People regularly debate the validity and accuracy of religion. It’s a discussion that has existed for far longer than we have. The main thing I see is people debating over whether a religion or spiritual belief is true. From there, the argument often becomes whether believing a potential truth is better than the damage caused from such a belief. I’m here to present another thing to consider: religion can be beneficial regardless of whether or not the belief is true to reality.
There have been many studies conducted which show the physical outcomes of the benefits of religious practices. A study done by researchers at the Duke University Medical Center in 1998 found that there was a 40 percent lower chance of having high blood pressure “among participants who both attended religious services and prayed or studied the Bible frequently” (1), compared to those who did not do so frequently. Another study found that people who didn’t attend any religious services had a greater chance of death, while those who attended religious services more than once a week lived around seven years longer (2).
There’s also the services that religious institutes provide for the country and communities. 130,000 programs in the United States for recovering alcoholics are run by congregations, and close to 26,000 congregations in the US are involved with helping people with HIV/AIDS. (3). A report from the Pew Research Center found that eleven percent more of actively religious people were able to say that they were “very happy”, compared to those who were not religious or not regularly practicing (4). This could be due to joy gained from the spiritual beliefs and sense of purpose, and/or the increased happiness could be gained from the sense of community and friendships gained through practicing a religion, as two possibilities.
The Foundation for Economic Education also found that more than 320,000 congregations in the United States worked to get people to volunteer with non-religious programs (3). Perhaps that goal has been successful, since 58 percent of actively religious people in the United States volunteer with one or more non-religious organizations, while only 39 percent of nonreligious individuals do (4).
The interesting thing to note is that, in regards to happiness, the raised statistics only applied to those who were actively religious. In an article published by researchers at Harvard University, they stated that they found that “while fervent believers benefit from their involvement, those with weaker beliefs are actually less happy than those who do not ascribe to any religion - atheists and agnostics” (5). These are benefits that come from active involvement, such as prayer, studying religious texts, attending services regularly, etc.
There are issues that can come from or through religion. There’s misuse of power, the fear of cult-like scenarios, religion leaking too much into politics, hatred that is excused by pointing to religious texts… Those are all valid concerns. However, those are also all problems that can be fixed without getting rid of religion entirely.
Religion has been part of society for nearly as long as humans have been capable of rational thought. There will always be people who gain similar beliefs about the world, and those who gather around those beliefs. It’s unrealistic to aim to completely eradicate religion, as well as damaging. We should instead be focusing on how to amplify the many positives that religion adds to society, while lessening the existence and impacts of the negatives that pop up in connection to it.