Religion’s Effects on Societies
First, let’s take a look at how religion affects societies around the world. It’s been empirically shown that countries with the highest rates of religiosity, like Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, etc. also have the highest rates of poverty 1, violent crime, infant mortality, and corruption 2 4. Highly impoverished nations tend to have high rates of religiosity 1. Poorer nations often have less access to quality education and overall lower quality of life which is likely why people in these nations turn to religion 3…for hope that someone or something can help make their lives better 1 2. Even in the United States, which is financially much better off than these impoverished nations, you can see how the rates of these characteristics vary in different areas that are more or less religious, and they follow the same patterns as countries all over the world 1.
Poor Brazilian Favela
Sweden is one of the safest nations in the world.
I’m not making the argument that secularized societies alleviate any of the issues mentioned, but the correlation between religion and society does not indicate that religion is necessary for a peaceful and flourishing society. In fact, it seems like religion is often used by its adherents to mask ills of society and create a shiny facade on the face of reality. They often ignore reality and instead look to the beautiful lie constructed by religion.
Religions Effect on Individual Well-being
Now, let’s look at if religion is a necessity for an individual person’s well-being. This particular dynamic is still undergoing research but if religion is necessary for personal well-being, we should see a unanimous trend away from a secular lifestyle towards a religious lifestyle in several areas, but we don’t. A study conducted in 2006 measured the effectiveness of prayer in post-op recovery in heart surgery patients. The results showed that patients receiving prayers had higher rates of post-op complications, but otherwise there was no difference. If religion was necessary for well-being, it would seem that the patients who didn’t receive any prayers should have fared worse than those who were prayed for, but they didn’t. The authors of the study concluded that more research is necessary and I agree.
Irreligious individuals do tend to have more psychological issues than religious people, but this can be explained by the stigmatization of atheists in the U.S. When someone leaves their religion, they generally lose their support structures and are often ostracized by their friends and/or families. Another factor is the toxicity that religious teachings impose on individuals. This can have serious effects on those who practice religion while they are practicing and long after they leave it. These mental health hang ups instilled by religion are not easily overcome.
Religious programming and the toxic codependency imposed by various theologies can sometimes take years to work through, if you’re lucky enough to work through them. Both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses completely sever ties with apostates. I have personally been alienated by family members and friends simply because I’m an atheist. So if atheists have poor or worse mental health than the religious, it’s likely the result of the lasting impacts from religion and religious people. I’m aware this is anecdotal, but in my own, personal experience, I was able to find more meaning and purpose to life after leaving my faith. I found that this life has much more value once the promise of eternal life was removed from my worldview.
Depression affects everyone regardless of religious affiliation.
Finally, I am NOT saying that we should eradicate religion or that everyone should choose to walk away from their beliefs. I’m also not trying to make the case that religion causes the many issues we experience in the world. What I AM saying is that religion is not necessary for societies or individuals to flourish and live happily. With or without religion there will be people who justify horrible actions. With or without religion there will be poverty. With or without religion there will be violent crime and infant death. It seems to me that societies and communities which are highly religious are so BECAUSE of the tragedy they experience in their lives, not the other way around. Societal and personal ills exist and people turn to religion to cope with them. In a lot of cases people turn to religion, prayer instead of taking action and it seems to me that is where religion can and does cause harm.