Sunday, July 8, 2012

Are Religious People Healthier?

I've been thinking a lot about this guy since yesterday. Obviously, his argument (that religion makes you healthier so Atheists should pay a tax penalty for not going to church) is ridiculous. But I do believe that people who belong to things (clubs, neighborhoods, organizations and yes, churches) are healthier. I don't think this has anything to do with God, but I know from my work in public health that one of the things we look for in our studies is connectedness. We ask questions like

Is there someone who could look after your children for 20 minutes if you needed them to?
Is there someone who would check on you a few times a day if you were sick in bed?
Is there someone who could help you find new housing if you needed to move?

All of these things relate directly to health. People avoid going to the doctor if they can't find someone to watch their kids. They get sicker if nobody brings them chicken soup. They stay in unsafe housing if they don't know where else to go.

Does it matter if they know these people from the neighborhood or from church? Not really. But your congregation is more likely to get together to bring you food when you're recovering from surgery, or to visit you after a death in the family, than your neighbors. Your clergy person has special visitation rights in the hospital.

This is one of the issues I plan to bring up in my presentation on secular religion. Because I think that these are issues Atheists need to deal with. Caring for others in the community is something Religion does well, particularly in our current society where most of us don't live in small towns where everyone knows each other's business. My congregation has a Caring Community whose job it is to make sure that people in distress get visits from community members, a few meals if they need it, and they keep the Rabbi updated if someone wants a visit from her. There's no reason a Humanist community can't do the same for its members.

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