Are Religious People Happier?

Religion and Psychology

Frequently philosophical, theological or sociological perspectives oversee the psychology of religion (Vegote, 1993, pg. 73). Psychology does not have the proficiency to explain religion or make accurate judgments. Instead it examines subjective factors such as drives, desires, emotional reactions and experiences that are included in the different ways that a person relates, positively or negatively, to given religious symbols such as language and behavior (Vegote, 1993, pg. 73.). In no other branch of psychology are psychologists so much personally involved with their own emotional reactions and embedded philosophical notions. Therefore it is very confusing to come up with just one (Vegote,12).
Something is referred to as being specifically religious when beings are mentioned or a something that is neither just natural nor human but is considered to be spiritual and divine and is believed to be at the center of the world and/or society and has an influence on the lives of the individuals, and on society (Vegote, 1993. Pg.75). A language, symbols and/or rituals convey the ideas. Hearing the religious language, seeing the ritual practice and perceiving the symbolic figures can trigger religious feelings or a variety of emotions (Vegote, 1993). Psychology of religion is not a philosophical interpretation and should not say what is the valuable core of religion. That would contradict psychology as an empirical science and would prevent psychologists from examining psychologically how individuals relate to the religions in their cultural environment (Vegote, 1993, pg.75).
It is important for psychologists to note that subjects are differently educated in regard to religion and are differently trained and prepared to make up their minds. Even populations educated in the same religion can give different results. This fact is dependent on the sociocultural background of their religious education. Therefore it is difficult to differentiate between sociological and psychological factors (Vegote, 1993, pg.75).
The main problem with the psychology of religion is similar to that in most other psychological fields (Vegote, 1993, pg.77). When looking at social psychology, cognitive psychology, sexual psychology, these are all distinctive fields within psychology that are also a part of other disciplines. All the doings of a human being are psychological, however nothing is just psychological (Vegote, 1993, pg.77). Thus psychology is definitely not capable to intricate a general theory of religion. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said “religion is the most complex phenomenon in civilization and that there is no way of explaining it by only one factor” (Vegote, 1993, pg.78).

Defining Agnosticism

“Anything which is to be given to the public ought to be maturely weighed and cautiously put”. -Charles Darwin

It is impossible to generalize what each person who identifies as agnostic uses to define their way of thinking, but for the sake of the matter, one could observe that this quote said by Charles Darwin encompasses the phenomena. Agnostics seam to reserve their spiritual walk through the world as drawn in, avoiding distinguishing themselves, or “[giving] to the public”.
It might be fare to say that agnosticism is not a definition of ones spiritual beliefs but a summary of a range of possible spiritual experiences ranging from the edge of atheism to the doors of religion.
Haeckel, Ernst, Is an example of one end of this spectrum, describing the origins of life as a natural process lacking means of explanation. This lack opening doors for the possibility of an unquantifiable existence.

The Rise of Agnosticism

As the effects of globalization become more prominent, particularly in developed countries, the association between religion and country is weakened, leading to ‘constitutional agnosticism’, defined by Paul Horwitz (2010) as "how we can collectively coexist and govern ourselves in a fragmented and pluralistic society". People of different origins cohabit and are compelled to establish a set of laws that appeal to the greed of individuals of the whole society. Religions that would have otherwise been represented by nation-wide common practices stand with anonymity as smaller, divided congregations within a context of mixed demographics. Horwitz describes this idea as a “Liberal democratic order”, taking affect to preserve peace.
Although this precedent demonstrates how traditional religious practices have decreased considerably over time, curiosity of human spirituality has not.
After hundreds of years of strife and mass-casualty as a result of religious conflict, the majority of audience members at Jonathan Haidt’s TED talks conference in 2010 still raised their hands when asked if they “identify as spiritual in any way”. Although many feel religion is a social construct, our “homoduplex” nature, being of both a ‘profane’ and ‘sacred’ level, motivates people to seek out more than the physical life experience.

What does this all mean? Is there anything that indicates that religious people, or people of faith and spiritual belief are happier individuals?

Some hints of a response to these question can be found in psychology.

Attempts acknowledge or at least explain the existence of human spirituality in a quantifiable way is apparent throughout the history of the development of psychological phenomena. As medicine aims to increase understanding of human physiology to better the human experience, as does psychology in terms of the mind. From dualism, which separates the spiritual from the physical, to monism, which holds all elements of existence as one in the same, the unexplainable never goes unacknowledged.
Antonio Damasio expresses his own curiosity of spirituality explaining the enhancement of the “human condition” in those who experience a perceived sense of ‘perfection’ or ‘peace’. Whether or not it is God himself orienting this experience, the experience itself cannot be discounted.

