Unresolved Injustice: Christian Religious Commitment, Forgiveness, Revenge, and Cardiovascular Responding

By Witvliet, Charlotte vanOyen; Hinze, Scott R. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Unresolved Injustice: Christian Religious Commitment, Forgiveness, Revenge, and Cardiovascular Responding


Witvliet, Charlotte vanOyen, Hinze, Scott R., Worthington, Everett L., Jr., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


We examined the religious commitment levels of 57 (27 M, 30 F) self-identified Christian young adults in the context of considering an unresolved injustice. "Religious commitment was unrelated to self-reported dispositional anger, but positively associated with higher dispositional interpersonal forgiveness and lower rumination. When imagining a property crime and its unresolved aftermath, greater religious commitment was associated with the inhibition of revenge-seeking and cultivation of empathy and forgiveness (dependent on measurement timing). Greater religious commitment was also associated with higher blood pressure reactivity in the aftermath of the unresolved crime. Limitations of this exploratory study are addressed, along with possible interpretations, which might inform follow-up studies.

The present study investigated religious commitment in relationship to trait rumination, anger, and forgiveness in self identified Christian young adulte. These self-identified Christians then imagined being victims of a clear-cut injustice. Against the backdrop of their trait responses, we sought to determine answers to several questions. Is greater religious commitment associated with lower revenge-seeking motivation? Does greater religious commitment correspond with more empathic and forgiving responses? Does greater Christian commitment correlate with calmer or more reactive cardiovascular responses in the face of an unresolved injustice? The cur rent investigation examines these issues using a combination of questionnaire and psychophysiological methods. The interpretation of findings will relate to two main areas of empirical research: the religious correlates and the affective and physiological correlates of forgiveness. Review of Religion and Forgiveness-Related Findings

Given the role forgiveness plays in major religions (Rye et al., 2000) and especially in Christianity (Marly, 1998), the relationship between forgiveness and religion is garnering research attention. Self reports of religiousness have been consistently related to higher self-reported levels of forgiveness (McCullough, Bono, & Root, 2005; Tsang, McCullough, & Hoyt, 2005). Recent research has linked intrinsic religious motivation with lower scores on self-reported vengefulness and extrinsic religious motivation to higher vengefulness, also suggesting that some aspects of traditional religiousness may be associated with behavioral retaliation (Greer, Herman, Varan, Bobrycki, & Watson, 2005). Religious beliefs and values shape people's understanding of what forgiveness means and requires (Mahoney, Rye, & Pargament, 2005). On a broad scale, people who self-identify as religious-rather than "spiritual"-consistently score on self-report measures as [saving more forgiving personalities than those who self-identify as spiritual-rather than "religious" (DeShea. Tzou, Kang, & Matsiiyuki, 2006). However, other research has found that participants who endorse belief in God and the Bible have shown greater aggression-via administering loud noise through a competitor's headphones after read irig a violent text said to corne from the Bible versus an ancient scroll (Bushman, Ridge, Das, Key, & Busath, 2007). in comparing religions, Cohen, Malka, Rozm, and Cherfas (2006) found that Protestant Chris dans and Jews differed in their understanding of and approaches to forgiveness. Protestant Christians were less likely to believe that some offenses are unforgivable.

Another measure of religiosity is religious commitment. Religiosity is distinct from religious motivation, religious beliefs, religious values, and spirituality. "Without attempting to make absolute distinctions in the categories of religiosity, we can make some observations. Religious commitment is adherence to specific beliefs and values that are motivated by intrinsic and/or extrinsic religious motives, but religious commitment, is also a determination to integrate one's religiosity into daily life. …

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