Image: REUTERS/Chris Keane
By Tom Jacobs
Is being a believer beneficial to one’s mental health? That’s the conclusion of much psychological research, which points to both the social support of belonging to a congregation, and the stress-reducing qualities of knowing that a larger force is looking out for you.
But a newly published study challenges those beliefs. Analyzing answers provided by a large and diverse group of participants, it finds “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.”
“The impaired mental health stigma against secular [individuals] is, at the very least, an exaggeration,” write Jon T. Moore of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, California, and Mark Leach of the University of Louisville. Their research is published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
Responding to the fact that past research on this topic has “largely excluded secular participants,” Moore and Leach used online forums to create a pool made up of a wide variety of believers and non-believers. Their sample of 4,667 people (which skewed young, with a mean age of 27) consisted of atheists (who made up 37 percent of the total), agnostics (19 percent), Christians (11 percent), “spiritual nonreligious individuals” (10 percent), Buddhists (three percent), Jews (one percent), and a smattering of adherents to other faiths.
All filled out a series of surveys that measured, among things, the importance of religion in their lives, and their level of “existential dogmatism.” The latter was determined by where they landed on a seven-point scale ranging from “Absolutely certain God exists” to “Absolutely certain God does not exist,” with “God’s existence or nonexistence is unknowable” in the middle.
Read the full article by clicking the name of the source located below.