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Can Religion be Both Bad and Good for Us?

  • 2016 May 10


"Of course there are biases against evangelicals on campuses," says Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard. Walton, an African-American evangelical, knows whereof he speaks.


According to a study conducted by sociology professor George Yancey, fifty-nine percent of anthropologists and fifty-three percent of English professors would be less likely to hire an evangelical. Yancey has personal experience here. He says he has faced many challenges because he is black, but "inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close." 


New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes the illogic of such discrimination, citing Condoleezza Rice, Francis Collins (head of the National Institutes of Health), and Martin Luther King Jr. as conservative Christians who disprove the myth that such Christians cannot be intellectuals.


So religion is bad for us, according to today's news. But religion is also good for us, according to today's news.


Scientists already knew that spirituality is beneficial for our physical health. A research project encompassing ninety-one different studies concluded that "religiosity/spirituality was associated with reduced mortality in healthy population studies." In particular, "organizational activity (e.g. church attendance) was associated with greater survival in healthy population studies."


Now research indicates that spirituality leads to positive health benefits for one particular group: HIV/AIDS patients. According to The Atlantic, such patients "who engaged in spiritual practices and thinking had a greater rate of survival than people who did not—two to four times greater, in fact."


A technique called "positive spiritual reframing" was found to be especially helpful. In this approach, people find a way of thinking about their situation more positively using the language of spirituality. One patient found new purpose in her disease when she began serving others with the same diagnosis, for example.


So religion may be bad for our public standing but good for our personal health. This discovery should not surprise us.


Consider the roster of Jesus' followers who suffered for their obedience but were rewarded by their Father. His inner circle consisted of Peter (crucified upside down), James (beheaded), and John (exiled on Patmos). Paul, his "apostle to the Gentiles," was beheaded. From then to now, more Christians have died for their faith than all other religious martyrs combined.


Each is in his or her eternal reward now, wearing imperishable crowns (1 Corinthians 9:25) of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), glory (1 Peter 5:4), and life (Revelation 2:10). One second on the other side of death, each would say their sacrifice was worth all it cost and so much more.


When last did it cost you something significant to follow Jesus? Will you pay any price to serve him today? If you will, you will know an inner peace and joy the world can neither give nor take, the blessing of his presence in this life and the next.


So let's say with the prophet: "As for me, I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation" (Micah 7:7). Why not make this commitment to your Father right now?



Publication date: May 10, 2016


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