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Antonio Damasio, by David Colman (2011)

Atheism

Are atheist people happier than believers are? Do they have a moral code? Reviews in the book, The God delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006) it has been proven that atheist people in fact are happy, stable, ethical, and intellectually satisfied (Prasad, 2007). However, the main question is, are they happier than believers are? It is debatable to know whether atheist people are happier than believers since numerous studies have documented the benefits of religious involvement, which proves extremely religious people inclined to be healthier, live longer and have higher levels of individual well-being. Even though children are, too young to know where they stand on concerns associated to religion with the help of their family and friends they can learn to have a moral code and a healthy independence of mind. In fact, it depends on the individual weather they choose to be a fervent believer or a weaker believer. It has been confirmed that those believers with weaker beliefs are actually less happier than those who do not ascribe to any religion—atheists and agnostics. These decisions may help analyze why in spite of the well-documented prosperities of religion—an increasing number of individuals are abandoning their faith. According to A European Social Survey (ESS)—established study of Clark and Lelkes on the European level demonstrated a second clear connection between religion and life-satisfaction: not only did a personal involvement have a conclusive impact, but there was also a provincial externality. It also proves that even atheists people seem to be happier in areas with many religious individuals (Mochon, 2011). Even though it is debatable to understand if atheist people are happier than believers it is important to know that if a person is not religious they still have the right to be happy. As a group we believe that atheist people do have moral codes because even if religious people refer to their scriptures to define moral codes about what is right, what is wrong, what is good and what is evil it is possible for an atheist person to abide by them too. Atheist people are not less human than religious people so they should be given the opportunity to develop their moral codes with reference to their upbringing, integrity, honor, logic, emotion, life experiences, education, helping others and what they think is right or wrong.

Extremism in Religion

What is extremism?
Extremism is a phenomenon that can be defined through beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, strategies that are far from what’s considered ordinary (Coleman and Bartoli, n.d.). “Extremism suggests fanaticism” (Pratt, 2010). Defining people as extremists however is completely subjective to what a person’s definition of extremism is.

How does Extremism arise?

  • Extremism is constructed and grown. There are many social conditions that come into effect in extremism. There are factors such as poverty, education, and nutrition. Extremists are socially constructed and much of their behavior grows in relation to the society in which they associate.
  • It is an emotional outlet for intense feelings. “Persistent experiences of oppression, insecurity, humiliation, resentment, loss, and rage lead individuals and groups to adopt conflict engagement strategies which “fit” or feel consistent with these experiences” (Coleman and Bartoli, n.d.).
  • It is a pathological illness. It is something that feeds on the destruction of on the individual. “The lack of identity associated with extremists is the result of self-destructive self-hatred that leads to feelings of revenge toward life itself, and a compulsion to kill one’s own humanness,” (Greun, 2003) writes.

There are many extremist groups in religion that act out of the norm of mainstream religious teachings. It is important to note that there are extremists in all religions and it is not exclusive to simply Christian and Islamic groups such as is presented in media. An example of a extreme fundamentalist group is The Westboro Baptist Church. While claiming to be a Christian church, they stray from many Christian teachings and take biblical readings out of context. They preach hate campaigns and condemn people. This extremist group fits well into the definition of extremism as they stray far from the beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions and strategies of Christian beliefs. Many of the group’s radical ideas could be their attributed to their social implications. For many members of the group, all they have known have been the teachings of their group: teachings of hatred, and these teachings have been socially constructed. The society within which they are a part of is their own exclusive group and from the people within this group have the members been socially constructed to be the way that they are. “A religious extremist requires specific religious identity as the primary reference for self-legitimization” (Pratt, 2010). Many of the group’s actions are done in the name of God, and this is how they legitimize their actions. It is important to understand that these people truly believe that they are following scriptures and passages the way they believe is right, as religion is mainly something left up to interpretation. While the group may appear to be happy, it’s arguable to say that these people may possibly be pathologically ill or have simply been constructed to be the way they are. The main thing to take away from extremism in religion is that it is something subjective and socially constructed. There is no way to judge whether or not a person is a true Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc., as much of the extremism in religion is socially constructed.


R. Scott Appleby: Strong Religion, Weak Religion: Religious Extremism and Its Violent Accomplices. (2011, October 27). YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zBU6aZ8qKA

If Religion Makes People Happy, Why Are So Many Dropping Out?

