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Good for All? Hardly! Attending Church Does Not Benefit Religiously Unaffiliated

  • University of New Brunswick (Saint John)
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Abstract and Figures

The existing literature addressing Religion and Spirituality supports the idea that attending church is positively associated with health outcomes. However, within this literature there has been an impoverished effort to determine whether the Religiously Unaffiliated will report these positive relationships. Using representative data from Ontario (N = 3620), the relationships between Religious/Spiritual variables (Attendance, Prayer/Meditation, and Religiosity) and health outcomes (Happiness, Self-Rated Health, and Satisfaction with Life) were assessed. Results focused on three recurring trends: the Religiously Unaffiliated experienced attending church less positively than Christians; when compared at the highest level of Attendance, the Religiously Unaffiliated were less healthy than Christians; and when only considering the Religiously Unaffiliated, Religious/Spiritual variables were not significant and positive predictors of health outcomes. The discussion focused on the need to delineate between how Christians and the Religiously Unaffiliated experience Religious/Spiritual variables, and the need to stop over-generalizing the positive relationship between Religious/Spiritual variables and health.
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Good for All? Hardly! Attending Church Does Not
Benefit Religiously Unaffiliated
David Speed
Ken Fowler
Published online: 19 October 2016
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract The existing literature addressing Religion and Spirituality supports the idea that
attending church is positively associated with health outcomes. However, within this lit-
erature there has been an impoverished effort to determine whether the Religiously
Unaffiliated will report these positive relationships. Using representative data from Ontario
(N=3620), the relationships between Religious/Spiritual variables (Attendance, Prayer/
Meditation, and Religiosity) and health outcomes (Happiness, Self-Rated Health, and
Satisfaction with Life) were assessed. Results focused on three recurring trends: the
Religiously Unaffiliated experienced attending church less positively than Christians; when
compared at the highest level of Attendance, the Religiously Unaffiliated were less healthy
than Christians; and when only considering the Religiously Unaffiliated, Religious/Spiri-
tual variables were not significant and positive predictors of health outcomes. The dis-
cussion focused on the need to delineate between how Christians and the Religiously
Unaffiliated experience Religious/Spiritual variables, and the need to stop over-general-
izing the positive relationship between Religious/Spiritual variables and health.
Keywords Religion Health Happiness Self-Rated Health Satisfaction with Life
Attendance Church Religiously Unaffiliated Non-religious Statistical moderation
Religion/Spirituality (R/S) is connected with positive health outcomes within the existing
health literature (Idler and Kasl 1992; Krause 2003). However, within this body of liter-
ature, it is unclear as to why people experience specific benefits from R/S (Dyer 2007;
Perry 1998). A contender for explaining why subjective health is improved by R/S is that
&David Speed
Department of Psychology, Science Building, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s,
NL A1B 3X9, Canada
J Relig Health (2017) 56:986–1002
DOI 10.1007/s10943-016-0317-5
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... Furthermore, the benefits of attending church do not seem to translate to those who are non-believers and the religiously unaffiliated. Speed and Fowler (2017) looked at happiness and life satisfaction in data from the Canadian General Social Survey focusing on Ontario. Their analysis showed that church attendance and prayer were not significant predictors of happiness in the religiously unaffiliated, suggesting that attending church does not have inherent value to everyone. ...
... This information arose naturally from interviews; childhood religious affiliation or any changes in religious affiliation were not specifically addressed in either the demographic information collected or the initial questions. As Speed and Fowler (2017) identified, the religiously unaffiliated and non-believers do not seem to gain the psychological benefits of attending church. So it would seem here that the participants have tried to find something else to fill a potential gap. ...
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Purpose Religion is an important part of many people’s lives and there is some evidence that attending church or other religious congregations is positively associated with psychological well-being. However, religious participation is declining in Western Europe and North America. Sunday Assembly is a non-religious gathering that intends to provide a similar communal experience and a sense of spirituality to the church, but without the religious element. In the current study, we aimed to explore the experiences of and motivations for attending a non-religious congregation in relation to well-being. Methods A qualitative approach was taken, gathering data through semi-structured interviews with participants from Sunday Assembly congregations across England. Results Thematic analysis was used and three key themes were found: (1) searching for meaning and community, (2) Sunday Assembly as protective of mental health, and (3) loneliness in a crowd. Conclusions Sunday Assembly can provide a sense of belonging and improvement in mental health through shared experience and spirituality, and it can act as a coping mechanism during difficult times. Further research could explore the benefits of Sunday Assembly upon attendee’s mental health, test the effectiveness of Sunday Assembly as a coping mechanism, and whether continued attendance improves mood over time.
