satisfaction Scale among two samples of married parents. Psychological Reports, 57, 163–169. Summary retrieved from http://ammons.ammonsscientific.com/php/display_smry.php

    Kosmin, B. A., & Mayer, E. (2001). American religious identification survey. Retrieved from http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris.pdf

    McFaul, T. (2006). Religion in the future global civilization. Futurist, 40(5), 30-36. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    Miller, W., & Thoresen, C. (2003). Spirituality, religion, and health: An emerging research field. American Psychologist, 58(1), 24-35. Retrieved from the PsycARTICLES database.

    Paloutzian, R. E., & Park, C. L. (2005). Integrative themes. Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. (pp. 3-20). NY: The Guilford Press.

    Park, C. L. (2005). Religion and meaning. In R. F. Paloutzian and C. L.Park’s (Eds.), Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. (pp. 295-314). NY: The Guilford Press.

    Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Psychological Assessment, 5(2), 164-172. Retrieved from PsycARTICLES database.

    Perrone, K., Webb, L., Wright, S., Jackson, Z., & Ksiazak, T. (2006). Relationship of spirituality to work and family roles and life satisfaction among gifted adults. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(3), 253-268. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    Rippentrop, A. (2005). A review of the role of religion and spirituality in chronic pain populations. Rehabilitation Psychology, 50(3), 278-284. Retrieved from PsycARTICLES database.

    Roemer, M. (2006). Do religious beliefs and membership affect life satisfaction and happiness in Japan?. Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association, Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.

    Shouksmith, G., Pajo, K., & Jepsen, A. (1990). Construction of a multidimensional scale of job satisfaction. Psychological Reports, 67, 355– 364. Summary retrieved from http://ammons.ammonsscientific.com/php/display_smry.php

    Schumm, W., Paff-Bergen, L., Hatch, R., Obiorah, F., Copeland, J., Meens, L., et al. (1986). Concurrent and discriminant validity of the Kansas Marital Satisfaction Scale. Journal of Marriage & Family, 48(2), 381. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

    The Pew Research Center/The Pew Forum On Religion and Public Life. (2002). Americans struggle with religion’s role at home and abroad. Retrieved from http://pewforum.org/publications/reports/poll2002.pdf

    Vande Kemp, H. (1992). G. Stanley Hall and the Clark School of Religious Psychology. American Psychologist, 47(2), 290-298. Retrieved from the PsycARTICLES database.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    I'm sorry, but I find the entire concept of religion and psychology to be a flawed connection.  While there are certainly elements that intersect, it seems that the wrong questions are being asked.  In effect, this discussion treats religion as a fully formed element of human existence despite there being no basis for such a treatment.

    If we begin with the premise that ALL human beings have a belief system that is a necessary element in helping individuals establish a "relationship" with the world around them, then we can begin to see that this becomes a necessary ingredient in formulating a functioning intelligence.  This has been discussed elsewhere, but the main point is that humans are simply incapable of direct experience and acquiring knowledge for everything that they will have to deal with, so much of their "knowledge" will be derived from second hand sources and their belief system will be formed around what constitutes acceptable data for their framework versus data that can be discarded or dismissed.

    Therefore even the atheist must operate with a functioning belief system, albeit one that doesn't include a divine creator. 

    From a psychological perspective it would seem that the first question is how such belief systems are formed and populated by early educational experiences and the knowledge transferred by those influential to them.

    The second part of belief systems deals with how they may be modified if they prove to be inadequate.  In most cases, people reach a point of conflict which causes them to consider other beliefs and viewpoints in an attempt to "rearrange their mental furniture" around ideas that may be more suitable.

    Specifically, religion is political and has little to do with spirituality which is often used as if they were synonymous terms.  Even then, it is clear that any form of human social group is preferred over isolation, so it isn't uncommon to find that such groups will have an influence over an individual's perception regarding their own lives.  For some people it may be a religious group, for others it may be a branch of the military, for others a political ideology, etc..  It is the group that sets the basis for belonging and consequently has profound effects in a person's self-perception and attitudes.

