WHETHER happy, sad or somewhere in between, religious and nonreligious people alike tend to believe life events “happen for a reason,” according to a recent study.
By analysing the results of three separate experiments, researchers Konika Banerjee and Paul Bloom, both of the Yale Mind and Development Lab, determined that religious faith isn’t required to credit a supernatural force with controlling earthly events. The idea of fate was supported by a majority of both religious respondents and atheists in the experiments, confirming the researchers’ sense that the saying captures a universal aspect of human life.
“Adages such as ‘it was meant to be’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’ are expressions of the way people naturally view the world — as imbued with agency, intention and reason,” their study, “Why did this happen to me? Religious believers’ and non-believers’ teleological reasoning about life events,” published in the journal “Cognition”, concluded.
In other words, people like to think there is rhyme and reason in their daily lives, even if they don’t credit God or some other higher power with putting it there.
Although the study referenced other articles that similarly reported widespread belief in fate, it focused on exploring the interplay between this desire for reason and religious belief. Researchers determined that many nonbelievers not only believe everything happens for a reason; they also credit fate with kind or instructive intentions, using the same kind of language believers used to describe God.
Banerjee and Bloom’s study explored how the belief that everything happens for a reason interacts with life events, including natural disasters like floods or hurricanes, as well as personal tragedies such as the death of a loved one.
In one of the experiments, each of the 100 participants was asked to indicate how strongly he or she believed in fate, defined as the following: “Many people believe that significant life events are meant to be and that they happen for a reason. They believe that there is an underlying order to life that determines how events turn out.”
Researchers compared responses to reported religious affiliations, determining that while believers are more likely to find lessons in life events, a majority of both groups believe in fate.
“Among God-believers, 84.8 percent reported some degree of belief in fate, 13.0 percent reported they were neutral and 2.2 percent denied belief in fate,” the article reported. “Among God-non-believers, a smaller majority, 54.3 percent, also reported some degree of belief in fate, while 5.7 percent were neutral and 40.0 percent denied belief in fate.”
Participants were then asked to characterize fate, describing what intentions, if any, it has.
Many believers saw fate as fair (62.1 percent), kind (54 percent), and instructive (72.9 percent), a finding that researchers attributed to religious teachings about God’s benevolence. But “even many non-religious people (between 33 percent and 53 percent), most of whom claimed that fate is just a fact in the universe, nonetheless personified fate as a type of goal-directed intentional force,” the article reported.