Read More Atheist Republic New research published in the Journal of Religion and Health reveals that atheists and agnostics are just as healthy and satisfied with their lives as religious people, debunking the idea that religion and spirituality have a more positive effect on personal well-being.
“Atheists and agnostics tend to be just a healthy and satisfied with life as their religious counterparts, according to new research published in Journal of Religion and Health.”https://t.co/F6adJcBI5R
— The Thinking Atheist (@ThinkingAtheist) January 27, 2023
David Speed, the study’s author and an associate professor at the University of New Brunswick, put the belief-as-benefit hypothesis to the test. This hypothesis was drawn from a broad pattern of findings positively correlating religious beliefs and behaviors with health outcomes. Most of these studies, however, failed to include non-believers.
“There is an enormous literature addressing religion and health; there are literally 10,000s of articles connecting belief, religious attendance, prayer, religiosity, etc., with a variety of health outcomes,” Speed explained. “However, there is a shortage of research addressing atheists, despite this population consisting of millions of Americans and Canadians.”
For the study, Speed used data collected from the General Social Survey to determine whether religion positively connected with physical and psychological health in a representative sample of Canadians. The sample included 455 atheists, 215 agnostics, 2,080 participants who identified as non-religious, 6,205 Catholics, 5,685 Protestants, 595 practitioners of Eastern religions, and 430 individuals who belonged to other faiths.
The survey collected data about religious identity, how often the participants prayed and attended religious services, and how religious they were (“How important are your religious or spiritual beliefs to the way you live your life?”). The survey also contained assessments where participants self-rated their stress, physical health, satisfaction in life, and mental health.
In the study, Speed failed to find any evidence that religious people had better levels of physical health, mental health, life satisfaction, and stress compared to non-religious people, even after controlling variables such as age, sex, household income, language, marital status, minority status, geographic region, and educational attainment.
Furthermore, Speed found that religious attendance, prayer, and religiosity did not affect all four outcomes. The results remained the same even after comparing the most non-religious atheists and agnostics with the most religious Catholics, Protestants, and practitioners of Eastern religions and other faiths.
“The average person should be skeptical of claims that religion is inherently healthy or inherently health-promoting,” Speed told the online psychology website PsyPost. “While some religious people are undoubtedly healthy, the same can be said of some nonreligious people. Whatever advantages to life religion may (or may not offer), health simply isn’t one of them.”
“I’ve published a fair bit in this field, so my findings weren’t particularly surprising to me,” Speed added. “But, my findings do run counter to an enormous literature that extols the health benefits of religion. My research program regularly shows that there are few (if any) health benefits to religion. This may surprise individuals who are only passingly familiar with the field.”
Speed’s study was in line with previous similar research that surveyed 15,000 Americans. However, the new study had some limitations, as with most research, since the General Social Survey had no data on two critical factors: social support and personality.
“Research addressing religion and health is almost always correlational. This means that we can’t figure out if religion is actually causing health differences,” Speed explained. “For my money, I’d wager that the religion-health relationship is an indirect effect of social support or coherency.”
“We need to explore whether nonreligious groups (e.g., atheists, agnostics, Satanists, etc.) are systematically less healthy than the religious – if we can’t find a consistent difference, this would suggest the field has deep problems,” he added.