Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God’s wrath, but because they’ve absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness.The theological justification of a God sitting-in-judgment is not the underlying reason believers are more self-controlled. As I understand it, the depersonalization and sacramentalization of individual value systems creates the psychological mechanism for higher self-control. Said differently, the believer faithfully abdicates ownership of their personal value system, instead incorporating what, in his/her mind, constitutes a higher, transcendent value system. This transcendent value system then increases self-controlling behavior. Fascinating.
What about non-believers? The author of the news analysis, admittedly not particularly religious, asked the researchers what non-religious people could do to attain similar cognitive-behavioral effects:
So what’s a heathen to do in 2009? Dr. McCullough’s advice is to try replicating some of the religious mechanisms that seem to improve self-control, like private meditation or public involvement with an organization that has strong ideals.
... He suggested that nonbelievers try a secular version of that strategy.