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SOME BENEFITS OF BELIEF IN GOD
In my last essay “The Notion of God,” I pointed to the difference between a fact and a belief. A fact is distinguished by virtue that it is verifiable by other people. A belief, on the other hand, lacks this virtue and cannot be independently verified by a skeptic. I said that all religious beliefs necessarily fall in the latter category because existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. Thus, I argued that people should hold their beliefs humbly. By this, I meant that we cannot act as though our belief is the one and only correct belief. We must also respect other people’s right to hold different beliefs. In today’s essay, I address some of the benefits of believing in God. Yes, believing in God has benefits.
According to the website “Research Summary for the Benefits of Things,” belief in God has several benefits for individuals and societies. However, I will only focus on some of the benefits for an individual’s health. It turns out that people who believe in God experience less stress, worry less, tolerate uncertainty better, and respond to psychiatric treatment better than people who do not believe. Pretty cool, huh?
A group of researchers at the University of Toronto measured brain activity while research participants underwent a stroop task. Compared to non-believers, people who believed in God showed less activation of their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Because the ACC helps to signal when increased attention and control are needed in response to anxiety or uncertainty, the researchers found that belief in God helped the believers to experience less stress and anxiety in response to their own errors. Further, they postulated that belief in God had a calming affect.
A paper by David Rosmarin of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital reported on two separate studies involving religious belief. The first study found that people who trusted in God to take care of them had lower levels of worry and less intolerance of uncertainty than people who did not trust in God. In the second study, participants were shown a video that was meant to increase trust in God. The researchers found that the video did increase trust in God. Further, increases in trust in God were associated with decreased feelings of stress, worry, and decreased intolerance of uncertainty.
In another study at Rush University Medical Center, researchers assessed religious beliefs in people experiencing unipolar and bipolar depression. The researchers found that people who believed in a God who cared about them were more likely to respond to treatment with antidepressant medication. More specifically, people who scored in the upper third of the Religious Well-Being Scale were 75 percent more likely to respond to treatment. Finally, degree of hopefulness in people did not predict who would respond better to treatment with antidepressants.
This is just a small sample of numerous studies that show positive effects for a belief in God. In my previous essay, I pointed to the fact that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. I then clarified that it makes as much sense to believe in God as it does not to believe in God. I also mentioned that belief in God came with benefits. Here I only pointed out those benefits for the health of individuals. Among the benefits for belief in God were experiencing less stress, worrying less, tolerating uncertainty better, and even responding to psychiatric treatment better than people who did not believe. It is important to restate that this doesn’t prove the existence of God. Existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved. Thus again, this should remind us of the necessity of holding our beliefs humbly.