Science Finally Proves 'Benefits Of Religion'?

Science Finally Proves 'Benefits Of Religion'?

Increasingly being reported by the media, for example, this Time cover story

The Iona Institute are a group of enlightened souls who generally spend their precious time on Earth opposing  gay marriage(pdf) and contraception for teenagers(doc). I recently perused to some more of the Good News they'd like share with us: Religion is good for you(pdf).

Yes, it's science folks! The dynamic and colourful report, complete with stock photos of hands clasped in prayer, begins by linking religiosity and general health, breathlessly informing us that this connection

…is increasingly being reported by the media. For example, the cover story of the Time magazine issue of February 23, 2009 was entitled, ‘How faith can heal’.

Well, they've also featured well-known quack Andrew Weil on their cover on two occasions, a man who thinks that so-called 'evidence-based' medicine is merely one possible reality. Not that this report is based solely on glossy propaganda sheets like Time, but are we to immediately drop reality-based medicine on the say-so of this hysterically biased magazine? Of course not.

But I need only quote from the introduction to give you the real tenor of this pamphlet:

…if religious practice has strong personal benefits, then it obviously has societal benefits as well. If religion is practiced by a large number of people across a population, then its benefits will accrue to society as a whole.

Egregious false logic aside ('obviously'? How scientific!), try telling this to the former inmates of Catholic institutions in this country. Or the subjugated women of Muslim countries, buried alive or stoned to death for the sin of having been raped.

Or maybe try telling the Swedes (up to 85% atheist) that their society is scientifically proven to be less healthy than ours (ha!). I guess they don't got no scientists in Sweden–maybe we should stop letting them decide who gets the Nobel Prize!

The bullet points of the report state baldly that those who practice religion

  • Live longer
  • Have lower levels of depressive illness
  • Have lower rates of relationship breakdown
  • Are less likely to be involved in crime
  • Cope better with serious illness
  • Recover faster from the death of a loved one
  • Are less likely to suffer marital breakdown

I feel the claims about criminality instantly call for correction.

A similar error is to be found in an article in The Daily Telegraph which points out that in a study of almost 80,000 UK prison inmates, the largest grouping (34%) identify themselves as 'non-religious.' This appears sort of true, until you realise that the corollary is also true, that the remaining 66% (which is actually the largest grouping) self-identify as being part of some religious denomination.

Further examination reveals that those identifying themselves as genuine atheists comprise a minuscule 0.6% of the prison population, a percentage very unrepresentative of the reported 20% found outside the walls. But unlike this report, I'm unwilling to entertain speculation about, say, how many people have 'found religion' while in jail (perhaps to satisfy judges and social workers?).

The report also allows that the

Hell-fire hypothesis promotes pro-social behaviour because of the threat of supernatural
sanction but also the reward for normative behaviour

regardless, naturally, of whether or not it is true–the truth being secondary to social manipulation. Apparently, the religious are incapable of teaching their children simple morality without invoking magic demons and invisible invigilators.

Read more at I'm sure someone with more time on their hands will provide a point by point rebuttal of each these skewed inferences.

My response to an article about this study in the Kildare and Leighlin Diocese newsletter was worded thus:

The placebo effect of faith healing, the family shunning and loss of community suffered by atheists, the ecstasy of delusional states, all quiet correct.

But is this any proof of the truth of religious claims? Of course not.

As G.B.Shaw pointed out:

"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one."

While it may benefit some individuals to enjoy the feeling of superiority in their rich fantasy life, society is much the worse for the divisive and superstitious control mechanism that is organised religion.

To this I might add the example of Sinéad O'Connor, to whom the Washington Post now turns for comment on papal affairs. A great many articles are surfacing to echo Eoin Butler's sentiment Isn’t Sinead O’Connor overdue a massive, grovelling apology from absolutely everybody?

Her antics nearly 20 years ago caused outrage amongst the religious, and amounted to career suicide as

The following day [after ripping up a picture of the pope], steamrollers crushed hundreds of her CDs outside Rockefeller Center to huge cheers from protesters.

These days, given the revelations of recent weeks and months, the pope doesn't warrant a lot of sympathy, in fact the airwaves both national and international are filled with calls for His Holiness' resignation–or worse.

Wait, is that a Star of David? It all makes sense now!
The point here is that Ms. O'Connor's (admittedly provocative) slur against religion had disastrous social and professional consequences. Fortunately, her strong will (and personal fortune) eased the transition from pop star to pariah. It would be unsurprising to find that someone less monied or assertive who went against their own church would suffer depression, alcoholism, and early death.

Perhaps this is not so much a study showing the benefits of religion, as it is a warning to those who dare to step outside it. Maybe it is an indictment of how the religious majority, including friends and family, can crush the souls of courageous freethinkers who seek to stray from the obedient flock.

The evident hypocrisy of this paper trumpets from seemingly innocent paragraphs like this one:

these results show that the more malevolent forms of religious beliefs e.g. religious fanaticism are linked to higher homicide rates while collective beliefs of a benevolent type are associated with lower homicide rates, similar to those found in secular countries.

Apparently, it all depends on how seriously you take your religion. This is the argument of á la carte moderates everywhere: 'our beliefs are tailored to suit our lifestyle and prejudices, naturally we'd don't follow every little rule!'

Let us never forget that the so-called 'fanatics' and extremists are the ones who practise their religions exactly as God originally intended.