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Study: Belief in an angry God associated with variety of mental illnesses

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People who believe in an angry, punishing God are much more likely to suffer from a variety of mental illnesses, a scientific study published in the April edition of Journal of Religion & Health finds.

The study, conducted by Marymount Manhattan College Assistant Psychology Professor Nava Silton, used data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey of US Adults to examine the links between beliefs and anxiety disorders like social dysfunction, paranoia, obsession and compulsion.

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To do this, Silton viewed the data through the lens of what’s called Evolutionary Threat Assessment System Theory, which posits that parts of the brain specifically evolved to detect threats, and suggests that many anxiety disorders may be a result of dysfunction in the brain’s perception of those threats.

In keeping with prior studies on this very subject, she queried the data on three types of believers: those who see God as angry, those who see God as neutral and those who see God as loving. Controlling specifically to weed out the non-believers, Silton found that a belief in a forgiving, loving God is associated with positive psychological traits, “almost protecting against psychopathology,” she told Raw Story.

But for those who think God is angry and preparing punishments for sinners, “that belief seems to be very much related to these negative symptoms,” Silton said.

“If you look at the previous research, they’ve connected it to depression and all sorts of other psychiatric disorders,” she said. “We were looking at social phobia, obsession, compulsion, paranoia and a lot of features of anxiety disorders.”

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One thing Silton stressed is that her study should not be construed to have found a cause for such symptoms. “We are not looking at casual findings here,” she said. “We are looking at correlational findings. That means we’re not saying belief caused psychiatric symptoms, but we see relationships between beliefs and these psychiatric symptoms.”

Silton said that while her study was mostly quantitative in nature, she’s looking forward to “asking more qualitative questions” in future work, specifically “to look into what else belief systems might be related to.”

“We’d like to look more specifically at depression and eating disorders,” she said. “Do different beliefs in God relate to eating disorder symptoms? So, [we want to be] looking beyond just anxiety disorders.”
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