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Caution: Shaking your fist at the sky while proclaiming that God doesn’t exist and mocking the faith of His flock can be harmful to your health.

“This isn’t about what happens to you in the hereafter,” writes Patrick Chisholm for the news website the Daily Caller. “It’s about what happens to you in the here and now. Atheists and agnostics suffer, on average, higher rates of physical ailments, depression, suicide, alcohol use and drug addiction. They have greater marital instability, weaker parent-child relationships, lower lifetime earnings, lower educational attainment and higher rates of criminal activity.”

“These aren’t some trumped-up claims made by people with a religious ax to grind,” he continues. “These are the conclusions of many scholars in the sciences and social sciences whose work appears in numerous non-religious scholarly journals including Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Personality and Clinical Studies, Social Science Research, Preventive Medicine, Demography and many more.”

Chisholm cites headlines on LiveScience.com — which he notes is “hardly a religious or conservative publication,” which include “Churchgoers live longer,” “Online prayer helps cancer patients,” “Churchgoers breathe easier” and “Why religion makes people happier.”

Why are the faithful healthier?

“On the physical side,” notes Chisholm, “religious belief often prompts one to view one’s body as sacred and a gift from God, which reduces the likelihood of such factors as smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, unsafe driving, physical inactivity and substance abuse. Religious persons also tend to have a greater support network of family and friends, which encourages healthier lifestyles.”

Additionally:

People prone to anxiousness and depression tend to die sooner than would otherwise be the case, and religious practice often reduces those negative mental conditions. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that very religious persons are less likely to have been diagnosed with depression during their lifetimes than the moderately religious or nonreligious.

The evidence that religion has such a strong positive effect on health and well-being is so compelling that some non-religious mental health professionals even recommend religion therapy for their patients. “Religious therapy resulted in significantly faster recovery from depression when compared with standard secular cognitive-behavioral therapy,” according to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Another very secular institution, National Public Radio, featured a story that goes a long way in explaining why religion has such a profound positive effect on outcomes and behavior. The perception that someone or something is always watching, evaluating and judging your every move can make a model citizen out of you in no time.

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