"Religion is Good for Your Health?!"
by Ken Gardner

We all know that many tend to take a rather dim view of religion. It's old-fashioned, it's for women and children, it's for do-gooders and busy bodies, some seem to think. Intellectuals, influenced by Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, ridicule religion as a superstition, a distraction for the oppressed and a crutch for the weak. Some people even consider religion a threat to our political liberties.

But you and I, as faithful Christians, know better. We appreciate the integrity and goodness taught in the Bible, we enjoy the blessings that come from right living, and we're grateful for the peace and serenity we have from prayer, worship, Bible study and our hope of heaven. Because we are God's children we are blessed, truly (Matthew 5:3-12; Psalm 1; Mark 10:28-31; Philippians 4:4,11).

Our Founding Fathers looked upon Christianity as the foundation of our freedoms. George Washington stated in his Farewell Address, "Of all the disposition and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

Social scientists are beginning to understand what Washington was talking about. Maggie Gallagher, a newspaper columnist, recently reported the findings of Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation. According to Fagan, "Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime and divorce." Gallagher states that "churchgoers . . . are not only happier than the unchurched, they are healthier by far, with lower rates of depression, higher self-esteem and far less incidence of alcohol and drug abuse or crime. Frequent worshipers have longer, happier marriages than their less religious counterparts. Very religious women, it turns out, even have better sex than agnostics."

Also, "regular church attendance reduces blood pressures on average by 5 millimeters--enough to reduce the mortality rate by as much as 20 percent."

Significantly, religion is especially beneficial to the disadvantaged, "those who face adversity, the sick, the poor and even racial minorities. Among black teenage girls, religious practice sharply reduces the rates of both premarital sex and pregnancy." The University of Nevada has found that "black men in prison come almost exclusively from one group: those who never went to church or those who stopped going about age 10."

Economist Richard Freeman's research indicates that inner-city youths who escape from poverty usually are religious. "Church attendance . . . affects school attendance, work activity and the frequency of socially deviant activity," he reported in 1985.

Believers are usually more prosperous than unbelievers. The average family income of weekly churchgoers was $37,021 in 1993, compared to $24,361 for the churchless.

"Ongoing research at Manhattan's De La Salle Academy has found that poor black and Hispanic kids who attend church are far more optimistic about their futures, have better relations with parents, have more serious goals, see racism as less of an obstacle and are far more likely to view the world as a place where they can achieve."

Others are finding out what we Christians have known all along. Godly living truly is the "good life." No wonder Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Philippians 4:4). Gallagher concluded, "An active faith inoculates against despair. Karl Marx had it all wrong. Religion isn't so much the opiate of the masses as the amphetamine, giving the poor (like the rest of us) the faith, courage and optimism they need to fight for the good life--in both senses of the word."