For decades now, the Western World has been getting increasingly secular. Involvement in organized religion has decreased, many people who identify as a specific religion are adherents in name only and “spiritual” has come to be a far more fashionable label than “religious.” Shifts in values and ethics have reflected this collective move away from faith.There are many people who see this slow but steady exodus away from religion as a good thing. A large number of these people were against religion to begin with, so this is not surprising. They gleefully point out the “dangers” of organized religion, often by citing modern Islamic terrorism or the Spanish Inquisition. The fact that the atheistic Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot each individually racked up death tolls in the millions, more people than existed in the medieval Spanish Empire, is cheerfully ignored. Religion is relegated to a threat or, at best, a primitive superstition to be eradicated.
The decrease in the size of the religious population is not a good thing, no matter what ardent secularists may claim. Religion has long been a source of good for individuals, communities and nations. While some have used religion as a flimsy excuse to pursue political goals, religion itself has never been the enemy. Far from causing trouble, religion has a great number of benefits for practitioners and their wider communities.
MoralityReligion is still the basis for most modern day morals even in households that claim to be purely secular. The most basic tenets of morality are found in religion, and they are still taught to children raised in secular families. Parents simply pass on the moral without the surrounding religious context. For example, one of the most basic ethical principles is “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Some version of this is found in almost every religion on Earth.
The impact of religion on morals and values also shows in how people act. Children and teens who are active practitioners of their religion are less likely to use drugs, smoke, become juvenile delinquents, drink underage or drop out of high school than children who are not religious. Similarly, adults who regularly attend religious services have been found to commit fewer crimes and are less likely to end up unemployed or on welfare. This, of course, is a boon not only to the individual but their wider community and nation as well.
ResiliencePeople who participate in religion are more likely to have a deeper reserve of inner strength and bounce back more quickly from problems such as a divorce, loss of employment or injury. Given that it is inevitable that a person will eventually be confronted with tragedy, the resilience that religion helps impart is of great value to adherents.
Part of the reason for this increase in resilience is psychological. Those who believe that there is a being or force working for their benefit, even if by teaching painful lessons, can find meaning in their suffering as opposed to seeing themselves as a helpless victim of chance. Religious people are also more likely to have a stronger support network as a result of meeting people through religious services, classes and volunteer opportunities. When tragedy strikes, a religious person is not alone. Their support network comes together to help them get back on their feet quickly.
CuriosityThose who dislike religion tend to try and characterize religious people as sheep who blindly do what they are told and close their eyes to everything that could potentially contradict their ideals. In reality, religion often encourages curiosity. Religious people almost always want to better understand the divine. They wish to investigate that which, by its very nature, cannot be understood. Many religious people also want to understand the physical world around them. They may see it as the creation of the deity or holy in and of itself. This childlike wonder and desire to know often manifest as curiosity. This is no doubt part of why some of the most famous scientists of all have been people of faith.
CompassionAlmost every religion on Earth places a great deal of emphasis on compassion. Most religions call for adherents to show this compassion through service and charity, and most adherents comply. Religious people give far more money to charity than those who are not religious, and religious practitioners are far more likely to volunteer than their secular counterparts.
Organized religions offer special compassionate services as well. The faith may run rehab centers, adoption agencies, hospitals, foster care programs, therapy options for veterans and shelters for those who are either victims of domestic violence or are homeless. By helping those in need, religions not only assist those individuals but also shoulder a huge burden that the rest of the community or the local government would otherwise have to handle. When those religiously based services are forced to close their doors, government resources are often stretched to the breaking point.
LongevityDespite the fact that religious people are often more comfortable with their mortality and inevitable death, religious adherents actually tend to live longer lives than their non-religious counterparts. On average, religious people can expect their faith to tack an extra seven years onto their life expectancy. This is in part due to the fact that people of faith tend to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, less alcohol and drug use and a lower risk of depression than those who are purely secular.
CommunityOrganized religion naturally fosters a sense of community among its members. Strangers who share a faith know, at the very least, that they share the same basic values and worldview. This leads to a much easier time forming strong bonds. Organized religions also tend to offer more opportunities for community building. People talk before and after religious services, attend religious classes or talks together, make use of the same volunteer communities and might well have either acquaintances or friends in common. All of this helps to build a stronger sense of community which means that when one person or one locality struggles, the wider community is there to help in any way possible.
For all that some people would love to see religion go the way of the dinosaurs, organized religion has a great deal to offer both its adherents and the wider world. From morality to a stronger sense of community, religion brings an abundance of benefits to the table. There is a reason, after all, faith has survived not only individual tragedies but the great test of time.