Be an atheist or agnostic at your own peril.
No, this isn’t about what happens to you in the hereafter. It’s about what happens to you in the here and now.
One of the best things you can do to improve your physical and mental health is attend religious services regularly.
If you don’t, statistically you’ll live an average of seven fewer years than frequent church-goers, according to an academic study.
Atheists and agnostics suffer, on average, higher rates of physical ailments, depression, suicide, alcohol use and drug addiction. They have greater marital instability, weaker parent-child relationships, lower lifetime earnings, lower educational attainment and higher rates of criminal activity.
These aren’t some trumped-up claims made by people with a religious ax to grind. These are the conclusions of many scholars in the sciences and social sciences whose work appears in numerous non-religious scholarly journals including Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, Social Science Research, Preventive Medicine, Demography and many more.
Headlines in LiveScience.com — hardly a religious or conservative publication — include “Churchgoers live longer,” “Online prayer helps cancer patients,” “Churchgoers breathe easier” and “Why religion makes people happier.”
Why would preparation for your well-being in the afterlife lead to greater physical and mental well-being in this life?
On the physical side, religious belief often prompts one to view one’s body as sacred and a gift from God, which reduces the likelihood of such factors as smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, unsafe driving, physical inactivity and substance abuse. Religious persons also tend to have a greater support network of family and friends, which encourages healthier lifestyles.
People prone to anxiousness and depression tend to die sooner than would otherwise be the case, and religious practice often reduces those negative mental conditions. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that very religious persons are less likely to have been diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes than the moderately religious or nonreligious.
The evidence that religion has such a strong positive effect on health and well-being is so compelling that some non-religious mental health professionals even recommend religion therapy for their patients. “Religious therapy resulted in significantly faster recovery from depression when compared with standard secular cognitive-behavioral therapy,” according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
It definitely cuts down on suicide. Last year New York Department of Transportation worker Isidor Suarez talked a man out of jumping off a bridge. After confirming the man was a Christian, Suarez told him, “If you kill yourself, it’s like murder.” The man relented. He must have recalled the Christian teaching that suicide is a sure ticket to hell.
The hell factor I’m sure is just one of the many factors resulting in less suicide among church-goers. An American Journal of Psychiatry study found that they’re significantly less likely to commit suicide than those who never attend religious services. The latter saw fewer reasons for living and had fewer moral objections to suicide.
Another very secular institution, National Public Radio, featured a story that goes a long way in explaining why religion has such a profound positive effect on outcomes and behavior. The perception that someone or something is always watching, evaluating and judging your every move can make a model citizen out of you in no time.