Religion often receives bad press. When rising at dawn, sitting down to your morning coffee and reading the paper, you may come across stories of how religion has brainwashed disadvantaged people into committing horrendous acts including terrorism. How does it prevent people from behaving how they want to behave, stops them from marrying who they want, and how various scandals engulf organized religions, making them seem corrupt and out of touch with the messages they supposedly promote. However, as a corrective to this, you may also read about how religion can enrich human life, how it can provide comfort and solace in moments of pain and doubt, and how it can provide answers where it seemed there were none, and much more besides. So, just what are the positives of religion?
From the time of the first studies into the impact of religion on society by sociologists such as Emile Durkheim, who believed that religion can be a ‘social glue’, which promotes a collective conscience of shared morals and values, preventing what Durkheim called ‘Anomie’, a sense of purposelessness, there have been as many scholars who have agreed that religion can have a positive impact on society as those who had the opposite effect. For example, religion has been the foundation of many reforms that have proved to be immense social goods. For example, it is well acknowledged that the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which protected rights such as the right to life and the right to freedom of expression, is a product of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Likewise, groups such as the Red Cross had their foundations in religion. Religion has also led to social and political reforms through promoting civil rights for the disadvantaged. For example, Martin Luther King used non-violent means and civil disobedience to bring racial equality in the United States. Despite all of the bad press that religion receives, religion has a long tradition of non-violence; for example, Quakers believe that violence is against God’s wishes, and thus they are pacifists.
Aside from important social changes, religion has also given us great art, such as Michelangelo’s sublime depiction of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, and the Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci, and heavenly music, such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. On the individual and family level, religion has been shown to have positive effects on families and children. For example, peer reviewed psychological studies have shown that religious belief can have a positive impact on mental health. Parents may also be interested in the fact that a sociological study conducted at Mississippi State University found that children whose parents regularly went to church and discussed religious matters with their children had more self-control, more developed social skills, and responded better in school to learning tasks than kids whose parents did not go to church. So, religion can actually make kids behaved more! Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Religion can provide much more than this, and we are always learning new ways in which religion can enrich our lives. What do you think is the biggest positive of religion for the individual or society?
For many, religion and life are inseparable. For them every action is inextricably linked to their faith, and they express their faith through daily living. In this way, faith isn’t just about going to church, and every facet of life is given a spiritual significance. Because of this, faith can enrich and improve everyday life in a multitude of ways.According to research on those with faith, religious people are happier. Research conducted by sociologists in the US found that the social networks that religions encourage, through participation in church groups, fetes and etc. led to a greater sense of well being than those without faith. Religion also protects against depression and anxiety. Psychologists in America found that those who were depressed recovered more quickly and had lower rates of relapse if religion was an intrinsic part of their lives. This was tied to the belief that a supreme being cared.
Religion can also influence people decisions, or, perhaps more important in society in which a trip to the supermarket gives you the choice of a bewildering array of salad dressings, religion can help people choose. Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist, discussed the ‘paradox of choice’ in his book titled the same. In a society with too much choice, whatever we choose makes us unhappy, as we know we could have made another, and possibly better, choice. Religion, to certain extent, can liberate us from this. I remember as a student, visiting a synagogue as part of my studies to learn about other religions. The religious laws that he had to follow baffled me, and I asked him if it was hard. He said ‘no, in fact it is liberating. I don’t have to worry what to wear, what to eat or what to do in certain situations. This allows me to concentrate on more important things.
Nowadays, due to advances in technology, we can experience religion in our everyday lives in new ways. For example, televangelism (the practice of preaching on the TV) allows services to come into our living room. As well as this, we can now worship online. Internet churches like the London Internet Churches have allowed us to worship wherever we are, whatever time it is. You may know somebody who cannot get to church because of illness of physical infirmity. The days in which this prevented someone from worshiping are gone. As we have seen, religion can enrich our everyday lives in a number of ways. What does your faith bring to your day to day life?
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