Religion: Good for You?

Ever have students ask what the benefits of being religious are? Or do you need a good “scientific” response for your atheist friend who believes religion is a blight on the world?  Here is one answer given at a Baylor conference presented by the Institute for the Study of Religion (ISR)
Dr. Jeff Levin, a Jewish epidemiologist (a person who studies transmission and prevention of disease) who holds a distinguished chair at Baylor University recently gave a presentation reviewing studies that sought to answer questions related to religion and health.  For decades, the popular scholarly view has held that religious beliefs had “no" or “negative" effects on health. Apparently, this belief reflected the secular perspectives that 1) all religions are false, therefore there can be no supernatural intervention, and 2) since religions present false or misleading coping skills and treatments, they generally produce harmful results.

However, this scholarly presumption has proven false.  A review of more than 4,000 studies across all religious beliefs that have been conducted over more than 60 years tell the opposite story.  Dr. Levin says, these studies overwhelmingly link religious belief with good health and a positive sense of well being. Religion reduces anxiety, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicide; it increases a subjective sense of  health, reduces pain, increases activity among those with physical limitations, increases satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness.  Religion improves marital stability and satisfaction, lowers rates of childhood delinquency, lowers rates of stress related cardiovascular (and other) diseases, leads to improved personal health care, and leads to longer lives.  In other words, being religious is good for people - regardless of whether or not it is True!

The best explanation that Dr. Levin believes links religion with these positive effects is “community.” Religious people join together in communities where they get physical and emotional care, affirmation, and a sense of purpose and destiny.  Living religious lives are simply good for people.

To the Christian school community, the above probably comes as little surprise (except to see that even false religions produce healthful effects).  But lets take the message further.  This "religious effect” on health is less “theological" than it is “relational”!  I see too many Christian schools that are primarily academic centers grouped according by theological perspective.  They have little more community than the secular schools around them.  The centrality of love must not be merely a theological centerpiece of faith, but it must be the relational centerpiece of our schools. This is not only makes for healthy individuals in our schools, but it will improve the health of the whole Body!
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