A theme recurs: evidence confirms that religion and life health go together 



Religious devotion leads to healthier lives, both mentally and physically. Once again, it is unequivocally clear. This time the evidence comes from the large National Study of Youth and Religion I mentioned a few days ago (here and here).

My first posts on this survey pointed out problems it uncovered: youth do not think much about religious things, and the way adults speak and think of religion may not translate well to their language. Those posts were based on others' reviews; since then, I've acquired the book. I'm finding there is also some very good news in this study.

The report shows resoundingly that religious practice is associated with healthy personalities.* The study's respondents were sorted into categories: The Devoted, The Regulars, The Sporadic, and The Disengaged. The closer teenagers are to "Devoted" rather than "Disengaged," the more positive their lives tend to be in:

Habits: smoking, drinking, marijuana use, TV watching, pornography use, "action" video game use
School: grades, cutting classes, getting suspended or expelled
Attitude: parents' report of their temper or rebelliousness
Sex: physical involvement and convictions, including number of partners
Emotional well-being: satisfaction with physical appearance, planning for the future, thinking about the meaning of life, feeling cared for, freedom from depression, freedom from feeling alone and misunderstood, not feeling "invisible," not feeling guilty often, not feeling life is meaningless
Relationships with adults: closeness with parents, number of adults connected to,
Moral reasoning and honesty behaviors: belief in stable, absolute morality; not following a "get-ahead" mentality; not taking a hedonistic approach, lower incidence of lying to parents and cheating in school
Moral compassion: caring about the needs of the poor, caring about the elderly, caring about racial justice
Community participation: participation in groups, giving funds, volunteer work (including with people of different race or cultural background), helping homeless people, participating in leadership role in an organization.

Could you ask for better than that? This alone could be used as evidence a person would want to try following Christ. (Of course, there's also the fact of the historic truth of the Christian message.) Note, by the way, the life outcomes described here have to do with character and relationship strength. The study does not purport a "health and wealth" connection to following Christ.

Meanwhile, we still have people like Sam Harris writing that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to the world. And a large number of people still follow Freud's discredited belief that religion equals neuroticism, or Marx's claim of its being the people's opiate. These people need to take a better look at the clear evidence.

This is the fourth time I've reported studies like this (the first three are at the bottom of this list). The evidence is piling up in ways that cannot be ignored. No, it does not prove Christianity. But it does disprove strong prejudices our modern era has held against it.

*The usual caveats apply to a study like this: the survey reveals general trends, not individuals' outcomes. The direction of cause-and-effect relationship between religious behavior and life outcomes cannot be proved through a survey. The study does show, nevertheless, that there's no truth to the saying that the religious are weaker mentally or emotionally weaker than other youth. This section of the study does not distinguish varieties of belief, but the great majority of religious-oriented respondents are from Christian (Protestant and Catholic) traditions.  

Posted: Mon - April 18, 2005 at 01:48 PM           |


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