    In the end, the role of belief systems must accommodate the things in life which aren't necessarily subject to verification or direct experience.  The most obvious being our relationship with death.  In almost every instance we are prone to belief things that we know aren't true, but they help us cope.  This is why people can lean towards divine interventions or even predestination.  In the end, we must derive some explanation for the unexplainable.
    To counter Christopher Hitchens’ (2007) argument that God is not great and to emulate his reiterating throughout his work “Religion poisons everything” (p. 13), religion MATTERS, real or not, and a belief structure that focuses on the negative sides of religion avails us nothing as global citizens.

    That statement makes no sense, because it grants religion a privileged position among belief systems which is unwarranted.  Why not argue that focusing on the negative aspects of atheism or secularism "avails us nothing"?  The problem with religion isn't the belief per se, but it is in attempting to argue that the beliefs represent factual knowledge that can be acted upon.  This is precisely what leads to fanatacism.  It would be a fallacy to argue that all religious beliefs may have some validity and then argue that atheism doesn't.  More importantly how can multiple beliefs all be correct (while arguing that others are without merit)? 

    In the end, even people of the same religion aren't likely to share identical beliefs, so the religious concept cannot hold true except for it's social role in promoting group cohesion under some vague set of common beliefs.  Religion doesn't matter.  What matters is what people believe, religious or not.

    Mundus vult decipi
    kwombles

    I find your antipathy towards the topic highly interesting. I approach the study of the psychology of religion from an athiestic perspective. Certainly the overarching goal of understanding why people believe what they believe is important. The psychology of religious and spiritual beliefs is a subset of that and a worthwhile subject to study.

    Hitchens uses the line quoted as frequent refrain in his book; I repeat the line that religion matters in emulation of Hitchens' frequent reiteration.  I am not placing religion on a pedestal, or above a lack of belief in god. Quite the contrary. Understanding where the root of religious belief exists in the brain (and the lack thereof) is one aspect of the psychology of religion (I didn't name the APA's division, but that is the particular title, so there you go), which includes the lack of a belief in a religion.

    We live in a world in which the vast majority believe in a god or gods and these beliefs guide their actions. Understanding how people derive life satisfaction and well-being from these beliefs, as well as how the intersection of competing belief systems can cause friction and a decrease in life satisfaction are important goals.

    Religion (or the rejection of) matters precisely because it is the theoretical framework in which people place themselves and then conduct themselves from. It is how they create an overarching narrative for their lives and place themselves within that framework. It is, far more than not, how people understand how the world works. Failing to acknowledge that for the majority religion and spiritual beliefs matter is a dangerous and foolhardy proposition.

    I see no reason not to pursue scientific knowledge on how religious and spiritual beliefs inform the meaning people derive from life, and in how these beliefs complicate or simplify their lives. In short, in understanding in all possible permutations, how belief in a higher power impacts individuals.

    One can be interested in a subject while not subscribing to the particular subject being examined.

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.
    Gerhard Adam
    One can be interested in a subject while not subscribing to the particular subject being examined.
    Without a doubt, and I certainly didn't mean to suggest otherwise if that's what I did.
    We live in a world in which the vast majority believe in a god or gods and these beliefs guide their actions.

    Well that's where I have the first problem regarding such assumptions.  This is one of the reasons I stated that religion is too often treated as having a privileged position.  One of the fundamental premises that I would challenge is whether people actually believe much of what they claim to.

    There is a difference between believing something to be true and simply adhering to an assumption that has been taught.  Especially in the case of religion, I find that the majority of people profess to a belief, but live as if they don't really believe it.  What's significant about this is that you wouldn't find something similar regarding a "belief in gravity" or something more firmly grounded. 

    This leads me to conclude that the majority of people's beliefs are no deeper than their having memorized the times tables brings them closer to being mathematicians.  In short, if you don't actually live as if you believe something to be true, can you legitimately claim it as a fundamental belief?

    Part of the reason for this is that most religions tend to be intolerant regarding violations of their rules and yet if people still want to believe, they must modify such viewpoints (despite having no religious basis for doing so).  Therefore when the Bible (just as an example) says that "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live", the majority of people don't take that literally as meaning, witches exist and that they must be killed.  Instead most people will simply nod their heads and ignore the commandment.

