- Prayer correlated more strongly with religious devotion than attendance of church/temple/mosque/synagogue (and any other place of worship I happened to miss).
- Approval of and predisposition to perform suicide bombings was more strongly related to attendance of religious services than religious devotion.
I wanted to explain my outlook, because I am not sure if it is the reason (combined with my general wariness for the conclusions of psychology studies) I seemed to be looking for holes in the study's conclusions, or if the study itself rests upon shaky ground. One of the things which perked my ears up was the following paragraph:
This effect remained even after accounting for the different demographics and economics of the six countries, but it did vary from group to group. It was only statistically significant (unlikely to be a fluke result) for Indian Hindus, Russian Orthodox Christians and Israeli Jews. However, Ginges warns against overinterpreting these differences - obviously the six samples differed in many ways. The important point was that all of them showed a similar trend.It is quite misleading to say that the effect remained when it did not remain in a statistically significant manner in 3/6 of the groups investigated (this is one of those things which seems to happen far too often in psychology. I don't understand why it is not stressed more that psychology is a statistical science. If I had control over the psychology curriculum, I would cram it so full of statistics courses that it was second only to actuarial science and statistics specialists). To then warn against over interpreting the differences due to the many obvious ways in which the samples themselves differed is clearly a line thrown in to mollify those who would use this study to justify varying value judgements on the religions involved in the study. In making such a blanket statement, however, one also skips over the determination of what those differences might be which led to some groups expressing the expected trend and others not (well, not statistically at least, which is what really matters).
Another aspect that also strikes me as somewhat misleading is the fact that frequency of prayer is used as a surrogate for religious devotion throughout the article, though the applicability of such a conflation is unlikely to be the same across religious and cultural groups. I would think that the efficacy of prayer as a measure of devotion, rather, is highly dependent upon the belief structure of the given religion.
Using my arm-chair psychology, I am tempted to reinterpret the results. To me, the evidence which ties religious attendance to approval of suicide bombings is not independent of the belief structure or level of devotion, but rather is evidence of the vulnerability of religious belief to manipulation. Suicide bombers are rarely religious officials, instead usually being trained and pushed into action by those who have no intention of blowing themselves up (the aforementioned religious officials). Likewise, most people have both a strong empathic streak for others as well as a survival instinct in themselves, and it would be very unusual for an individual on his own to devise and enact a suicide bombing (of course, when I say it is unusual, I don't mean impossible. There are all sorts of mentally unbalanced people out there). Thus, the role of religious service would seem, to me, to serve primarily to prevent individual senses of spirituality from straying too far from the collective path. High frequency of attendance, therefore, would indicate greater influence from the religious officials and other well-regarded members of the congregation who are most likely to put someone up to the act of performing a suicide bombing, but the act itself still depends upon a measure of devotion, if not to the religion itself but to the word of the person organizing the attack. This appears most readily achievable with the aid of unquestioning credulity from a religious follower (but is not limited to that, as political suicide bombers have historically shown).
In a sense, I suppose, this is a social aspect of religion, but not in the way I interpreted the study to mean. I am not entirely sure if I have made the distinction clear, but I hope I have (essentially, I see it as not being a result of the sense of community created but rather a result of the inordinate level of power and trust given to the religious officials). However, I, of course, do not have any experimental evidence (or even an experiment design) to back up my argument, so I open the discussion up to my readers. Do my qualms with the study make sense, or is it just my antipathy for organized religion rearing its ugly head?