... On the other hand, however, prior work also shows that incongruence between one's religious beliefs and practice might be also detrimental for well-being (Baker et al., 2018;Mannheimer & Hill, 2015). For instance, it was previously found that attending church is bene cial only for religious Christians but not for the religiously una liated (Speed & Fowler, 2017) and that atheists and "nones" who reported higher rates of religious practice had effectively poorer health outcomes (Speed & Hwang, 2019). ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic shook up societies, leaving a stigma on the health and well-being of many individuals. How big this stigma was depended on individual factors, which researchers are now trying to relate. One aspect affecting well-being during the pandemic may have been religiosity. In our longitudinal study of a representative sample of Poles, we took two measurements, in March 2021 and April 2022, obtaining a sample of N=622 repeated respondents out of 1000. We categorized participating individuals as religious, fuzzy or secular and, partly using retrospective questions, we compared their levels of well-being (WHO-5 index, Q-LES-Q-SF) before the outbreak as well as one and two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that in the general population, despite a decline in well-being one year after the pandemic outbreak (2021), there was an improvement in the following year (2022), with religiosity proving to have a positive impact on well-being. The religious category achieved higher well-being values than the secular, especially in March 2021, when the effects of the pandemic were strongly felt in society in the form of lockdowns and the highest number of deaths.
... Personal happiness was predicted by active religious involvement and regular attendance to religious services [149,150]. Religious attendance and religiosity were significant positive predictors of happiness [151]. Synagogue attendance, prayer and religious attendance were associated with greater happiness [152]. ...
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The aim of this study was to review the literature on what constitutes happiness across cultures and countries to advance scholarly knowledge on the happiness construct. A systematic review was conducted to examine the determinants of happiness in samples across cultures and countries. Five different databases, including APA PsycNet, EBSCO-Academic, EBSCO-Business, Project MUSE, and Google Scholar, grey literature, and in-text references from relevant review articles were used. A total of 155 articles were included in the review, encompassing studies from over 100 countries and 44 cultures. Myriad determinants of happiness were found that were placed into three broad categories labeled Health, Hope, and Harmony. The predominant happiness determinants were mental, emotional, and physical well-being, a purposeful holistic work–life balance, nurturing social relationships, caring for self and others, and being in harmony with one’s culture, traditions, community, religion, and environment. This study engendered an “Integrated Model of the Determinants of Happiness” to provide a universally applicable conceptualization of the happiness construct. By examining studies on determinants of happiness across the globe in the past 90 years, this review uncovered that happiness constitutes multiple determinants that fall under three major categories: ‘Health’, ‘Hope’, and ‘Harmony.’
... It is possible that the linear model applies to the religious/spiritualized population, but does not support itself when unbelievers are considered together (Galen & Kloet, 2011;Weber et al., 2012). For example, Speed and Fowler (2017) found a positive prediction for R/S regarding happiness and satisfaction with life, but only among religious people. Interestingly, participation in religious meetings negatively predicted satisfaction with the lives of the non-religious participants in their sample. ...
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There is much evidence that the relationship between religiosity/spirituality (R/S) and mental health is linear and positive, but relatively few studies have included samples of non-religious participants in their analyses. Some findings suggest that, compared to people who have intermediate levels of R/S, those with higher levels and those with insignificant levels are mentally healthier. However, this curvilinear model does not appear to have been tested through a measure of spiritual beliefs (i.e. belief in spiritual beings) and the comparison of different religious/spiritual groups. In view of this, 1788 Brazilians were assessed in terms of their spiritual beliefs, their religious/spiritual experiences (R/SE), and their positive (happiness and meaning in life) and negative (symptoms of anxiety and depression) mental health components. We found curvilinear relationships between R/SE and all components of mental health, but the level of spiritual belief predicted only the variance in the meaning in life. With the exception of comparisons involving happiness, at least one of the groups that had intermediate levels of R/SE (spirituals and agnostics) had worse mental health than the groups that had the highest and lowest levels (religious people and atheists, respectively). Although religious people and atheists had similar levels of symptoms of anxiety and depression, the former presented more happiness and meaning in life. Together, these findings corroborate the curvilinear model, but suggest that R/SE is related in different ways to the positive and negative components of mental health.