    So, when you're looking at how religion plays a role in people's lives, I still maintain that it is primarily to do with belonging to a social group and the basic philosphy that often accompanies such beliefs.  In fact, there is little in religion that isn't also addressed in numerous philosophies.

    I can appreciate your statement regarding what the majority of people claim to believe, and certainly it seems to be an interesting phenomenon that it should consist of so few major religions, but in the end I suspect that's more an aspect of marketing than actual belief.  After all , it's quite interesting to listen to people that claim a religious belief and then tie all manner of nonsensical interpretations to it (like the non-existence of the "rapture").  In my view, this is precisely what happens any time such beliefs encounter pre-existing beliefs ... they invariably merge producing a hybrid belief that only bears a passing resemblance to the original. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    kwombles

    Interesting points. People who are adherents to a religious group may not hold hard and fast to the holy texts (in fact, may be rather ignorant of the texts themselves), may in fact give it only lip service in order to belong to a social group. One would, if conducting studies to look at the role of spiritual well-being and satisfaction of life, not really be particularly concerned with how tightly an adherent follows the adopted religion's tenets, but instead most of the assessment tools look to whether an individual takes comfort in a greater power, feels the greater power listens, looks out for (or is out to get) one. So, I'm at least not with this, nor in the work I did for my thesis, interested in the mechanics of belonging to a religious group and how closely one lives out the tenets, but the meaning one attaches and finds from one's beliefs, in whether these beliefs can work to mitigate the stressors of living with chronic pain, for example.

    In other words, how does the belief that a benevolent creator never gives one more than she can handle help  the individual deal with stressful situations?

    Certainly, questioning and examining whether people really believe their sacred texts to be literally true is an interesting question. As someone who lives in the midst of the Bible belt and fundamentalist Baptists who believe the bible to be the literal word of God, I can tell you that many of these people here profess to believe the world to be 6,000 years old and that 'if one word of the bible is wrong, they're all wrong, but none are wrong.' I can personally attest that some of these folks don't especially appreciate it when you point out some of those things that appear to contradict. So, in short, they are keen on the idea that the book is the literal word, but have rarely read it cover to cover or examined it from a scholarly perspective. :-)

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” --MLK, Jr.
    Gerhard Adam
    I can tell you that many of these people here profess to believe the world to be 6,000 years old and that 'if one word of the bible is wrong, they're all wrong, but none are wrong.
    I understand, but I would also argue that every one of these people is being disingenuous if they go to a university trained doctor when they're sick.  It's a classic case of having a belief but relying on science when the going gets a bit tougher.  You can also bet these people rely on physics, chemistry, geology, meteorology, etc. so their claim is trite.  I have argued this before in regards to belief systems without consequences.  After all, one can claim to believe anything they like if they aren't actually forced to live by those beliefs.
    In other words, how does the belief that a benevolent creator never gives one more than she can handle help  the individual deal with stressful situations?
    Once again, I don't see this as being particularly religious other than in the specific example.  There are many other examples which relate back to individual belief systems that don't require a benevolent creator or anything else.   Many people believe that one will die when it is "their time".  I personally believe that, although I also know it isn't true in any quantifiable sense.  In fact, such a belief is almost essential if dealing with dangerous situations since a rational person would be prevented from acting against the probability of death. 

    My point is simply that religious beliefs hold no more sway than any other form of parental "indoctrination" regarding how the world works.  This is where we first learn our values and how we dress them up means little, however the substance of what's been taught will be what we adhere to.  The only reason religion is even a topic is because it is used to indoctrinate the young.  This is why every culture has a means by which these values can be transmitted to the next generation, be it religious or otherwise.  In our society, this is achieved by formal political organizations known as churches.  How else would one explain the pervasiveness of a desert nomad's tribal beliefs into something called Christianity?  Ironically we still cling to our Norse heritage in our days of the week (i.e. Wodin's Day, Thor's Day, etc.). 
    Mundus vult decipi