These findings aren't carved in stone. A lot of the studies are correlational, the models are in their infancy, yadda yadda yadda. But the data are coming in thick and fast, and they point to a pretty plausible model:
And there you have it. The Popular Power of Palin, explained. So the next question is
- Fear and stress result in loss of perceived control;
- Loss of perceived control results in increased perception of nonexistent patterns (N&S again: "The tendency to detect agency in nature likely supplied the cognitive template that supports the pervasive belief in supernatural agents");
- Those with right-wing political beliefs tend to scare more easily;
- Authoritarian religious systems based on a snooping, surveillant God, with high membership costs and antipathy towards outsiders, are more cohesive, less invasible by cheaters, and longer-lived. They also tend to flourish in high-stress environments.
Now that we can explain the insanity, what are we going to do about it?
I don't know. My approach seems to be to try to embrace uncertainty.