... But that is not the case when societies do not value religiosity. Similarly, Speed and Fowler (2017), using a large, representative sample from Ontario, Canada, and, in a more recent study, a representative sample of Canadian atheists in several provinces (Speed in press), find that atheists do not substantively differ from religious groups in terms of health outcomes. ...
... For example, objective measures of church attendance in the United States have suggested that the actual percentage of weekly church attendance may be only half of what people report in surveys (20). Second, people's religious beliefs and behaviors may be differently motivated (e.g., fear of vengeful god vs. love of merciful god), which may partly determine the mental health correlates of religiosity, but the current measures did not query people's religious beliefs in detail (21,22). The analysis also did not include other possible moderator variables, such as stressful life events (23). ...
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Several studies have associated religiosity with better mental health, but these studies have only partially addressed the problem of confounding. The current study pooled data from multiple cohort studies with siblings to examine whether associations between religiosity and mental health are confounded by familial factors (i.e., shared family background and siblings' shared genetics). Data were collected between 1982 and 2017. Mental health was assessed with self-reported psychological distress (including depressive symptoms) and psychological wellbeing. Religious attendance was associated with lower psychological distress (B=-0.14 standard-deviation difference between weekly vs never attendance, CI=-0.19, -0.09; n=24,598 pairs) and this was attenuated by almost half in the sibling analysis (B=-0.08, CI=-0.13, -0.04). Religious attendance was also related to higher wellbeing (B=0.29, CI=0.09, 0.50; n=3,728 pairs) and this estimate remained unchanged in sibling analysis. Results were similar for religiousness. The findings suggest that previous longitudinal studies may have overestimated the association between religiosity and psychological distress, as the sibling estimate was only one-third of the previously reported meta-analytic association (standardized correlation -0.03 vs -0.08).
Religion/spirituality (R/S) is positively associated with a variety of health outcomes, although how R/S relates to the likelihood or severity of impairment or disability is understudied. Given the broad salutary effects of R/S, we tested if nonreligious groups (specifically atheists) were more likely to report impairment or were more likely to report greater disability. Using Canadian data (N ≥ 1,000) from the 2015 General Social Survey (Cycle 29), we compared atheists to Agnostics, Nones, Protestants, Catholics, Christian Orthodox, and Eastern Religion practitioners. The results indicated that Atheists were slightly more likely to report the presence of impairment and disability relative to Catholics, but these effects were in the trivial-to-small range. When exploring the severity of self-reported disability across religious groups, atheists did not differ from any other religious group. These results are intriguing as the broader R/S-health literature has suggested that greater secularism should be associated with a health penalty; however, we found limited evidence to support this. Although we cannot state that atheism is necessarily healthy, the results of the current study would suggest that atheism is certainly not unhealthy.
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The belief-as-benefit effect (BABE) is a broad term for the positive association between religion/spirituality (R/S) and health outcomes. Functionally, religious variables and religious identities predict greater wellness, which implies that atheists should report worse health relative to religious groups. Using Cycle 29 of the cross-sectional General Social Survey from Statistics Canada (N > 15,900), I explored health differences in stress, life satisfaction, subjective physical wellbeing, and subjective mental wellbeing across R/S identities (atheists, agnostics, Nones, Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Religions). Results indicated that (1). religious attendance, prayer, and religiosity were generally unrelated to all health outcomes for all R/S identities, (2). averagely religious atheists reported health parity with averagely religious members of all other R/S identities, and (3). when comparing a maximally nonreligious atheist group against several maximally religiously affiliated groups, atheists largely showed health parity. If both low R/S and high R/S are associated with comparable wellness, researchers should actively question whether R/S is genuinely salutary.
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The “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) are a growing group in the religious landscape of the United States. Thousands of studies to date have been devoted to the study of religion and health, but far less attention has been given to the study of the “spiritual but not religious.” In this study, we address this gap by using two waves of longitudinal data from the National Study of Youth and Religion (2005–2008). We assess whether within-person changes in SBNR identity are associated with health and mental health in emerging adulthood and consider several pathways that may account for observed differences. Results suggest that consistently identifying as SBNR was associated with worse physical and mental health relative to youth that were consistently religious. Using parametric mediation analyses, we found evidence that three of our four proposed mediators (religious attendance, sense of closeness to God, and religious doubt, but not life meaning) partially explained these mental health differences. This study therefore makes an important advance in assessing the health implications of (non)-religion/spirituality early in the life course.
