In the piece, Study Asks If War Makes A Person More … Or Less … Religious, Diane Cole writes for NPR about the affect being in intense conflict situations has on personal and communal religiosity.
The more profound the impact of war on an individual — such as the death, injury or abduction of a household member — the greater the likelihood grew of that person turning to religion. By contrast, those who had been less affected by the impact of war were also less likely to join a a religious group. The statistical breakdown showed that for those in Sierra Leone, greater exposure to war made it 12% more likely individuals would turn to religion; 14% more for those in Uganda; and 41% more for Tajikstan.
Even as years passed, Henrich’s latest study found that religious practice continued to play a significant role in the lives of many of those surveyed. “These effects on religiosity persist even 5, 8 and 13 years post-conflict,” according to the study. The effects held true whether those surveyed were Muslim or Christian.
This research seems to lead credibility to the aphorism, “there are no atheists in foxholes,” although that statement is far from a universal qualifier. As Christopher “Hitch” Hitchens would have told you most vehemently, from the metaphorical foxhole of his terminal cancer diagnosis, there are atheists even in those dark places.
What does this say about the faith impulse, though? The implication from these studies point to it being a psychological survival mechanism. Of course, the war weary are by no means the only keepers of religion, so we probably need to be careful about drawing too many sweeping conclusions about the nature of religious belief.