In May of this year, the results of a study from Vanderbilt University came out with some findings on Church attendance. It would seem from the results of the study that attending Church, Mosque, Synagogue, and I assume other gatherings of worship reduce people’s likelihood of premature death by as much as 55%. Professor Marino Bruce, who is also a Baptist minister said. “We found in our study that actually attending church is actually good for your health, particularly for those between the ages of 40 and 65.”
Having spent most of my life as an unbeliever, I nonetheless find these results unsurprising. I have not looked into the study itself beyond reading a few articles about it and have little interest in debating the legitimacy or scientific pitfalls into which, it may or may not have fallen. As I indicated earlier, I am not surprised. I remember as a child the warmth of church families, the sense of belonging and security, as well as the sense of goodness that enveloped the entirety of faith involvement. I left the faith primarily due to intellectual reasoning against it rather than because of negative experiences. Not to say there were no adverse experiences, but they were not significant factors in my loss of faith.
The focus, however of believing in a divine force for good, of aligning your actions with positive directives, and the sense of having a place in this world, and beyond, I think, offer an emotional sustenance to believers. I can readily understand that they could provide health benefits. The ability to shake off the things that cause stress by merely having a conversation with God about them and such principles as forgiveness should lend themselves to high positivity. Science, and wisdom, in general, have long recognized the benefits of a positive attitude on health.
So, what about the unbelievers? I cannot find fault with the church for not accommodating atheism within its ranks. I have little difficulty seeing that doing so would seem counter to organizational survival. In any case, the majority of unbelievers have little interest in attending a church that focuses on worship of a deity they consider an imaginary figment anyway. So, the atheist dying prematurely because of needs unmet is not the fault of the believer in my mind. Any believer who feels that they should do more for the well-being of unbelievers is welcome to try if they feel so compelled, but I would advise against tying the benefit of association with a conversion.
The previous paragraph in mind, however, I will make a suggestion. The current statistical drop-off rate of religion in America is, if my memory serves, approximately 1% per year. At that pace, it seems reasonable to anticipate the eventual failure of churches to maintain viable attendance numbers and succumb to closure in increasing numbers. One could argue the case that encouraging unbelievers to attend church by engaging them in respectful, conversation might be advantageous in long-term survival. How such engagement would work or look in practice is well beyond my imagination but may not be beyond everyone. If achievable, we could move forward with a reduced division, which most would agree could be a good thing. Less angry rhetoric and more understanding dialogue. Respect seems vital for societal cohesion regardless of the diversity of worldviews.
So based on the assumption of the accuracy of the study I alluded to earlier, my son, in one of our Sunday chats suggested a secular replacement for church. We have since been exploring possibilities of such an endeavor. Thus far we are discussing possible dangers one might create as well as objectives and structure. We could agree, I think that we ought to tread carefully, lest we create a monster upon the pavement of good intentions.
A quick final thought for the day. In case you, dear reader, might have concluded from the study results that faith in God was the single required ingredient for the benefits mentioned, I must point out, for those who didn’t consider it, that the study found the positive benefits to manifest regardless of which faith was employed.