A number of research projects point to how people who have faith also enjoy better physical and mental health.
However, it is not certain whether it is faith, the lifestyle surrounding religion or a combination of factors that account for the beneficial effects.
According to a paper published in the Journal of Religion and Health, written by researchers from the institute of health research at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), the effect might be better than previously thought.
An even greater positive effect
The SDU team discovered that many ill people – both mentally and physically – tend to be drawn to religion when they become ill, thus distorting the findings of previous studies.
“If we could cleanse all the studies of sick ‘late arrivals’ to religion, we would probably see an even greater positive effect from living the religious life – that is to say where faith is more an inner goal in life and is used less to handle crises,” explained Niels Christian Hvidt, an associate professor at SDU.
No need for gods
The researcher’s project is based on questionnaires filled out by 3,000 identical and fraternal twins, all of whom live in Denmark, which is considered one of the world’s most secular countries.
The results show that twins are perhaps even less religious than the norm in Denmark. When some of them turn to religion anyway, according to their written answers, it is because of life crises, depression, chronic pain or life-threatening illnesses. This happened to every third twin in the survey.
According to the researchers, why these twins in particular are less religious could be because they live in secular Denmark, and because they are between 20 and 40 years old and it is typically older people who become religious. Twins also always have a companion and therefore may not need a god.
An overview of the studies carried out on the connection between religion and health in an article entitled ‘Faith moves mountains – mountains move faith’ finds that 72 percent show a positive connection between religion and mental health, 16 percent show a negative connection and 12 percent find no connection at all.
The reasons for the positive connection can be a healthy lifestyle, the feeling of having a purpose in life, meditation, prayer, a weekly day of rest and a good social network.