Chapter 8 of my 2011 trade book The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature is titled “Marketing Hope by Selling Lies.” In it, I propose that various forms of hope peddling are highly successful because they cater to some of our most basal Darwinian-rooted anxieties, perhaps none as great as our existential angst associated with the recognition of our mortality (see two of my earlier articles on mortality here and here). Unlike other animals all of which are undoubtedly oblivious to their eventual demise, humans are fully aware that their time on Earth is limited. This is a reality that for most individuals is difficult if not impossible to bear. Have no fear, swallow some promissory religious narratives (probably the one that you’re born into), and voilà pleasurable eternal living awaits you!

In a forthcoming paper to be published in Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Lee Ellis, Eshah A. Wahab, and Malini Ratnasingan investigated the links between religiosity and fear of death. In line with the point that I raised in my book, they put forth death apprehension theory, which posits that with one’s greater fear of death is accompanied by greater religiosity (the ultimate of all insurance policies I suppose). They administered surveys in three countries, Malaysia (n = 2,394), Turkey (n = 265), and the United States (n = 1,291), which included questions on one’s level of religiosity (seven questions using an 11-point scale), and fear of death (one question using an 11-point scale). Several other variables were measured including respondents’ biological sex as well as their religious affiliations.

While there were many interesting findings reported in the paper (e.g., gauging the strength of curvilinear effects between religiosity and fear of death), I restrict my discussion to the findings listed in Table 7 of the article, namely the correlations between each of the seven measures of religiosity and fear of death. As such, there were a total of 21 computed correlations: 7 correlations per country x 3 countries. Of the 21 correlations, 19 were statistically significant and all were positive. Specifically, 14 correlations had p-values < .001, 1 p-value < .005, 3 p-values < .01, and 1 p-value < .05. Bottom line: There is a very strong positive relationship between fear of death and religiosity. This latest result coupled with my recent post on the relationship between income level and the frequency and contents of prayers suggest that people’s religiosity is in part driven by a desire to seek solutions to earthly challenges (e.g., financial difficulties, personal health) and to the greatest of all dreadful realities: human mortality.

Prior to signing off, I highly recommend that you watch this brilliant video, the first part of which explores the relationship between fear of death and religiosity (and various psychological mechanisms meant to protect religion’s death-denying capacities).

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