Religious belief and allegiance to the state can coexist comfortably, or even overlap entirely (as in Iran). But in many instances across history, the two have been rivals, even antagonists.
A sense of political stability provides comforting reassurance that our world is orderly and controlled. So does belief in an all-powerful deity. This puts the two in a seesaw relationship: When one goes up, the other goes down.
That’s the contention of a group of researchers led by Duke University psychologist Aaron Kay. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they provide evidence of this dynamic and suggest it can be found in Eastern as well as Western cultures.
79 participants read one of two articles ostensibly published in the journal Science. One stated that science increasingly believes in the existence of a God or God-like entity who is “continually making changes to alter the course of cosmic history.” The other explained that while God may exist, the laws of physics mean he could not interfere in man’s affairs.
Afterward, the participants answered a series of questions, including eight that measured their support for the current national government.
“When participants were led to believe that scientists have concluded that God is unlikely to intervene in the world’s affairs, participants showed higher levels of government support,” they report. “When God was depicted as a source of control and order, participants less ardently defended the legitimacy of their government.”