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The Bible – Rated M for Mature

27 February, 2007

Well, doesn’t this just put a smile on my face. It seems that researcher have concluded that reading Bible passages can lead to increased aggression. Their report is entitled “When God Sanctions Killing.” It isn’t available online (it won’t be published until next month), but you can read an article about it at this here link.

So why does this please me so much? It’s not because I’m stooping to bash the christians, or that I expect this research will constitute any kind of blow to religion. To tell the truth, I’m not particularly impressed by their findings or the means by which they arrived at them. While the title of their report refers to killing, the “aggression” they found in their experiment was pretty tame. Basically, after reading Bible passages, subjects played a game which involved pressing a button and blasting each other with a loud buzzing noise. The aggression they found was a “slight” increase in the duration of the blasts given by those who had read provocative Bible passages compared to those who had not.

Whoa. That is some hardcore aggression. Clearly, these subjects were on the verge of homocidal frenzy. I’m being sarcastic, of course. This finding, while measurable and perhaps significant, falls far short of any conclusion that reading the Bible is likely to make otherwise ordinary, sane individuals go out and pop someone.

But what is interesting here is that this is exactly the same methodology that has been used by “media effects” researchers to support their claims that video games turn kids into crazed killers. The same fraction-of-a-second increase in blasts of noise is touted as increased aggression, and is used to support claims that games cause violence.

I know it’s hard to believe, when politicians are standing up and claiming that “a mountain of evidence” proves that games make kids kill, that it all boils down to something as flimsy as a razor-thin difference in button presses… but it does. Other shocking discoveries include finding that playing violent games increases heart-rate, or get this… stimulates areas of the brain! (For a more thorough discussion, check out this meta-analysis of game research.)

So now this new research poses a difficult bind. If anti-game activists and politicians want to control the sales of games on the grounds that they cause violence, then they have to put a stop to Sunday school too, because the same kind of research shows that the Bible itself is equally dangerous. On the other hand, if they reject this research on the effects of the Bible, then they have to reject the equally flimsy research on games and aggression. And that’s pretty damn sweet.

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