One of the benefits of religion, if you want to think of it that way, is that it enables one to shift responsibility to god if things go wrong. A new study by my friend and colleague Julie Exline and her graduate student Joshua Grubbs, who are in the department of religious studies at my university, finds that “people are likelier to blame God for their bad moral behavior when they believe they were born to act that way.”
The study focused on evaluating how anger at God may be related to how people view the cause of their own moral transgressions. Researchers found that people view God as partly responsible if they attributed these transgressions to how God created them.
Grubbs said that this bears implications for people working through their own identities and the religious identities they were raised to believe, for example, someone raised in a religiously conservative background would likely believe that God made them and that God prohibits a wide range of sexual behaviors.
If they find themselves wanting to engage in some of those behaviors or feel like they were born with desires that God prohibits, they might have a crisis of faith because they feel like God made them to fail, he added.
Grubbs concluded that what they found was that participants who were more likely to describe their transgression as the result of their personality or biology, as a result of who they felt they were as people, were also more likely to feel angry and upset at God in response to the transgression.
So basically they reason that since god created them, he caused them to act in inappropriate ways and this makes them angry with god. It is logical, but also a convenient way to shift blame and find a target to vent their anger.
Exline has been studying for a long time the reasons why people get angry with god and we have discussed this when she queried whether my own atheism may have been triggered by anger towards god. This was a plausible hypothesis on her part since I had polio as a child and it is not uncommon for people to get angry with god because of some misfortune, rather than ascribe it to human action or (in my case) random chance. But the hypothesis was wrong. Even during the time I was very religious, I did not feel that god had somehow let me down by allowing me to contract the disease. To wail “Why me, Lord?” never made much sense. After all, why not me? Good and bad things happen to people by chance all the time. Why should I be so special that I should be exempt from the same kind of chance events that strike everyone?