Death, Trauma and God: The Effect of Military Deployments on Religiosity

Learning to cope with man’s mortality is central to the teachings of the world’s major religions. However, very little is known about the impact of life-and-death trauma on religiosity. This study exploits a natural experiment in military deployments to estimate the causal effect of traumatic shocks on religiosity. We find that combat assignment is associated with a substantial increase in the probability that a serviceman subsequently attends religious services regularly and engages in private prayer. Combat-induced increases in religiosity are largest for enlisted servicemen, those under age 25, and servicemen wounded in combat. The physical and psychological burdens of war, as well as the presence of military chaplains in combat zones, emerge as possible mechanisms.

That is from Resul Cesur, Travis Freidman, and Joseph J. Sabia.


So there aren't many atheists in foxholes. They're nitwits stating the obvious using clunky prose. And, no, I'm not persuaded by the common retort about that being the role of such research.

"We find that combat assignment is associated with a substantial increase in the probability that a serviceman subsequently attends religious services regularly and engages in private prayer. "

As much as you know, they may be lapsed Christian. Most "conversions" involve those and they are a large share of the population.

Mẫu rèm cuốn giá rẻ cho phòng ngủ lãng

Rèm cửa sổ vốn được ví như mắt của ngôi nhà.

They need to act as lodestars for their country.

- Mike Pence, member of La Resistance

Shorter Cesur, Freidman & Sabia: Pascal's Wager.

How can you tell Pascal's Wagner from "feeling conforted by religion" (cynically stated: "the opium of the people") or thinking God will favor them.

"7. I saw that the only group of people able to preserve a minimum of humanity in conditions of starvation and abuse were the religious believers, the sectarians (almost all of them), and most priests." (From a previously MR-linked item, 45 Things Varlam Shalamov learned in the Gulag.)

Not-controversial hypothesis: in many human endeavors, but especially in survival situations, religion confers performance benefits.

(Obviously this doesn't preclude people being comforted by religion or Pascal's Wager having an effect -- external benefits accrue because of internal changes that can incorporate these elements. But I think it's an introspectively richer process than either "comfort" -- many things comfort people without helping them function in wartime -- or "Pascal's Wager" would imply by itself.)

That is the point: how tell those effects apart?

Not going to pay to read the paper. Curious to know if they found a corresponding growth in religiousity among those in the military that knew that they had personally killed another human.

Kind of an interesting question, in its way. Apparently, the Air Force is quite the center of religious belief these days, and most military pilots that have flown combat mission (certainly the Vietnam era Navy and Air Force I knew) seem to be able to put the knowledge of their actions leading to death in a category that is different from personal awareness (Navy officers are a ship that shelled villages have roughly the same ability). Compared to Marines, who are not generally noted for religiosity, but who definitely are aware of how often they were involved in killing other people.

These days, I guess, you would really want to seeing how that works for 'contractors,' who seem to do a significant share of combat these days.

Anecdata: my own father, upon his return from his second tour in Vietnam (the tour with the 101st Airborne) seriously considered becoming an Episcopalian minister. Yes, he had killed others, knew it, and had the medals to prove it. He ultimately decided against the ministry though.

Interesting but confirming known patterns. It is well known in the field of religious studies that religion functions as an attempted coping mechanism in times of trouble.

> It is well known in the field of religious studies that religion functions as an attempted coping mechanism in times of trouble.

I'm not real convinced "Religious studies" academics actually understand anything.

The more accurate perspective is that in times of trouble a) people are better able to perceive their smallness in the cosmos (i.e. experience humility) and b) people are less readily able to distract themselves with shallow ephemera and must ask themselves why we are here and what are we doing.

