An Empirical Investigation of the Relationship between Religious Beliefs, Irrational Beliefs, and Negative Emotions

Article excerpt

Abstract

The present studies have experimentally investigated the relationship between religious beliefs and negative emotions. We found that the mere association of a chain of negative events with the presence of a merciful and omnipotent spiritual being induced less worry and sadness and increased hope in the future than when the same events were presented alone. The former religious attitudes may intensify the impact of the actual religious beliefs in the generation of positive emotions. We also found that the meaning-making process induced by the religious beliefs is an implicit, tacit rather than an explicit inferential process. Also, subjects who (1) unconditionally accept themselves, (2) hold less self-downing beliefs (negative global self-evaluation) and (3) have more religious beliefs tend to experience lower levels of emotional distress under normal, non-traumatic circumstances. Also, participants who believe in the love and forgiveness from God tend to endorse less selfdowning beliefs (one of the proximal causes of depression). Limits and implications for future research and practice are discussed.

Keywords: religious beliefs and values, negative emotions, irrational beliefs

During the last 20 years the interest in religion and its connections to psychology has increased substantially. The topic became accepted as part of mainstream psychology and psychological intervention once multiculturalism became a "forth force" in psychology (Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough, & Sandage, 1996).

In an attempt to define concepts, religiousness came to be considered by most researchers as a multidimensional construct (Spilka, Hood, & Gorsuch, 1985). Most researches rely on Allport's (1959) definition of intrinsic versus extrinsic religiousness. According to Allport, intrinsic religiousness "regards faith as a supreme value in its own right. It is oriented toward a unification of being, takes seriously the commandment of brotherhood, and strives to transcend all self-centered needs" (Allport, 1966 p. 455). On the other hand, extrinsic religiousness is "strictly utilitarian; useful for the self in granting safety, social standing, solace and endorsement for one's chosen way of life" (Allport, 1966 p. 455). Although initially considered bipolar constructs, the two types of religiousness are now considered rather as separate unipolar constructs (Donahue, 1985). A number of studies show religion to be associated positively with mental health (understood as lack of psychopathology and/or prosocial behavior) in persons with intrinsic religious motivation and negatively in persons with extrinsic religious motivation (Donahue, 1985). Some data also suggest that intrinsic religiousness is negatively related to trait anxiety (e.g., Baker & Gorsuch, 1982; Bergin, Masters, & Richards, 1987; Petersen & Roy, 1985), while extrinsic religious orientation and negative religious coping (e.g., avoiding difficulties through religious activities, blaming God for difficulties) are associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms (Smith, McCullough, & Poll, 2003).

We should also make a clear distinction between religious beliefs and religious values. Religious beliefs are propositional statements a person considers to be true about religion. Religious values are superordinate organizing statements of what a person considers important (closer to the concept of intrinsic religious motivation presented above) (Worthington et al., 1996). If a person holds religious beliefs but does not consider them important in his/her life it is likely that these beliefs will not influence behaviors and emotions. Furthermore, as some authors suggest (Worthington et al., 1996), it is important to focus on specific religious beliefs/values and their impact on behavior and affect. In an attempt to increase specificity and rigor, as well as connect religious beliefs to other cognitive factors proved to play a major role in the development of certain functional and dysfunctional behaviors and emotions, during the last years more and more researchers have tried to bring religious beliefs closer to the classical models of mental disorders. …