Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior, Brian Wansink and Craig Wansink. Forthcoming: Journal of Religion and Health
After the battle, the moral and mortality stresses of combat influence different people in different ways. Using two large-scale surveys of World War II veterans, this research investigates the role of combat and long-term religiosity. Study 1 shows that as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose from 42% to 72%. Study 2 shows 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% increase in church attendance for those who claimed their war experience was negative, but a 26% decrease for those who claimed it was positive. The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later.

For counselors, clergy, and health practitioners, these results have clear implications for clients, parishioners, or patients who are active duty military or who are combat veterans. Religious participation such as joining or attending a church may help these combat veterans better deal with the aftermath of combat in important spiritual or social ways. Encouraging such participation might be especially important for combatants who consider their military experience as having been negative.