It’s important to acknowledge that religion has contributed to war and destruction and can foster harmful, negative emotions and influences. It is at the heart of many of the world’s bloodstained trouble spots. Religion can be over-controlling and stunt human beings’ ability to think for themselves. It can prevent people from accommodating or tolerating other religious viewpoints, or those with none, but there is growing research indicating that religion is not all bad.
Practices encouraged within religion, the social connectedness associated with the rituals or gatherings, the sense of spirituality encapsulated through prayer, the sense of purpose or meaning offered by theology and the love and compassion promoted through doctrine, can have positive effects on our moods and approach to life.
Maybe people have abandoned religion or faith because their maturing scientific minds have dismissed it as time-wasting, a total nonsense. Maybe they never believed in anything and don’t care. But the quest for meaning and personal beliefs around such matters can be relevant in the context of living life well. Religious practices have been shown to foster health, resilience and a sense of inner peace.
Religiousness may influence the course and outcome of illnesses. Psychologist Harris and colleagues (1995) showed religion to be associated with better recovery from physical illness, including better health and longer survival after heart transplant and reduced mortality following other cardiac surgeries.
It also correlated to reduced mortality among breast cancer patients (Spiegel et al., 1989). In a review of over 200 studies examining the relationship between religious commitment and physical health problems including cardio-vascular disease, hypertension and stroke, it was shown that religion exerted a positive effect regardless of the outcomes or diseases examined (Levin and Schiller, 1987). In a review (Levin and Vanderpool, 1987) of 27 published cross-sectional studies that investigated the relationship between overall physical health and religious service attendance, similar results were found. Religious service attendance in church, synagogue or mosque was positively associated with overall health status.
It’s remarkable how religion and science have traditionally been foes but how new research indicates that they may be friends in disguise!
(C) Shane Martin – adapted from the book ‘Your Precious Life- How to Live it Well’ published by Orpen Press and available in all good bookstores.