Many people find comfort in religious faith, but a provocative new study links certain beliefs with emotional problems. The study, published April 10 in the Journal of Religion & Health, showed that people who believe in an angry, vengeful god are more likely to suffer from social anxiety, paranoia, obsessional thinking, and compulsions.

Researchers reached this conclusion after analyzing responses of 1,426 Americans to a 2010 poll on religion. Poll respondents who indicated belief in a deity were placed in three categories -- those who believed in a punitive god, those who believed in a benevolent god, and those who believed in a deistic (uninvolved) god. Then the researchers looked at the prevalence of emotional problems in each group.

What exactly did the researchers find? Symptoms of mental illness were more common among those in the punitive god group than in the deistic god or benevolent god groups.

Does that mean believing in an angry god can make you crazy?

Not necessarily. The study looked only at the correlation between beliefs and mental health and not at causality, so the study's take-away message is subject to interpretation.

The study's authors are convinced that the type of god one believes in can indeed affect one's emotional state.

“Quite simply, the notion is that belief in a benevolent God will reduce the sense that the world is threatening at the neural level, because God will protect you from harm,” study co-author Dr. Neva Silton, professor of psychology at Marymount Manhattan College, told The Huffington Post in an email. “The angry God not only fails to provide protection, he/she may actually pose a threat of harm.”

But not every expert agrees with that assessment.

“We don't know whether it was the poorer mental health (anxiety, paranoia) that caused subjects to perceive God as punitive, or whether it was the view of God as punitive that caused the poor mental health,” Dr. Robert Koenig, a Duke University psychiatry professor who was not involved in the study, told The Huffington Post in an email. “My suspicion, though, is that…people with emotional problems see their entire world in a negative light and often feel a need to blame someone -- and God is often the target.”

How about the prevalence of emotional problems in believers and nonbelievers? Overall, the study found no significant difference.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

    "The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for 
the existence of God." <strong>Clarification</strong>: <em>The full quote, from <a href="http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-8837" target="_hplink">one of Darwin's letters</a>, carries a different sentiment. A young admirer <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16949157" target="_hplink">asked Darwin about his religious views</a> (the original inquiry is lost), and the great naturalist answered: "It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide."</em>

  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (1958-

    "So you're made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?" --American astrophysicist and science commentator

  • Stephen Hawking (1942-)

    "What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn't prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary." --English physicist and cosmologist

  • Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

    "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual...The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both." --American astrophysicist

  • Francis Collins (1950-)

    "Science is...a powerful way, indeed - to study the natural world. Science is not particularly effective...in making commentary about the supernatural world. Both worlds, for me, are quite real and quite important. They are investigated in different ways. They coexist. They illuminate each other." --American physician-geneticist and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute

  • Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

    "Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time" --American biochemist and science fiction writer

  • Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

    <strong>Clarification</strong>: <em>While the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/science/17einsteinw.html" target="_hplink">New York Times noted</a> that "Einstein consistently characterized the idea of a personal God who answers prayers as naive, and life after death as wishful thinking," he also "described himself as an 'agnostic' and 'not an atheist.'" One ambiguous quote, from <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=58HQXMp1ESwC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq=einstein+phyllis+wright&source=bl&ots=zn6BlmXlY4&sig=DxDgqkMMwMaJ9pgUVmgwih4WbQE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2NY6T6euHIbr0gHC4PivCw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=einstein phyllis wright&f=false" target="_hplink">Einstein's response to a letter from a sixth-grade student named Phyllis Wright</a>, reads "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive."</em> --German physicist, created theory of general relativity.

  • Max Planck (1858-1947)

    "It was not by accident that the greatest thinkers of all ages were deeply religious souls." --German physicist, noted for work on quantum theory

  • Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961)

    "I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experiences in a magnificently consistent order, but is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, god and eternity." --Austrian physicist, awarded Nobel prize in 1933

  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958)

    "In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining...I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world." --British biophysicist renowned for her work on X-ray diffraction.

  • William H. Bragg (1862-1942)

    "From religion comes a man's purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped." --British physicist, chemist, and mathematician. Awarded Nobel Prize in 1915

  • Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

    "God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand." --American physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1965

  • Wernher Von Braun (1912-1977)

    "I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science." --German-American rocket scientist

  • Richard Dawkins (1941-)

    "The more you understand the significance of evolution, the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position and towards atheism. Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things." --British evolutionary biologist

  • Nevill Mott (1905-1996)

    "Science can have a purifying effect on religion, freeing it from beliefs of a pre-scientific age and helping us to a truer conception of God. At the same time, I am far from believing that science will ever give us the answers to all our questions." --English physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1977

  • Fred Hoyle (1915-2001)

    "A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." --English mathematician and astronomer.

  • Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

    "Science can destroy religion by ignoring it as well as by disproving its tenets. No one ever demonstrated, so far as I am aware, the nonexistence of Zeus or Thor - but they have few followers now" --British science fiction author and inventor

  • Walter Kohn (1923-)

    "I am very much a scientist, and so I naturally have thought about religion also through the eyes of a scientist. When I do that, I see religion not denominationally, but in a more, let us say, deistic sense. I have been influence in my thinking by the writing of Einstein who has made remarks to the effect that when he contemplated the world he sensed an underlying Force much greater than any human force. I feel very much the same. There is a sense of awe, a sense of reverence, and a sense of great mystery." --American theoretical physicist, awarded Nobel Prize in 1998

  • Sam Harris (1967-)

    "Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious." --American neuroscientist

  • Victor J. Stenger (1935-)

    "With pantheism...the deity is associated with the order of nature or the universe itself...when modern scientists such as Einstein and Stephen Hawking mention 'God' in their writing, this is what they seem to mean: that God is Nature." --American physicist