On average, religious people report greater subjective well-being and experience fewer psychological and social pathologies such as domestic abuse (Diener et al, 2011,). The amount of people that indicated that they were “very happy” ranged from 26% among those never attending religious services to 48% among those attending services more than weekly (Diener et al, 2011). Religion increases subjective well-being through relationship variables like social support and respect (Diener et al, 2011,). If one is a member of a religion, other members may provide help in time of need. Regular religious meetings offer opportunities for social contact (Diener et al, 2011). Religion may be beneficiary for providing bonds based on common beliefs and shared activities especially in societies with less social ties. Religion can foster feelings of purpose and meaning in life, which is a predicament for life satisfaction, and can make up for less enjoyment in life to some degree (Diener et al, 2011).
Nevertheless, people living in wealthier nations are leaving organized religion or do not have a specific religious affiliation (Diener et al, 2011). The leaving from organized religion is the highest in Northern Europe and in other highly economically developed countries (Diener et al, 2011). This brings up the question, why are people leaving organized religion in countries where religious freedom is high and is associated with perks such as higher subjective well-being (Diener et al, 2011).
Religion helps people cope with problematic situations and thus is the most helpful when people’s life context is challenging (Diener et al, 2011). Countries that are economically developed are normally better at meeting basic needs, education, safety and longevity. The developed country’s infrastructure is also superior and protects against natural disasters and epidemic diseases (Diener et al, 2011). Therefore it can be concluded that people are better able to achieve high subject well-being without the help of organized religion (Diener et al, 2011). Religion can possibly help make a greater contribution to well-being when people are regularly faced with hunger, illness, crime and poor education as all are rather more uncontrollable and prevalent in poor countries (Diener et al, 2011).

Fulfillment and Happiness

When discussing the relationship between happiness and religion, many would concur that those who are more religious tend to be more content in life in contrast to those who are atheistic. One would suggest that it is the promise of personal wish fulfillment that religion brings upon individual that subsequently leads to the attainment of happiness. This can be further substantiated in Freud’s novel The Future of an Illusion, which suggests that the earliest form of religion offered answers to our deepest questions, the ambition for justice and our lust for escaping death. Freud believed religion was derived from these desires as he states “…and thus a stone of ideas is created, born from mans need to make his helplessness tolerable (Freud 1967, 23).” In other words, Freud concludes that religion can be perceived as a coping mechanism when dealing with one’s adversities in life. This is essential because through wish fulfillment, religious devotees believe that their happiness is derived through religion. However, the result of religion has merely led devotees to aim for the pursuit of happiness, but rather the pursuit of religious belief. It is their understanding of the knowledge and safety religion ensures, that allows followers to be peaceful, satisfied and happy. It is important to note this can be evident among religious followers in our modern society who tend to possess a stoic mindset. Therefore individuals who are able to attain fulfillment with simple careers, families, and lifestyles it is not difficult to achieve happiness because they are able to find happiness in the smallest things. Religion not only creates a guideline and a style of lifestyle, but it also allows for people to have a focus and purpose in life. Individuals who are able to acknowledge this very fundamental purpose of religion, people feel less anxious regarding their future endeavours and rather more peaceful. In Kalman’s book Living biblically: Ten guides for fulfillment and happiness, he states,
“Without intelligent, applicable access to biblical wisdom, many unwittingly live out the tragic patterns emerging from classical Greece underlying much of modern life and psychotherapy.”(Kalman, 2012). Kalman believes that people are confined and confused without the answers religion provides us. Ultimately, the attributes that religion creates allows for followers to establish a lifestyle that essentially provides a sense of fulfillment and happiness.

References

Coleman, Peter T. & Bartoli, Andrea. (n.d.). Addressing Extremism. Retrieved from http://www.tc.columbia.edu/i/a/document/9386_WhitePaper_2_Extremism_030809.pdf

Diener, E., Tay, L., & Myers, D. G. (2011). The Religion Paradox: If Religion Makes People Happy, Why Are So Many Dropping Out? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101:6(1278-1290) doi: 10.1037/a0024402

Dose, K. (1981). Ernst Haeckel's concept of an evolutionary origin of life. Biosystems, 13(4), 253-258.

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Gruen, Arno. An unrecognized pathology: The mask of humaneness. Journal of Psychohistory. Vol 30(3) Win 2003, 266-272. Assn for Psychohistory, US.

Horwitz, P. (2011). Religion under attack, liberalism under attack:. The agnostic age: law, religion, and the Constitution (p. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kaplan, J.K., Kalman, J.K. (2012). Living biblically: Ten guides for fulfillment and happiness. 3:12-15. US: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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Pratt, Douglas. (2010). Religion and Terrorism: Christian Fundamentalism and Extremism. Retrieved from http://journals1.scholarsportal.info/pdf/09546553/v22i0003/438_ratcfae.xml

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Ward, J. (1899). Naturalism and agnosticism; the Gifford lectures delivered before the University of Aberdeen in the years 1896-1898,. New York: Macmillan Company

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