A study soon to be published in the Journal of Religion and Health entitled "Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior,” found that bad World War II experiences led vets to attend church more regularly after the war than those who were less troubled by their experiences. The study may have implications for clergy and counselors who help war veterans today. The State.com reports that prayer also, was a huge motivator that helped soldiers get through combat situations:
The study also found that when service members were fearful in combat, they reported prayer was a better motivator for getting them through it than several other factors, including the broader goals of the war.
Researchers say the study, which will be published in a future edition of the Journal of Religion and Health, has implications for health professionals, counselors and clergy who work with veterans with more recent service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The most important thing is that the more veterans disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later,” said Craig Wansink, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College and co-author of the study with his brother, Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University.
“And the takeaway is that for people who work with combat veterans, if veterans have had a bad experience, it is clear that one alternative that has helped people understand the world or find a common community has been religion.”
The study also says that atheists are the minority. Cornell University's website, where the study originates, adds:
In the heat of World War II, men who experienced intense combat were more than twice as likely to turn to prayer as those who did not, reports a Cornell economist in the forthcoming June/July issue of Journal of Religion and Health. And the more that the veterans reported they disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years after combat.
“People of that generation are fairly religious to begin with. But we were surprised to find people who saw heavy combat were so highly involved in church, though their ages ranged from 75 to 95. Even at that age, they still went to church three times a month. The frequency surprised us,” said study co-author Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, who conducted the study with his brother, Craig Wansink, professor and chair of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.
The researchers found that as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose to 72 percent from 42 percent. A second study showed that 50 years after combat, many soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, but it varied by their war experience. Heavy combat (versus no combat) was associated with a 21 percent increase in church attendance for those who claimed their war experience was negative, but a 26 percent decrease for those who said it was positive.
One reason for this may be that veterans greatly value social relationships to their comrades in their units, and those types of relationships they may be finding in church, according to the co-author of the study, Brian Wansink. The study looked at 1,123 World War II veterans, and the study was self-funded. The study also notes that no causality is assumed. MedicalXpress.com notes:
"We can't claim, for instance, that combat made soldiers religious or, conversely, that religious soldiers hated combat," said Brian Wansink, study co-author and Professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. Still, there may be important implications for counselors, clergy, and health practitioners who work with combat veterans. Religious involvement may be as particularly meaningful for a combat veteran who has had a negative military experience. "These are people who had intense, trusting relationships with others under fire," said Brian Wansink, "They recognize both the importance of community and the limitations of their own abilities. A social component might be more important to healing than we think. One Memorial Day gift you could give to a veteran might just be to say to them 'Thanks.' In the end, saying there are no atheists in foxholes may be less of an argument against atheism than it is against foxholes."