Indeed, health and religion are very much connected. Professor Vander Weele’s new research with colleagues at Harvard University- building on more than 20 years of prior work in this area- suggests that attending religious services brings about better physical and mental health. Adults who do so at least once a week versus not at all have been shown to have a significantly lower risk of dying over the next decade and a half. The results have been replicated in enough studies and populations to be considered quite reliable.
I often think that if you took your blood pressure before you came to mass and afterwards that you would see a drop in it, and that you would feel more at peace, connected to yourself and other people and that your spirits would be lifted. This is so obvious that we just take it for granted. Also, listening to the word of God, listening to a good homily, hearing good music is bound to energize us and give us new hope and perspective.
This science does not endorse one faith over another or suggest what society is to do with such information. But there are two opportunities – one societal and one personal- for good to come from this work. The news media, the academy and the broader public could use this new understanding to weigh religion’s greater societal value. And for individuals , this research provides a not-so- subtle invitation to reconsider what religion can do for them. (More to come)