Mortality and suffering, those are what drive people to or from religion. Soldiers are confronted with mortality, their own, which might explain their increase in religiosity. That, and their own contribution to the mortality of other combatants: doing God's work, even in killing others, helps rationalize their work. Suffering is the greatest challenge to religiosity: if God is all powerful, why does He allow so many to suffer? It takes a creative mind. While most Christians believe there is but one God (monotheism), Christian theologians through the years have explained suffering as the work of a lesser God. Indeed, these theologians have taught that much of the work in the creation of this world was the handiwork of the lesser God, which may explain why so much of it is a mess, but doesn't explain where the real God was at the time or why He doesn't fix the mess since He is all powerful. Even Mother Teresa had her doubts as the result of all the suffering she witnessed. Soldiers have a unique place: they are confronted with their own mortality while imposing mortality on others. Where they come out on religiosity after the experience likely depends on how they come out. I've never been a soldier, nor have I witnessed the worst of the suffering in this world, but my grandfather was an army surgeon for almost seven years in two wars, the second war so brutal and with so many civilian casualties one has to wonder about his religiosity at the end of the experience. He died long before I was born so I can't ask him, but my understanding is that his religiosity was strengthened by the experience. It's true that he came out of the experience of combat to meet and marry my grandmother, but he soon died of the staph he acquired while serving in the war zone. He both survived and died from the experience. From my perspective, absent God's grace, I would not be.

Why it is almost as if religion is a positive social good that allows mankind to cope with major stressors that might otherwise be debilitating. A good which has survived millennia of real world testing under a multitude of circumstances might somehow still be useful in societies of material abundance.

Religion is and has always been among the cheapest ways humans have found to improve their wellbeing (e.g. life expectancy, happiness, group cohesion). It is only the smallest slice of humanity that live privileged enough lives for religion to be optional let alone denigrated as useless.

As some one who meets a lot of people on the literal worst day of their lives, I find it amusing how many people find these results remotely surprising. Religion provides comfort when nothing else can and even has a notable improvement in patient outcomes. It is almost like the educated develop delusions that make their hostility to the utility of religion impervious to actual data.


(and I think the religion-sized gap in many/most of the people who have "moved past" religion is a pressing social problem)

I'd rather have that problem than religious terrorism or some subgroup looking to impose their version of sharia law on its people.


Suppose we cut religious observance in this country in half. Ceteris parabis, that would lead to around 800,000 excess deaths each year given current evidence. Or something around 4 and half jumbo jets crashing each and every day of the year.

Further if history is any guide it is not religious fanatics who are the long term worry, it is the godless ones. After all the godless LTTE began suicide bombing as a terror technique. The League of The Militant Godless still holds the highest body count of anyone imposing their version of "sharia law".

Frankly, for the majority of human history most of the people killed or oppressed where done so internally and for secular reasons (e.g. the secular lead Spanish Inquisition were far more dangerous than the official Papal Inquisition).

I just keep hearing silliness like this ... and never see any actual data. The PLO, LTTE, MRTA, Shining Path, etc. were all atheist terrorist organizations who killed far more than virtually all the pre-9/11 religious terrorists. Such wonderful irreligious places like Cambodia, China, and Ethiopia all managed to even higher body counts when the atheists took power.

Suffice it to say, history shows us that having an irreligious leadership is a much larger risk factor for mass violence and repression.

Yes, rather like opium. I think there may be a pithy saying waiting to be found here!

A stupid analogy by an unwise man whose ideas proved amazingly destructive and evil. Use of opium based drugs is correlated with all sorts of antisocial and self destructive behaviors while mainstream religion (at least as it's practiced in the Western world) is corrected with pro social attitudes and is a protective factor for behaviors such as suicide and yes, opioid use.

Opium is medicine and should be respected as such. Religion is for the weak of will and feeble of mind and should be respected as such. The most religious part of the USA is the South which leads the nation in poverty, crime, and lack of education. Don't pretend religion has no downsides lest we believe you to be twice the fool you already act to be.

