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The most widespread belief about the Bible is that: it is a book that promotes love, compassion and humanity, but … everything is not what it seems. A sui-generis research, conducted at the University of Michigan, gives us some data to reflect on.
It seems that when violent scriptures are taken out of context; These can increase the aggressiveness of people.
Hundreds of students from Brigham University in the USA and Vrije University in the Netherlands participated in the research. 99% of Americans believed in God and the information contained in the Bible, while 50% of the Dutch believed in God and 27% in what is written in the Bible.
These violent young men were presented with some violent passages from the Book of Judges, taken from the Old Testament, where they speak of revenge and the death of hundreds of people. Exactly one of the passages refers to an Israelite who plans redress against a Gibeah rapist and murderer. This fact led to the death of hundreds of soldiers on both sides.
Half of the students read a version of the passage that included the Israeli man praying and an order from the Lord commanding him to rise up against his brothers and punish them. The rest of the students read the same story but excluding these phrases that mentioned God, saying that they were part of a recently found parchment.
As a next step, the students were given headphones and were shown a reaction time game against a “hidden buddy.” They were told that the loser of each round would be punished with a noise that would occur in the headphones. They had to choose at the beginning of each round, on a scale of 0 to 10, how much noise they wanted to punish their partner. This was the measure that the researchers considered an aggression.
As expected, the highest levels of aggression were shown in students who had read the passage from the Bible that included God’s violent sanction. Paradoxically, aggressiveness increased proportionally both in young people who believed in God and in those who were atheists.
This increase in aggressiveness is probably due to the fact that people have a “scapegoat” where they can deposit their own responsibility. In this case the word of God would be that “norm that is not discussed” and that frees us from assuming responsibility for our actions.
However, the true aim of the study was not to critique religion but to point out the danger of taking out passages from their context from books that many people hold sacred. A trend that is unfortunately increasingly fashionable among religious fundamentalists.
And it is that when violence is exhorted and a subsequent retribution is promised, followed by a message of acceptance and understanding; there is a great chance of increasing violence among the masses.
Evans, G.W. & Wener, R.E. (2007) When God sanctions killing. Effects of scriptural violence on aggression. Psychological Science, 18(3): 204-207.