Atheists And Highly Religious People Least Afraid Of Death: Study
The thought of dying can be terrifying but some people are not afraid to die as much as others. Now, a new study shows how faith and religion may have something to do with a person's likelihood to fear death.
Atheists, People Who Are Very Religious Less Likely To Fear Death
In a new study, which was published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behaviour, researchers found that people on far ends of the faith spectrum - namely atheists, who do not believe in the existence of a god, and the very religious - are least afraid of death.
For the study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of earlier studies to get a closer look at the relationship that exists between religious belief and death anxiety.
Using about 100 articles published from the years 1961 to 2014 and which contain data involving 26,000 people from different parts of the globe, researchers found that people with higher religiosity levels have lower levels of anxiety toward death.
They also found out that the effect holds regardless of religious belief such as beliefs in afterlife and God, or religious behavior such as praying and attending religious services.
The analysis likewise revealed that while people who are intrinsically religious have lower levels of anxiety for death, individuals who are extrinsically religious have higher levels of death anxiety.
Extrinsic religiosity is characterized by religious behavior that is motivated by practical reasons and considerations, which include the emotional or social benefits of being part of a religion. Intrinsic religiosity, on the other hand, is marked by religious behavior that is driven by true belief.
The findings though had mixed results across the studies. About 18 percent of the study showed that religious people tend to be more afraid of death compared with non-religious people and more than half of the studies did not show an association between religiosity and fear of death.
The mixed results hint that the association between death anxiety and religiosity may not be fixed and may differ depending on context. Because the studies were done in different parts of the globe with most of the research done in the United States and a small number conducted in East Asia and the Middle East, it is difficult to identify how the pattern differs from religion to religion or culture to culture.
Religiosity And Death Anxiety
Some researchers think that the relationship between religiosity and death anxiety follows an upside-down U pattern, which suggests that religious believers may have less anxiety toward death than individuals in between the far sides of the religious spectrum. Nearly 10 of the studies involved in the meta-analysis that were sufficiently robust for researchers to test the idea formed this pattern.
"This definitely complicates the old view, that religious people are less afraid of death than non-religious people," said Jonathan Jong from Coventry University.
Jong said that it is possible that atheism offers comfort for death. It is also possible that those who have no fear of dying do not feel the need to seek religion.