And the Episcopalians are enormously successful. Bring an actual argument with data to the table next time instead of snark and crass insults. It is becoming abundantly clear which side the data support on this issue. As TC has stated many times on this blog, the most important thinkers of this century will be religious thinkers. You and your ilk should make a better case, else it perhaps not the religious who are the feeble minded ones.

Well, he sort of did bring a fact. The South is the poorest part of the country and they have the highest rates of religion. The more secular coasts are wealthier. Of course, there are exceptions like Utah which is religious and wealthy. The other thing to note is that Asians and Whites are the least religious but have higher income averages (the most militant atheists are White) while Hispanics and Blacks claim higher rates of belief yet rank at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

He didn't. He referred to regions when talking about people. This is massively prone to composition problems.

So let's skip the generalities and go right to the data: religious observance, or lack thereof, has no statistically significant correlation with income. Of those who weekly attend religious services, 45% have incomes >$50,000. Of those who seldom or never attend weekly services, 45% have incomes >$50,000.

Even when we look only at those making more than $100,000 we do not find massive differences (16% vs 19%).

But even this is not a truly fair comparison. Several of the hotbeds for irreligiosity in the US just happen to be in very high pay, high cost of living areas. If anything, we should naively expect the religious to be poorer based on the previously mentioned composition problems. Without a massive difference weighted towards disbelief we should, a priori, conclude that religion is correlated with wealthier outcomes.

Of course money is silly. We have extremely good evidence that religious praxis is associated with health effects roughly equivalent to curing cancer.

"The physical and psychological burdens of war, as well as the presence of military chaplains in combat zones ..."

They seem to be saying that god-botherers exploit the psychological vulnerability of frightened young men. Seems plausible.

You have a very strong misunderstanding of the role of military chaplains.

...then clarify this misunderstanding?

The abstract does not show any figures for religiosity. It would be interesting to compare with surgeons, EM responders, police, etc.

God is every where and see you. What you are doing or what you can eat or any thing you can doing. God knows

maybe there are no atheists in foxholes, but you won't find any true Christians there either

they say God is everywhere, but He seems to be a severe recluse

"but you won't find any true Christians there either"

You won't find any true Scotsmen there either.

Are you calling the Scots cowards?

No.... just the men. ;)

That's a phallusy.

Good one.

Atheist, Christians, and Scotsmen are all a bunch of cucks. The only group with balls these days are Muslims. They're the only one in the foxholes while everybody else is out shopping.

I'd be interested to see comparisons between the British Army Chaplins and the US Army's. In the British Army, apart from the 'tea and sympathy' function, they often act as a very moral force, and it wasn't unknown for a British Army Chaplin to walk into a Colonels office and raise issues that others simply could not. I've sometimes wondered where the US Army Chaplins were at Abu Ghraib, and if their presence might have lessened or eliminated the poor behavior of the guards. Chaplins have a very good sense of how it can impact an individual, when that individual is asked to commit acts of violence against others.

It's well know that the limbic system, when excited, blocks clear, rational thinking.

I would also draw a potential parallel between faith and conspiracy theories. Both sooth the believer when confronted by situations that feel (re: limbic) very uncomfortable, and their is no obvious rational explanation.

The main role of chaplains is to explain how it is well and good to disobey God's Commandments. Same oa s Soviet Politruk explaining how proletarian internationalist fraternity dosN't exteend to prooles on the other sides. (VC and NVA never tried to incite black US soldiers to desert nor showed them special mercy).
Religiosity in the AIr Force: it has been known for many years that Evangelicals have actively promoted enlistment in military academies and it hasd led to controversies and scandals about religious cabals. It is a way of infiltrating the Armed Forces for the coming coup.

Anyone notice that Black and Hispanic gangsters tend to religious too? The Sinaloa cartels were famous for giving out free bibles while they dissolved their enemies in acid. How many rappers thank God when they pick up their BET/Source awards and then speed away from a drive-by because somebody scuffed their new Air Jordans? Christians these days act no better than Muslims.

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