Aren't we better off without religion?

By Pastor Tom Anderson

Millions of people in the rising generation would say emphatically, "yes". They self-identify as “spiritual” but not religious.” In this case “religious” means regular worship attendance and participation in an organized faith community. Yet the answer is ill-conceived and contradicted by a growing body of evidence demonstrating the positive effects of religion on individual and social life in America.

In 2016, the Harvard School of Public Health released a study concluding that religious participation “may be a miracle drug” because of its clear effect on the physical and mental health of individuals and their communities. It should be stated here that the study did not consider mere religious beliefs but specifically religious participation in churches, synagogues and mosques. The study found:

  • Religious participation lowers mortality rates by 20-30% over 15 years

  • Religious participants are more optimistic

  • Have lower rates of depression

  • Are less likely to commit suicide

  • Experience a greater purpose in life

  • Are less likely to divorce

  • Are more self-controlled

All of these personal benefits result in measurable social benefits--less expenses in healthcare, court costs, law enforcement and human services. The data is beyond dispute: religious participation overall makes all our lives dramatically better in terms of physical and mental health.

Why is this so? We must point to the power of human relationships. By connecting with religion, people find support, encouragement and greater purpose. Non-religious people as a whole simply do not involve themselves at the same level in sustained and meaningful human relationships.

Jesus said it is more blessed to give. Religious people on the whole give significantly more to charity than do the “spiritual