Religion as Emotional Intensifier

June 14, 2015

We did some research recently on sanctification. Sanctification is what happens when a person gives something in their life sacred significance and meaning. We looked at forgiveness, and found that individuals who sanctified the process of forgiveness (i.e., viewed forgiveness as something important to their spiritual lives) were more likely to forgive the person who hurt them. Sanctification intensified the person’s forgiveness process by giving it spiritual significance.

The last time I visited New York, I went to see the place where the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11. It was a powerful experience, and I started thinking about how people can do terrible, awful things because of religious motivations. In this case, religion intensified a person’s ability to do something crazy and kill thousands of people.

I turned on the television last weekend, and watched a network news program. The news people were arguing about gay marriage, and they were getting very heated about it. I thought about the debate over gay marriage in our country, and wondered if religion has been used to intensify people’s opinions about it.

My friend visited Israel not long ago, and I sat down and talked with him about his experiences. I was particularly interested in his take on the religious division and conflict there, because I’m interested in figuring out how to promote positive interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance. He told me that he thought the conflict in Israel was more political than religious, but that both sides used religion to ramp up the intensity of the conflict.

Religion has an enormous potential for both good and bad. Religion motivated Mother Teresa to spend her entire life serving the poorest of the poor in India. Religion has motivated countless efforts of charity and justice. Yet religion has also motivated violence, war, and extremism. Religion intensifies emotion, for good and for bad. It can be an awesome force for good, but it can also be dangerous.

Discussion: What do you think about religion’s ability to intensify emotion? Have you ever been in a situation where you did something you never thought you would do (good or bad) because of your religious motivation?

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