Religion makes you unhealthy, poor, and stupid.

Religion makes you healthy, wealthy, and wise…..Well, except the healthy, wealthy, and wise parts. The myth that religion is good for you has become almost as popular as the idea that some smelly sand virgin conceived a god-child. The promulgation of this myth is part of an orchestrated effort by well-funded right wing pseudoscholars to help provide the pseudointellectual foundations for their theocratic wet dreams. But, most of the actual research findings are for minor league indicators of mood, very small effects on depressive symptoms, and associations with survival. Most of the associations are with indicators of public religious participation (gee, people who are well enough to get out and see their friends live longer and are happier, surprise, surprise).  Some mood effects are also found for prayer and other forms of meditation. Frankly, I’ve become quite skeptical of most of the research in this area, particularly clinical type studies conducted by religious devotees (and it isn’t just Christians, there are Hindu and Buddhist nutters  in spades).  Yet another new article in ASR on this almost made me puke. It said nothing that couldn’t have been learned from Ellison, Gay, and Glass (1989, SF) and I can’t for the life of me see how it merited publication in ASR, except that the authors are religionists and heavily funded by Templeton–so they got hand-job reviews from other fundees maybe? ASA needs a policy on conflicts of interest.

I’ve been helping on a paper with Ben Moulton which shows some quite interesting problems with the “healthy” issue. What Ben’s findings show is that the positive correlation between survival and church attendance is only present among people who don’t have a college degree. Indeed, among college graduates, going to church kills you. You can see this in the graph of mortality risks above by church attendance and degree status. College graduates who went to church a lot were much more likely to die during  a 10 year follow up than were college graduates who NEVER GO to CHURCH. This echoes similar findings on mental health outcomes from Scott Schieman, though you never see this issue amplified and Ben has had a very tough time with true believer reviewers at several journals. I was shocked to see a nice paper in JSSR showing that sectarian religious nutters have the highest mortality rates. Of course, this key finding is not presented in the abstract or amplified in the paper. I wonder how that one slipped past the Christianists? I’m sure if the author showed that sectarian christians have the lowest mortality rates it would have been a ringer for ASR.

Given the weakness and equivocality of the impact of religion on health in the United States, it’s interesting to see that the Division of Jesus in the United States Armed Forces has now been tracking the “spiritual fitness” of our troops. And, you gotta know that that their little spiritual fitness questionnaire was designed by some “social scientist”, right? After all, if our troops don’t believe in a great sky wizard, how will they have the will to kill them Muslims? I mean, there is no way a guy can do six tours in Iraqistan if he or she doesn’t believe in a higher power giving meaning and purpose to killing people for Halliburton! And, obviously, what the hack pseudoscholars really want to do is to prescribe jesus. You sick? Go to church! Pray to the lord Jesus! You don’t need Medicaid or Medicare or Obamacare or any of that godless communist moslem homosexual stuff, you need the lord jesus! Jesus makes you unhealthy, poor, and stupid. That’s what real research shows.


7 Responses to “Religion makes you unhealthy, poor, and stupid.”

  1. James Sweet Says:


    Where’s the data from? I can’t quite make out the footnotes, so if it says it there, I can’t read it.

    Also, any idea what the causal mechanism is? I’m not hugely surprised to see that the “church attendance makes you healthier” trend disappears for college graduates — for one, they are going to be less in need of a social safety net; and for another, among the general population church attendance might be a better indicator of “having your shit together enough to attend a weekly meeting” than it is of religiosity, whereas including only college graduates in your sample is going to drastically reduce the percentage of people who don’t have their shit together.

    But why would church attendance KILL college graduates? That’s weird. Even with my biases — of which you are well aware — I still would have expected it to be more or less flat. Or even showing a very slight benefit to church attendance, just because of the aforementioned “having your shit together” correlation, as well as dogmatic disapproval of stuff that is fun-but-maybe-kinda-harmful, like drinking.

    Any ideas?

