Baltimore County

Is religion healthy? How? Why?

Religion helps people live longer and healthier, gives meaning to their lives, and helps them meet death with peace.

All that has been shown by numerous studies over the last two decades. But how and why does religion help all that?

Those questions are examined in a recent article in the Huffington Post.

"There is overwhelming research evidence that people can live longer if they actively engage in formal religious activities and follow their faith's behavioral prescriptions," author Philip Moeller writes.

But there's more, Moeller says, citing various experts:

Choral singing can "get everyone in the church literally on the same page, moving their bodies and voices in unison, usually with stirring songs."

Members of religions with strong lifestyle commitments -- especially Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and the Amish -- have much lower mortality rates than the rest of us.

Regular worship attendance fosters better wellbeing because it keeps you in touch with like-minded people.

Religious symbols help impart a connection with a bigger narrative.

Religious faith can help you forgive -- not only others but yourself.

How much of this is irreplaceable religion, of course -- what Moeller calls the "deity bonus" -- is one of the tougher issues to isolate. Would a community chorus create the same camaraderie as a choir? Would the shared beliefs of a local Kiwanis club work as well as worship attendance?

Complex matters, and Moeller's sources offer only guesses. One suggests that you need something to require a "restrictive lifestyle," or people won't stick to it. But she doesn't prove that the something has to be religious or even spiritual.

Another soft spot in this article is a lack of links to the kinds of research it cites. That's a pity, because there is so much of it online. Psychologist Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, for instance, has an impressive page on his work going back to 1999. He has studied, among other things, how religion affects stress, self-control and well-being.

James D. Davis

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