TESTING THE BUFFERING POWER
OF RELIGIOUS IMAGERY
There is little question that all cultures, in their scramble for meaning, invest heavily in sacred images. Each society cultivates concepts of divine power and cosmological structure that hopefully will make sense of it all. The diversity of sacred images is remarkable, and yet each lays claim to unique validity. In essence, each culture asserts that its sacred constructions are true beyond all other claims to divine truth. The essential foundation for belief in the sacred is faith. Because religious concepts lie beyond the boundaries of science, they cannot be validated by ordinary means. They must be assimilated within the context of what is ordinarily referred to as the magical or supernatural.
In view of the objective of this book, we consider that it is profitable to explore how well this widespread class of religious beliefs has served to buffer individuals against life stresses. Do persons who are able to maintain religious belief systems gain adaptive advantages?
Such advantages might accrue from the reassurances provided by confronting religious vistas, but also from the fact that firm and well-defined "blueprints for action" ( Shaver, Lenauer, & Sadd, 1980) are offered by religious dogma that reduce conflict and indecisiveness. It is difficult to believe that such advantages do not accrue. K. Thomas ( 1971) told us, in the course of his analysis of the role of magic in religion, that religious belief "offers the prospect of a supernatural means of control over man's earthly environment" (p. 25). He noted: "The history of early Christianity offers no exception to this rule. Conversions to the new religion . . . have frequently been assisted by the belief of converts that they are acquiring not just a means of other-worldly salvation, but a new and more powerful magic" (p. 25).