Sunday, February 25, 2007

And God Said: Let there be Violence

It is claimed by some that exposure to violence in video games, on TV and at the movies causes young people, and even adults, to become more violent themselves. Some studies indicate a positive correlation between exposure to violence and violent behavior; other studies show no correlation. A very recent study seemed to exonerate violence in games.

But one recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in March in Psychological Science indicates a strong correlation between violent behavior in individuals and the belief by those individuals that God has somehow sanctioned it. The researchers concluded that the study sheds a lot of light on religion-sponsored terrorism and other forms of violent behavior.

In the study, the researchers compared undergraduate students from two universities that are religiously dissimilar. At one university in the U.S., Brigham Young, 99 percent of the students believe in God and the bible. Only 50 percent of the students at the other university, in Europe, said they believed in God and only about a quarter indicated they believed the bible.

The researchers read the same Bible passage to each group, a relatively obscure passage from the Book of Judges that told of how a woman was tortured and murdered and how her husband obtained revenge. But only half of the students from each college were told the passage came from the bible. The other half were told the passage came from an ancient scroll from an archaeological dig.

In addition, half of each group of students was read an extension to the passage saying that God sanctioned the action of the husband.

Then the students were placed in pairs and given a simple reaction task in which they were allowed to blast their opponent with high-volume sound. The group of students from Brigham Young that was told the passage came from the bible and that the violence was sanctioned by God was more likely than the students who thought the passage came from a secular scroll to increase the volume to maximum.

Similarly, students from the more secular university also were more willing to inflict violent sound on their opponent if they thought the reaction was sanctioned by God, even the ones that didn’t believe in God. But the difference was much less than with the Brigham Young students.

The researchers said the experiment sheds light on the origins of violence in religious fundamentalism. It supports the theory that exposure to violent biblical passages in which the violence seems to be sanctioned by God may induce extremists to engage in religious violence.

The bible also describes scenes containing gratuitous sex, even incest. Movies with the same content would surely be rated R or NC-17.

If we accept the rating systems of the movie and TV industry and the game makers that must label their products as unsuitable for children below a certain age if the products contain violent or sexually-explicit scenes, then it seems only fair that certain biblical passages should also contain ratings or disclaimers. But try getting that idea past the religious right.

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