Hard to believe in these post-enlightenment, post-industrial, post-modern times, that 88% of the world’s population believes in a supreme being. So I guess the world isn’t being taken over by atheists after all.
The question I have is, why, in these hip and enlightened times, are we still superstitious?
According to Time Magazine’s Your Brain: A User’s Guide, “having faith can improve your health…People who attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any given year than people who don’t attend.”
As an aside, it’s not just belief in any old god that’s important. The kind of god comes into play. “People who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God.”
So there’s a link between faith and long life. What is it about religion that keeps you healthy?
Lots of theories come to mind, the most obvious being if you love God, then God loves you back. Kind of selfish on God’s part, don’t you think? How about: Smart people believe in God; smart people know how to take care of themselves.
That could be it, but I doubt it. I don’t think IQ has anything to do with religiosity.
Personally I think the religion/health connection has to do with the social factor. People are happier if they are part of a social network. Religion often provides a nurturing social place (especially if your God is a loving God as opposed to a punitive God). And there’s a clear link between depression and ill health. The happier you are, the healthier you are. You could do worse than hanging with your homeys at church.
There are other reasons why the religious are healthier. The December issue of Scientific American mentions that certain religions frown on smoking, drinking, taking recreational drugs, and engaging in risky sex. Not participating in those behaviors goes a long way in keeping you healthy. Religion promotes self-control which curbs self-destructive behaviors.
Finally, there’s prayer. Specifically prayer healing the sick and dying. There have been tons of experiments designed to prove whether or not prayer works. These experiments seem to prove whatever the experimenter wants them to prove so I’m not sure they prove anything at all. However, I believe prayer can heal. I say this because I know the placebo effect heals as well. The human body can heal itself. All it takes is a method to tap into the inherent healing power of the body. Call it prayer, call it the placebo effect, whatever it takes, the body will heal itself. Even knowing that someone else is praying for you in your time of need will speed you on your recovery. It doesn’t even have to be your own prayer for your own health.
So the reason for the popularity of religious belief seems obvious to me: it endows you with longer and healthier life. What’s not to love?
Come all you faithful, joyful and triumphant.
Thanks for reading.
This essay was first posted on December 25, 2011 at the Singularity Watch blog.