Are religious people more stable than non-religious people? That’s the question posed in a Stone Hearth News post earlier this year. The article cites a study in Psychological Science that looks at the correlation between self-esteem and religion.
The bottom line to the study is that religious people have more self-esteem and are better psychologically adjusted than non-religious people, but that’s only true in religious countries.
The study suggests there is no advantage psychologically to being religious in non-religious countries. The study concludes that religious countries naturally affirm religious people, which in turn promotes self-esteem. So it’s not the religion that promotes the self-esteem as much as the culture that supports the religion.
How Do You Define Religion?
Interesting study, but open to interpretation. There are too many variables. As is often the case, how you interpret a study has a lot to do with how you define your terms. The appropriate question to ask here is: how do you define being religious? Does that mean a person intensely involved in ritual practices related to God? Or does it mean a person who has a vital daily connection to God with no religious practices? Or a combination of both?
I can see how the skeptic could walk away from this study and say, “See, religion is just a man-made construct that makes people feel good but has nothing to do with the reality of a transcendent god.” But that’s why it’s important to define your terms.
To be fair, religion can merely be a mental construct that makes people feel better about themselves. Religion creates a safe psychological world where everything makes sense and Big Brother (God) is watching out for you. Life is simplified into black and white so you don’t have to think as much, reducing stress. Religion can be about God without actually engaging God at all. I hold as much contempt for that kind of escapism as any atheist does.
Religious or Spiritual?
But there is a stability that comes from being grounded in a sense of Otherness that comes from believing in a personal God. Much of our dysfunction in life comes from our need to perform for others in order to achieve some level of acceptance and worth. That’s a set up for failure. But when people find value apart from their achievements (including their religious performance) in the unconditional love of God, that can be life changing.
As I define terms, this kind of connection to God isn’t religion. It’s a valid spiritual connection that transcends religion. Self-esteem doesn’t come from the religion or the culture that affirms the religious; it comes from an inner awareness that you are accepted by God apart from your daily performance.
Question: How would you define religion? Do you think how you define religion impacts the interpretation of this study? Leave your comment below. Thanks.