Rodney Stark considers some very surprising research findings – and the realities behind them.
Yeah, well I was very surprised to discover that there’s an enormous literature – I mean, there’s a book that’s now, I don’t know, 1,400 pages, 1,500 pages long, just summarising the studies that were done of religion and health. Both mental health and physical health. And it’s astounding, because the effects are very big and very constant, very predictable.
It’s recently been estimated that religious people, on average, live seven years longer than the irreligious. And that is taking out the effects of clean living. I mean, it’s – you know, that’s controlling for the fact of smoking and drinking and what not, so that isn’t the issue. What seems to be the issue is mental health – that the religious people don’t suffer nearly as much stress and depression and anxiety, and those things conspire to shorten life expectancy.
And you say, well, why the mental health thing? Because they think they know the meaning and purpose of life. And there is much more sense of not being stressed by … when I was a kid in church, they used to sing a song called “Take it to the Lord in prayer”. Well they do. And that seems to have tremendous therapeutic benefits on … you get rid of some of this, this stuff that’s eating at you. And so whether religion is true or not, for believers there’s a lot of relief.