This essay is a case for religion, using mostly secular reasoning. Five reasons we need religion.
1. Growth Framework
This is taken from an article from Tim Urban I highly recommend on using religion as a framework for growth, even in an atheistic context. Tim talks about the empirical observation that joy and peace in life is found through the rising out of the funk of self-absorption that we have been evolving out of for hundreds of thousands of years. This joy and peace comes from an understanding of who we are, the state of humanity, and how it fits in the universe.
We move through stages as we become more aware. He uses a random encounter with a rude cashier to illustrate the stages. Stage 1: we lack awareness and react to the rudeness. Stage 2: we understand things better due to greater awareness.
Stage 3: a deeper understanding of who we are and who the cashier is leads to a state of living that emanates love for others
He is an atheist, but he calls himself a Truthist.
In Truthism, the goal is to grow wiser over time, and wisdom falls into your lap whenever you’re conscious enough to see the truth about people, situations, the world, or the universe. The fog is what stands in your way, making you unconscious, delusional, and small-minded, so the key day-to-day growth strategy is staying cognizant of the fog and training your mind to try to see the full truth in any situation.
Moving through these stages takes work. It takes personal effort. The author proposes religion as the growth framework that pushes us through these stages. Nearly all religions include mandates for self betterment in terms of humility, sacrifice, charity, patience, forgiveness, service. Of course, personal improvement can be done without religion. But religion is a structure that pushes us to change for the better. Structure is important, or the temptation is to ALWAYS take the easy way.
If I have a late night snack choice between low fat cottage cheese and Oreos, I’m probably going to choose Oreos. If I have a choice to spend time at church or stay in bed, it’s easy to stay in bed. Religion forces you by default to make or at least consider a lot of good choices.
A good illustration of this point comes from a personal anecdote posted on the Exmormon Reddit site. She was raised in the LDS church but left.
(For many years, my visiting teacher) Marilyn, sent me a letter every month. Every. Single. Month. For years. It was usually just some church newsletter, but in each one, she would handwrite me a message, and highlight parts that she thought were important. …So month after month, I threw her letters out with a scoff and an eye-roll. I didn’t know WHY she would keep wasting her time and her stamp money, I OBVIOUSLY wasn’t interested. I always just assumed she was bored—she was a single older woman with grown children, so whatever, keep wasting your time, lady. Once I ran into her at the grocery store and her face just lit up with excitement at seeing me. She asked if she could come visit me sometime, and feeling halfway nice, I said sure, took her number down and promised to give her a call. Of course I didn’t follow through. I was too busy.
Well, I just saw a GoFundMe page on Facebook for her memorial fund. She died from breast cancer.
I am really pissed at myself. She was somebody who genuinely cared about my “salvation,” and she actually took more effort to reach out to me than some of my own FRIENDS have in the last few years. I feel like such a piece of shit, knowing that even though she was busy battling her own horrible war, that she was taking the time each month to write to me, and I didn’t even have the decency to read her letters, or call her up and say “look it, I don’t believe any more, but we could go get ice cream and talk,” or SOMETHING…
I’ve been so cocksure about my new worldview as a humanist, yet I failed to be a good human.
Though I don’t believe in any specific God anymore, I still kinda hold out hope that something cool might happen when we die. And Marilyn, you deserve an awesome eternity. Thanks for all the good vibes you tried to send my way, I’m sorry for ignoring you.
Religion sometimes forces us into things we wouldn’t naturally do that are good for us, like visiting teaching through a letter once a month to someone that doesn’t want to receive it. And leaving a religion might cause you to do the opposite. Just like the principle of “fake it till you make it”, by forcing ourselves to do the things that religion asks us to do–serve, worship, think of others, discipline ourselves, sacrifice, honor the Sabbath, be reverent–we eventually can evolve out of stage 1 and into stage 2 and 3 like the growth framework model suggests.
2. God yearning
The classic Og Mandino’s Greatest Salesman in the World asks
Who is of so little faith that in a moment of great disaster, or heartbreak, or misery beyond his comprehension has not called to his god? …Are not our outcries a form of prayer? Is it not incomprehensible in a world governed by nature’s laws to give a lamb, or a mule, or a bird, or a man the instinct to cry out for help; lest some great mind is also provided the cry should be heard by some superior power having the ability to answer our cry?
The statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” is a phrase used to describe the idea that in times of extreme stress or fear, such as during war (ie holed up in a military “foxhole”), people tend to spiritually reach out for God.
A couple researchers sought ought to test that idea.
“Our tentative conclusion is that even nonreligious people are tempted toward religious belief, if only implicitly, in the face of death,” writes Oxford University psychologist Jonathan Jong. Specifically, in one experiment, death reminders “motivated agnostics to increase their religiosity, belief in a higher power, and their faith in God/Jesus, Buddha, and Allah.” Basically, they were more open to immortality-promising deities of any stripe.
Cornell University behavioral economist, Brian Wansink examined 949 post-combat surveys of World War II American infantrymen and observed that these soldiers’ reliance on prayer rose from 32% to 74% as the battle intensified.
Adam Miller in the letter to a CES student:
The big problems are straightforward. We’re dying here. You and I. We’re getting sick, we’re getting old, and we’re dying. Our lives are small and our time is short. Our days are filled with suffering of all kinds: distress, worry, boredom, frustration, and loss. Time will have its way with us. And both we – and everyone we love, and everything we love – will pass away. We are losing to time and we will, finally, lose everything. Religion is meant to address these problems.
