Muslim terrorists and the Klu Klux Klan share one thing in common; they claim to be religious even though the ideas they promote (and in the case of the former, the actions they take) are not very nice.
The fringes get all of the attention but most religious people are not clinically insane or promoting the deaths of others in order to secure their own place in Heaven, and if you remind them of their religious principles, their attitude toward negative events change, according to a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
It won't bring peace to the Mid-East bit at least it's positive news.
"Based on our premise that most people's religious beliefs are non-hostile and magnanimous, we hypothesized that being reminded of religious beliefs would normally promote less hostile reactions to the kinds of threats in everyday life that usually heighten hostility," says lead author and psychologist Dr. Karina Schumann of Stanford University.
To test the hypothesis, participants either received a simple reminder of their religious belief system ("which religious beliefs system do you identify with?") or not. They were then exposed to either threatening experiences (such as thinking about their own death or failing at an academic assignment) or not.
They were then given a chance to judge and assign punishments for transgressors, criminals and world view critics.
Across nine different experiments with 910 participants, the results consistently supported the hypothesis for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus alike. The religiously reminded were significantly less hostile and punitive in the threatening circumstances than the non-reminded participants were (there were no effects of the religious reminders among the non-threatened participants).
"Our research suggests that people generally associate their religious beliefs with Golden Rule ideals of forgiveness and forbearance, and that they turn to them when the chips are down, in threatening circumstances," says York University psychology professor Ian McGregor, co-author. "This research contributes to the current dialogue on religion by demonstrating that even brief religious belief reminders not accompanied by any explicit beliefs or injunctions tend to promote more magnanimous, less hostile choices in threatening circumstances."
Though the researchers say the link between religion and magnanimity may seem surprising given that news headlines so often focus on atrocities committed in the name of religion, their results suggest that for most people, the influence of religion may be more positive than what is often portrayed in the media.
"Part of the reason for our magnanimity finding could be that in our research we focused on religious ideals, whereas extremist groups may often be more focused on intergroup rivalries and coalitions than the core religious ideals of love and forgiveness," says Schumann. "Future research is needed to determine whether reminders of religious belief can also foster magnanimity in non-Western countries, among less educated individuals, and in the context of high-stakes conflicts in which transgressions are committed by others with competing religious convictions."