Saturday, December 15, 2012

Does Faith in God Help or Hurt?

We have been discussing in the last few blogs (click here for a review) about what causes pain in our personal lives and in the world around us. We have concluded that though it is impossible to have a “perfect” life without any troubles or difficulties, life is better when we have a strong faith in God.

Though I think the majority of people would agree with me that life is better when faith is present, every so often I meet a person who wants to argue the point. I recall an Internet-based debate I had once with a group of spiritual skeptics from Arizona State University. They asserted that people who are religious are emotionally unhappy and mentally unhealthy because of the great sense of guilt religion unfairly places on people. They thought all this talk of sin and Satan is proof that faith is more harmful to people than helpful. I challenged their assumptions based on my own life experiences and on Scripture, but they insisted they were right. They said they had facts to prove their claim was correct. I asked them to produce their evidence. Despite their adamant insistence, they were unable to cite a single scientific study or survey that backed up their outrageous claim that faith hurts instead of helps. Most of the arguments those students made came from Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens has become a hero to many young people who want to blame God for all the pain in their own lives and in the world around them. Since those ASU students had no facts to support their claim that faith hurts instead of helps, I decided to do my own research on the subject. I was amazed at how much evidence exists to verify that faith is a positive influence in our lives.

Consider this: reports: People who attend religious services, or who feel they are spiritual, experience lower levels of depression and anxiety; display signs of better health, such as lower blood pressure and fewer strokes; and say they generally feel healthier.

That same website revealed that not only are religious people healthier, but they also live longer. In a study of over four thousand people, Dr. Harold G. Koenig, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, reported, “People who attend religious services at least once a week are less likely to die in a given period of time than people who attend services less often.”
Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz reported similar findings in a recent article entitled “Feel the Spirit.” In that article, the doctors reference a “study of 6,534 older Chicago residents, who said they have spiritual experiences every single day.”  The study revealed that going to church “can protect against age-related memory loss and thinking problems.” The article went on to say, “People who go to services more  than once a week have half the risk of major depression as those who attend less often.”

Researchers at Florida State University found that “regular prayer increases your concern for other people … that could help you make your part of the world a brighter, better place.” A number of other studies made similar conclusions, and a simple Google search will reveal them to anyone interested in checking out those claims on their own.
The research clearly shows that religious people are healthier and live longer, but are they actually happier? In 2009 Professor Andrew Clark, from the Paris School of Economics, and co-author Dr. Orsolya Lelkes, from the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research, examined numerous surveys and scientific studies done in Europe and concluded that deeply religious people have higher levels of life satisfaction than nonreligious ones. Clark and Lelkes concluded that religion in general acts as a buer that protects people from life’s disappointments.

The connection between happiness and faith is not just true for our European friends. The highly respected Pew Research Center discovered that in America:
People who attend religious services weekly or more are happier than those who attend monthly or less; or seldom or never.

This correlation between happiness and frequency of church attendance has been a consistent finding for years. Two studies led by psychology professor Michael Inzlicht at the University of Toronto reveal that believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress.  In October 2010, three researchers from Princeton, New Jersey, reported:
A new analysis of more than 550,000 Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index interviews conducted over the last year and a half finds that Americans who are the most religious also have the highest levels of wellbeing.

For those who may think that the link between faith and wellbeing is just a coincidence, researchers report, “The dierence in wellbeing between the religious and nonreligious populations is highly statistically significant given the large sample size this research uses.”
The bottom line is that faith simply makes people happier. Faith can help us deal with the pain in our lives, regardless of the source of that pain. People who are deeply religious do not need a survey to tell them they are happier than their unbelieving friends. They already know this because they witness it on a regular basis. That does not mean that religious people do not have bad days or have periods of time in which they may feel depressed, but it does mean that as a general rule, they live happier lives than those who are not religious.

This may not be politically correct in today’s pluralistic culture, but it is scientifically accurate. Though some people may not like religious faith, there is simply no denying that faith improves people’s quality of life. We may all be entitled to our own opinion on the subject, but we are not entitled to our own facts. The facts are clear: religious faith makes us healthier and happier and increases longevity.
When postmodern people find themselves involved in unhealthy activities and poor lifestyle choices that lead them to significant amounts of personal pain, they need someone to show them a better way to live.

This means that churches need to find ways to gently connect sinful behaviors that cause the pain that naturally results from those behaviors. In the past, people just took the church’s word that certain actions or behaviors were sinful and tried to steer clear of those things to the best of their ability. But since postmodern people decide what truth is based on their own research and experiences, they are likely to have to learn about the consequences of sin by experiencing them personally. Though this will take time and effort, it is worth doing because the next generation is in great pain and the best way out of that pain is to find a meaningful faith in Jesus Christ.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


  1. God Bless you all in CT! You are all in our prayers. We will be having a special prayer time at our church in the morning.
    I will be sharing your note above with our group. Thank you for what you do to spread the word of Jesus.

  2. Thanks for this note. We have been praying for you ever since this news broke--praying that you and your colleagues will have opportunity to show Christ to this community and to your state during these awful days. If anyone needs Christ, it is the parents of these children. Romans 8:28-29

  3. Thanks for your information. A friend and I were wondering about you and your possible involvement or connection to this tragedy. Since I am a retired elementary school teacher, it has impacted me strongly. Several of my years were at the primary level teaching students near the ages of those that lost their lives here on earth. I admire the teachers'
    handling of their students. I have and will continue to pray for the whole situation. I also live in a small community and am aware of the probable impact on everyone there. There is no question in my mind about whether faith in God helps or not. Absolutely He helps us through difficult situations--I have not faced anything like this however. For that reason, my words would not have as much impact as I would like. Thank you
    again for sharing what you have.

  4. Faith in God definitely helps because it were the time periods when America really stood for God before she kicked Him out of our country. Times seemed soo much better before January 1963 when the Supreme Court decided to "kick" God out our country by banning prayers along with the Ten Commandments. It is almost 50 years later, and now look what a real mess that America is experiencing- pure turmoil. Now we, Americans, are really paying for the price for that decision. Now, Americans as a whole are expericencing deep grief beyond our comprehension about the shooting at that elementary school in Newtown, CT. Yes, America must repernt and come back to God.

  5. I like this too.

  6. This was extremely helpful. Thanks for posting it.