Whether it’s socially conditioned or whether it’s the state of our souls that God imprinted on each one of his children, humans seem to have a God yearning. Religion helps us satisfy that desire to connect with God, provides a setting to worship, and facilitates developing a relationship with him.
3. Those in religion empirically do better
In 2010, Lester Breslow and James E. Enstrom coauthored a twenty-five-year study of a group of California Mormons.
This study showed that the life expectancy of Mormon men was almost ten years longer than that of the general population of white American males. Female Mormons lived between five and six years longer than their general population counterparts. The longevity effect was most pronounced for those who never smoked, went to church weekly, had at least twelve years of education, and were married. Additional benefits were seen in those who were not overweight, got plenty of sleep, and exercised. The authors attributed the added years to the Mormons’ healthy doctrines: Eating a well-balanced diet and eschewing tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and illegal drugs. They found similar benefits among Americans of any religion who practiced the same healthy behaviors.
Arthur C. Brooks, a nationally known Catholic social scientist and best-selling author recently spoke at BYU. He shared a study of college-age students, divided into two group, one who set goals about relationships and another that set goals about fame, money and career advancement. Both groups were successful in achieving their goals, but only the group that set goals about relationships and service ended up happy.
Brooks said the problem is that too many people set goals from among what he called the four substitutes for God — money, power, pleasure, honor. They love things, use people, and worship themselves. He proposed the opposite formula for happiness: use things, love people, worship God. Despite material successes, this is how people find real happiness.
So, the why of the world is wrong, which is why the world is wrong. That’s why we are the rebels. That’s why we stand in opposition to it. That’s why we, as those of intellectual training — we try to train our minds to lead better lives — also understand the truth behind what we really seek.
In a Forbes article, it was shown that religious attendance once or more per week leads to an extra seven years of life expectancy. Other studies have shown other health benefits such as a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure. Further, religious involvement has been linked to less depression and less alcohol and drug use. Adults who regularly attend religious services also commit fewer crimes. They also end up on welfare and unemployed less often. More cost savings for those entitlement programs. People who are regular religious attendees give more money to charity than other people, which does much good in their communities.
Another study found that people who attend religious services on a weekly basis are nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” (45%) than people who never attend (28%). Conversely, those who never worship are twice as likely to say they are “very unhappy” (4%) as those who attend services weekly (2%).
So, if you want to be happier, live longer, and stay out of jail, go to church!
I’m an introvert. Given a choice, I would avoid social situations nearly all the time. But I find a lot of fulfillment going to church. I was taught as a youth to emulate the role of the warm welcomer at church. Going around, shaking hands, saying hi, making small talk. I push myself at church to do this. In the LDS church, I’m sort of forced into service opportunities where I regularly am required to socialize and develop relationships where I wouldn’t normally. Paul calls it the body of Christ. This aspect that we as a community worship together, serve together, even are saved together.
In this great article in the Huffington Post, a study is shown where rats, given ample supply of heroin and food and water, will take the heroin and ignore the food and water until it kills them. No matter what they tried, the rats would always choose the heroin. Another researcher tried something else. He created an amazing world with other rats and fun things to do. This rat got involved in his community of other rats and the social interactions apparently gave this rat a better option and he ignored the heroin.
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — believes we talk too much about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
Is religion required in order to break out of this age of loneliness and make human connections in society? No, but it’s certainly a great way to do it. If you’d like to walk in somewhere and be met with smiles and welcomes, your best bet is probably attending any church in American this Sunday.
5. Structure for youth
As Hillary Clinton popularized, “it takes a village” to raise well adjusted, productive children. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of a strong community and extended support system to help parents raise children. Most religions include an emphasis in serving youth and directing programs and teachings to build strong youth and support to parents to help guide them in their individual efforts.
In the same Forbes article referenced above, the impact on youth was extreme. Religious participation by kids has been shown to result in less juvenile delinquency, less drug use including less smoking, better school attendance, and a higher probability of graduating from high school.
“There’s been a decline in community participation for poor kids — they’re less exposed to outside mentoring from the community,” said Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist who argues in his new book “Our Kids” that economic inequality is linked to poor kids’ lack of networking connections with successful mentors, primarily through religious institutions.
Teenage children of the least educated adults today spend about a third less time in religious services than the children of parents with college and graduate degrees, according to Putnam’s analysis of several major national public opinion surveys.
Samantha Snyder, who runs an ExMormon blog, talked wistfully about her involvement with Mormonism, how it was a huge benefit in her development as a youth.
When you introduce a 16 year old to church principles. Don’t drink, work hard in school you’re nice to people, those are great life principles, most people’s lives are going to improve if you apply those principles.
Children’s brains are developing, with most maturity done by age 16 but not reaching full development until age 25. Every parent raising a child in today’s world has concern to help their child reach adulthood, minimizing the long term consequences of alchol and drug abuse, criminal activity, or unwanted pregnancy. Most religions have teachings and youth support that aid a parent in helping raising their children morally and responsibly.
In conclusion, I’ve heard from a lot of people criticize the value of religion ignoring the risk/reward heaven/hell proposition that comes with authoritative truth. They acknowledge the benefits identified here in this article but say “yeah, but I don’t really need religion for any of that. I could get the same benefits from a social club.” In theory, that may be true. But we don’t see that very often in reality. My challenge to anyone who might use that argument, please share with me the experience you had with a social club that provided these same benefits. I’ve never heard any good answers. Religion provides these tangible benefits for its followers, which are very difficult to replicate outside a formal religious experience.