January 10, 2011

Faculty Member Gains National Attention for Study on Anger at God

Julie Exline
Julie Exline

The notion of being angry with God goes back to ancient days. Such personal struggles are not new, but Case Western Reserve University faculty member Julie Exline began looking at “anger at God” in a new way. Now, her study is getting national attention from media outlets, including CNN, ABC News and U.S. News and World Report.

“Many people experience anger toward God,” Exline explained. “Even people who deeply love and respect God can become angry. Just as people become upset or angry with others, including loved ones, they can also become angry with God.”

Exline, an associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, has researched anger toward God over the past decade, conducting studies with hundreds of people, including college students, cancer survivors and grief-stricken family members.

She and her colleagues report their results in the article, “Anger Toward God: Social-Cognitive Predictors, Prevalence and Links with Adjustment to Bereavement and Cancer” in the new issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Anger toward God often coincides with deaths, illnesses, accidents or natural disasters. Yet anger is not limited to traumatic situations. It can also surface when people experience personal disappointments, failures or interpersonal hurts. Some people see God as ultimately responsible for such events, and they become angry when they see God’s intentions as cruel or uncaring. They might think God abandoned, betrayed or mistreated them, Exline said.
According to Exline’s findings, Protestants, African-Americans and older people tend to report less anger at God, and people who do not believe in God may still harbor anger. Additionally, anger toward God is most distressing when it is frequent, intense or chronic. 

Overcoming anger at God, she said, may require some of the same steps needed to resolve other anger issues.

“People may benefit from reflecting more closely on the situation and how they see God’s role in it,” Exline suggested. “For example, they may become less angry if they decide that God was not actually responsible for the upsetting event, or if they can see how God has brought some meaning or benefit from a painful situation.”

People who feel angry toward God also need to be reassured they are not alone. Many individuals experience such struggles, she said, suggesting people try to be open and honest with God about their anger, rather than pulling away or trying to cover up their negative feelings.

Readers who would like to participate in an online study of anger toward God can go here.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, January 10, 2011 08:16 AM | News Topics: College of Arts and Sciences

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