Supposed Benefits of Worship

This morning I discovered the first editorial by the staff of the Florida Times-Union this year on the topic of religion or irreligion. It was published today under the heading, “Benefits of Worship.”

Want a better, longer life? Try a house of worship.

That's the conclusion of a Heritage Foundation research paper that summarizes dozens of studies on religion and its impact. The peer-reviewed papers found those who worship regularly tended to have better marriages, stronger work ethics and healthier parent-child relationships. They had less depression, suicide and domestic violence.

This can be explained in secular terms. Behavior defined as "moral" tends to be more moderate, and thus healthier, both medically and psychologically. Twelve-step programs insist on the involvement with a spiritual, higher power as part of their reform process. Also, many people establish close friendships at church, and that support sometimes helps them get through the difficult times of life. Praying involves expressing good intentions. The more people express them, the more likely they are to act on them.

Health in mind, body and spirit - ancient advice. The basis for all of it, which sets apart human beings, is spiritual health.
Although this was written regarding a particular research paper by the Heritage Foundation, I have been unable to locate any more information on this document by the conservative think-tank within the pages of the newspaper. It appears to conflict with other studies on similar topics and it's difficult to determine which studies are accurate without becoming a professional pollster oneself. The editors are most certainly aware of these conflicting studies given that three letters to the editor have been published in their very newspaper on this topic within the last two weeks, yet they choose to base their recommendation on the most favorable study without even mentioning the others.

The middle section seems rather garbled from an argumentative standpoint. First, the author states that even if the findings are true, they may have secular explanations, thus saying nothing about the truth of religion. I agree wholeheartedly. Then they imply that religion leads to more “moderate” behavior although the study investigated frequency of worship and various indicators of health, not actual behavior. It may or may not be true, but that's not what the study examined from what I have gathered. Next they state that 12-step programs depend on trust in God, but within a paragraph about secular explanations, it almost seems to imply that this trust may be nothing more than the equivalent of Dumbo's feather. Finally, regarding the usefulness of prayer, I am unconvinced that expressing a good intention within prayer correlates to a higher rate of fulfilling that intention. It's quite conceivable that a person who asks God to do something will at least occasionally actually trust him to do it and be less likely to try to achieve that goal by their own efforts. Whatever the case, this is pure speculation without any hard data.

The author recommends attending a worship service in order to improve health, but I believe they instead should have cut out the middle man and simply recommended practicing “moderate” behavior and establishing close friendships within the community. Many people find worship services meaningless and tedious, but lead healthy, fulfilling lives without God.

The final sentence of the text is notable from a linguistic viewpoint. The author used set apart as an inseparable phrasal verb (“sets apart humans”) which normally denotes to save or to preserve instead of as a separable phrasal verb (“sets humans apart”) which normally denotes to distinguish. The second construction would have fit the context much better, assuming that the author meant to say that spirituality distinguishes humans from other animals.


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