A group of studies in Middle East war zones shows that the more frequently a person attends religious services, the more likely he or she is to become a zealot, especially a suicide bomber. It is the sense of reinforced community ~ not the religious beliefs themselves ~ that encourage such things as suicide bombings.
The studies use the rather benign term “parochial altruism” to define such behaviors, where here “parochial” refers to killing someone from another religious group and “altruism” refers to self-sacrifice.
A major conclusion of the studies is that collective religious ritual appears to facilitate parochial altruism in general and support for suicide attacks in particular.
- Researchers surveying Palestinian Muslims found that devotion to Islam, as measured by prayer frequency, was unrelated to support for suicide attacks. However, frequency of mosque attendance did predict support for suicide attacks.
- In a separate survey of Palestinian Muslim university students, researchers found again that those who attended mosque more than once a day were more likely to believe that Islam requires suicide attacks.
- In another experiment, researchers conducted phone surveys with Israeli Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza and asked them either how frequently they attended synagogue or how often they prayed to God. All participants were then asked if they supported the perpetrator of a suicide attack against Palestinians. Analysis of the responses showed that 23% of those asked about synagogue attendance supported suicide attacks while only 6% of those queried about prayer frequency supported suicide attacks.
In the last experiment, the psychologists surveyed members of six religious majorities in six nations (Mexican Catholics, Indonesian Muslims, Israeli Jews, Russian Orthodox in Russia, British Protestants and Indian Hindus) to see if the relationship between attending religious services and support for acts of parochial altruism holds up across a variety of political and cultural contexts.
These results also showed that support for parochial altruism was related to attendance at religious services, but unrelated to regular prayer.
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