We humans can be destructive to ourselves. Many people live unhealthy lifestyles because it gives them short-term enjoyment, ignoring the long-term suffering it causes.
The same thing applies to religion. It has now, yet again, been proven that religion and belief in God make us happier and better equipped to deal with life’s troubles. Still, there are many people who would rather indulge in irreligiosity than lead a religious and therefore happier life.
Prof. Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics and Dr. Orsolya Lelkes of the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research recently presented their research at the conference of the Royal Economic Society in Coventry, UK. They said that religious believers are happier overall than atheists or agnostics.
What I found most interesting, however, was the following discovery: regular church attendance and an active prayer life make people even happier than passive belief alone.
But wait a second: Isn’t organized religion the root of all evil?
Many Jews in the United States have turned away from religion for this very reason—they claim that organized religion is the cause of all wars and suffering for mankind. Some have therefore opted for a more individual spiritual life, which does not enforce upon them any social or communal norms and does not expect them to pray regularly or go to a house of worship. Others have abandoned religion all together. They see no value in community affiliation beyond its social benefits.
But now we have real evidence about the benefits of active belief and practice within an organized setting. "Religion tempers the impact of adverse life events," say the authors of the study.
To the religiously affiliated, this has always been a known fact. In Judaism, for example, there is a law that requires prayers to be held in a quorum of 10, known as a Minyan. In fact, according to Jewish law, even a traveler who has reached his destination must travel an extra four miles to find a Minyan with whom to pray.
Invoking the verse from Proverbs that states (8:35), "One who finds Me finds life,” the Talmud (Brachot 8a) says that a person who is particular about praying with the community merits long life.
The fact that people do not want to become religious is as understandable as that some don’t want to eat healthily or exercise. But at least now those people cannot blame their lack of religious affiliation on the false claim that organized religion is bad for humanity or bad for the individual.
Rabbi Levi Brackman (www.levibrackman.com)
is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills (www.jitf.org).
His upcoming book, about Jewish Business Success, is set to be published in late 2008.