I recently subscribed to Scientific American MIND, simply because I miss having free access to scholarly articles through the university, and this seemed the best way to keep up with new research in my favorite field without breaking the bank.
In a recent edition, there is a fascinating article on the biological basis of religion. I'm particularly intrigued because I can easily use myself a case study within the context of the article. What factors influence one's religious and spiritual leanings? Let's explore!
I was brought up Catholic. I attended Catholic school for 15 years and went to weekly mass with my family throughout my entire life. It was what was expected, yet I always struggled with religion. I could never grasp the abstract concept of God, mass was tortuously boring, and I never felt that mystic connection to community. I didn't like the unyielding doctrines, nor people's blind faith. Though I was the most honest, obedient, and outwardly religious child there, I thought there must be something terribly wrong with me because I didn't feel connected to my religion or God. Though immersed in an environment in which religion was essential, it never felt right to me.
People tend to follow the religion of their parents until around the age of 18, and then pursue whatever feels right for them.
When I left for college and church became an option, the situation worsened. I attended church out of guilt for a few weeks before giving up. Though I knew my parents would be disappointed, organized religion was not for me. I found it to be draining, rather than renewing. I continued to pray on my own, took up mediation, practiced gratitude, read up on others' spiritual and scientific views on life, developed my own opinions, and discussed spirituality in its intellectual sense whenever possible. Though I'm still open-minded and malleable when it comes to the subject, I would consider myself to be a secular humanist. I essentially believe that belief systems are personal and subjective, based on critical analysis and philosophical reflection, with the ultimate goal of individual and human progress through the development of tolerance and compassion. Rather than droning, “Catholic,” in response to the question of religion, I could spend hours thoroughly delineating my views.
The more distance one gets from their early influences, the more idiosyncratic factors hold sway over their beliefs.
Across different belief systems, the underlying theme is generally that being a good person is the key to a fulfilling life and access to the afterlife. I've a
lways felt that the core of all religious beliefs is to treat others with kindness and fairness; I'm confident that I will continue to feel that indefinitely, regardless of my future religious or spiritual affiliations.
Many people change their religious affiliation during the course of their lifetime, though one's overall attitude towards belief is generally stable throughout adulthood.
Throughout my childhood, Catholic beliefs and practices permeated my life in every context, from home, to school and community. As I grew up and was allowed the freedom to chose my environment and shape my influences, I wandered away from the religious beliefs I was brought up in, and towards more appealing intellectual communities, philosophy, and more modern views of spirituality.
Although environmental influences play a large role in determining a person's religious beliefs during adolescence, genetic factors emerge as more important in adulthood.
I would rate myself highly on both agreeableness and conscientious, and I would also rate myself as moderate to highly open-minded.
Specific clusters of personality traits correlate highly with particular kinds of religious belief. Those who would classify themselves as both agreeable and conscientious tend to be drawn to religion; however, those who are open-minded tend to gravitate towards modern forms of faith, whereas those who are who are less open-minded opt for fundamentalist groups.
So does personality lead to religiosity, or is the opposite true?
Rather than religion shaping people to be more agreeable and conscientious, these personality traits actually lead to religiosity.
I know many people who have no religious affiliation. Some believe in connectedness, a non-Christian God, the universe, divine intelligence, the merits of science, or some brilliantly obscure combination of the above. I have friends who associate themselves more closely with a particular group – be it a fraternity, entrepreneurial meetup, a girls night book club, Comic Con, or a yoga class – than any religious organization. Their favorite groups seem to serve as a pivotal piece of their identity, just as many feel that their faith is a key element of who they are.
Belongingness can be almost as compelling as food; like-minded people offer the same benefits as organized religions
Religion is a such a prominent, controversial, and continually misunderstood topics. I always find it interesting to see topics generally depicted as non-scientific (such as religious beliefs) placed with the context of scientific inquiry and facts. I think that's why I'm so intrigued by Psychology.
How do you feel about the relationship between personality and religious beliefs? Do these findings seem plausible? Though only a few personality traits were mentioned in the study, do you think others have have any strong connection? (Having performed my own personality research, failure to mention generally means no correlation was found, but for the sake of discussion, I'm curious what you think.)