Despite what the barely post-pimple youth at the supermarket checkout may tell you, it is not in fact â€œawesomeâ€ when you pay for your groceries. Neither is a new t-shirt â€œawesomeâ€ nor a waiter placing your coffee on your table. â€œAwesomeâ€ is a pounding sea breaking over a timeless headland, a flock of pelicans flying in faultless formation, or sunset over a moonless desert. We have devalued the word â€œawesomeâ€ to it becoming a mere pleasantry but that doesnâ€™t mean that awe has lost its psychological power. In fact, new research is showing that the experience of truly awesome sights can generate a spiritual or supernatural belief.
The study began by showing people either awe-inspiring scenes from the BBCâ€™s Planet Earth series or neutral news-based interviews. The subjects were then evaluated for how much awe they were feeling and whether they believed that events unfold according to Godâ€™s plan or some other non-human entityâ€™s plan.
People who had watched awe-inspiring natural scenes were more likely to believe in God, even when the awe-inspiring sights had been of impossible events like a waterfall cascading through city streets.
In another study it emerged that people who watched awe-inspiring events became increasingly intolerant of uncertainty. Again, this led to a belief in spiritual and supernatural control. In another experiment people who watched awe-inspiring images were more likely to believe a string of random numbers had been designed by a human hand.
So it emerges that awe-inspiring sights might be wonderful but they also make us uncertain, possibly feeling our insignificance, and so we search for meaning. We can find that meaning in God, a belief in the spiritual, a belief in the supernatural, or even a belief in science. This might also be why religions have us adopt postures that might dispose us to feelings of submission and inferiority such as kneeling, bowing, and gazing up.
This doesnâ€™t mean that spiritual or supernatural beliefs are untrue of course. It just indicates that awesome things make us feel for spiritual things which could mean they are pointing us in the direction of truth. Awesome!