In a new paper published in the Journal of Religion and Health, researcher David Speed says that atheism, contrary to popular belief, is not bad for your physical health, emotional health, or psychological well-being.
Maybe you never thought it was bad for your health. But a lot of research has shown religion is good for your health for reasons that have nothing to do with the supernatural. Bob Smietana of Religion News Service summarizes that general line of research:
People who regularly attend services are less likely to smoke, may be less likely to use drugs or be obese and may live longer than those who don’t attend services. Those findings have led some to conclude that, if religion is good for you, being an atheist will be bad for your health.
If religion is good for you, the thinking goes, then non-religion must be bad for you, right?
Not true, says Dr. Speed. While religious people may avoid “vices” because of peer pressure from their religious communities, or because they fear committing a sin, a lot of atheists make those same decisions simply because of their personal moral framework.
Some people — include Speed himself — simply aren’t interested in using those substances. Whatever the motivation, these groups see abstaining from alcohol and drugs as important.
To put that another way, a lot of atheists want to do the right thing for the right reasons, not the right things for the wrong reasons. If it matters, Speed was using data that’s about a decade old because it “had a unique identifier for whether an individual identified as an atheist,” but it’s hard to imagine you’d find radically different results today.
While other researchers have used proxy measures of atheism to assess the health of Canadians… I could not confirm health deficits in the atheist group. For all intents and purposes atheists did not substantially deviate from non-atheist groups.
There was one area, however, where believers fared better. Speed found that religion was good for your social health — because being part of a larger community is usually a good thing! — but that’s not exactly news. Smietana has a larger roundup of studies regarding atheists and health in his piece, but the gist of it is that whatever benefits people get from church have more to do with the communal aspects of it than the God-belief itself.
We’ve also seen plenty of evidence that countries where people aren’t that religious fare pretty damn well in terms of well-being, health, and prosperity.
You don’t need God to be good. You don’t need God to be healthy. The benefits of religion come from its secular aspects. This seems to be a running theme in all the research.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to everyone for the link)