  2. sherkat Says:

    Yikes! That really turned out ugly, didn’t it! We use data from the 1987 National Health Interview Survey – Cancer Risk Factor Supplement (NHIS-CRF) linked to the National Death Index (NCHS 1997). The original survey was administered to 22,080 non-institutionalized adult residents of the United States. These are the same data analyzed in the widely touted papers finding negative influences of religiosity on mortality (Hummer et al. 1999; Ellison et al. 2000; Musick, House and Williams 2004).

    I think what we see in the interaction effect is that for people with no education, social participation like religion and religiosity itself is a benefit for generating social support and for prevent negative health behaviors and promoting positive health behaviors. However, among the educated it does the opposite–it prevents people from doing healthy things (no sunday bike ride for you!), and they don’t need a big bad sky god to tell them that smoking is bad, and that they shouldn’t eat at McDonalds. But, for religious college educated types, the benefits of education on health are muted—they don’t believe health information and instead think that they can pray away the cancer/heart disease/etc just like they can pray away the gay. drop me a note if you want a copy of the full paper.

  3. Tom Rees Says:

    Hey Darren, send me a copy when it’s fully cooked – sounds interesting.

  4. mangobingo Says:

    It’s kind of racist and nasty, but seeing the VM described as ” some smelly sand virgin” made me spit Sierra Nevada all over the couch. Thx.

  5. sherkat Says:

    Nasty, yes! Racist, no. I’m sure a virgin from the sands of Palestine would smell no worse (and maybe better) than some mythical Bronze Age virgin from the bog-forests of Europe…

  6. mangobingo Says:

    Fair enough…

  7. Cory Caswell Says:

    FINALLY some refreshing and illuminating information. Steven Poulson was correct in directing me toward your blog. I am a senior, getting degrees in sociology and psychology (with an interest in psychology only from an increasingly critical and sometimes detached manner). I was lamenting with Steven about some bullshit professor in the psychology department who clearly has a religious agenda in his class. Given that he is the product of a thoroughly conservative and religious family, spent the majority of his adulthood in the military as a PASTOR (making a shit ton of money), and teaches the fucking psychology of adulthood, his agenda makes perfect sense. He’s part of the goddamn trisector of corruption and ignorance (conservatives, christians and other religious freaks, and the military); of course he’s going to push the business of religion, with his not-so-subtle Christian slant. The question is why he chose The Academy to do his biddings.. He constantly provided and has published shitty psychological research that he claimed indicates that religious participation increases your health and psychological wellbeing. A counter study was never presented, nor were any p-values, f-values, or even the goddamn alpha level at which judgement was handed down. He wanted us to blindly accept a graph or two, undoubtedly out of context, but never provided the raw stats. I wanted to raise my hand and ask him if what he was suggesting that ignorance is bliss. The rub is that there is tons of this blind, meaningless empiricism taking place. The results are haphazardly explained, deceptive, or are misinterpreted (hmm… religious participation increases longevity vs seeing friends in a social setting and being socially active?). And he has minions running around doing research within this vein all day, only to lead to more erroneous conclusions in which there isn’t even an attempt to wedge the results into some body of theory. A swath of correlations doesn’t mean shit when it lacks any reconciliation with concrete theory. Anybody can administer stupid surveys and run SPSS or SAS and get numbers, but that is meaningless when the numbers stand alone. I got so sick of hearing this dude’s shit that I would leave halfway through, if I even bothered to show up. I couldn’t believe the psychology department tried to pawn this class off as the psychology of adulthood when it was really a lesson in conservatism, promulgated by a jesus-monger.

    What we have here is some healthy and appetizing research. I would love a copy when all is finished. I am currently writing a thesis on bias in psychiatric treatment, but when I go to graduate school I would like to do some sociology of religion research in this vein. I find it shocking and disheartening that cardinal journals like ASR do not publish this info easily. How prolific is research that contradicts religious indicators of health? I cannot imagine that the academic market is flooded with it, so I would think it should be published easily. I agree that review boards for these journals should have clauses against conflicts of interest so Christianists cannot taint the literature.

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