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This article explores how Canadian philanthropic foundations with social justice mandates responded to the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by loosening restrictions for grantees; collaborating on new initiatives; elevating grassroots knowledge; and balancing short- and long-term priorities. This response, however, revealed a series of tensions in the dominant pre-COVID-19 philanthropic model—specifically, as a mechanism to address the social, econ- omic, and ecological crises that predate COVID-19. The early pandemic response of grantmaking foundations can there- fore serve as a model for what a more democratic, agile, collaborative, and justice-oriented philanthropic sector can look like. RÉSUMÉ Cet article examine la réponse de fondations philanthropiques canadiennes aux enjeux de justice sociale pendant la pandémie de COVID-19. Elles l’ont fait en assouplissant les exigences exigées aux donataires; en collaborant autour de nouvelles initiatives; en priorisant l’expertise des communautés; et en équilibrant les priorités à long et à court terme. Cette réponse révèle les tensions inhérentes au modèle classique de l’action philanthropique, particulièrement dans les façons de répondre aux crises sociales, économiques et écologiques. La réponse actuelle fournit des bases solides pour repenser le modèle d’action du secteur philanthropique subventionnaire afin qu’il soit plus démocratique, plus collaboratif et plus axé sur la justice.
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In an interdisciplinary review of twenty-one German- and English-language intervention studies, the effectiveness of spiritually/religiously based interventions is evaluated statistically by measur-ing the participants’ sense of coherence (SOC). Although Aaron Antonovsky considered a change in the SOC-29 score of no more than ±5 points possible, the intentional modification of the SOC-29 median through religious/spiritual interventions ranges from 3.5 to 21 points. In studies using the SOC-13 questionnaire, the SOC increase ranges from about 2 to 7.5 points. Although it is pos-sible that, for example, small sample sizes and biographical factors skew the statistics, the fact that the experimental groups’ SOC score was in all cases higher than the control groups’ SOC score strongly suggests that the improvement in SOC can be traced to the religious/spiritual practices. However, there seem to be no difference between the efficacy of spiritually/religiously based in-terventions and that of secular interventions. Moreover, some studies indicate that an intentionally modified SOC might not be stable over time. After reconsidering why I decided to categorize ther-apeutic programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as religiously/spiritually based interventions, I propose and criticize an ad hoc model of the SOC-enhancing effect of MBSR. I then discuss the potentials and shortcomings of this segment of research and develop perspectives for methodologically more sophisticated investigations.
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Measuring religious identity is complex. The author offers seven suggestions for those who wish to describe and understand religious identity using survey data: (1) Definitions and measures of religious identity shape knowledge about religious groups;(2) Variation in question wording leads to variation in responses;(3) Comparing results across surveys provides valuable perspective;(4) Incentives shape how respondents report their religious identity;(5) Religious identity may be liminal;(6) Salient identity categories are often unmeasured; and(7) Religious identity and religious practice may not seem congruent.This essay includes many examples to illustrate these measurement suggestions.
There is increasing research evidence that religious involvement is associated both cross-sectionally and prospectively with better physical health, better mental health, and longer survival. These relationships remain substantial in size and statistically significant with other risk and protective factors for morbidity and mortality statistically controlled. In this article, we review the social and psychological factors that have been hypothesized to explain the health-promoting effects of religious involvement. The four potential psychosocial mechanisms that have received empirical attention are health practices, social support, psychosocial resources such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, and belief structures such as sense of coherence. Evidence concerning these potential mediators is mixed and inconsistent, suggesting there is more to be learned about the pathways by which religion affects health. Other possible explanations for the salubrious effects of religious involvement on health and longevity are discussed.
A central debate in the sociology of religion concerns whether religious pluralism enhances or diminishes religious involvement. Contrary to Finke and Stark, much previous research using U.S. counties, both contemporary and historical, finds a negative relationship. However Finke, Guest, and Stark (1996) argue that counties are too large to measure the effects of religious pluralism most relevant to their theories and suggest that if smaller areas such as cities are used, the relationship is positive. Using data from the 1991 Canadian Census we show that the relationship between pluralism and religious affiliation is strongly and consistently negative both for census divisions (counties) and census subdivisions (cities, towns, and townships). We argue that religious pluralism may reduce social reinforcement for religious involvement by reducing the number of close social ties individuals have with others who share a common religious identity.
The purpose of this study is to test a conceptual model that examines the relationship between religious doubt and depressive symptoms in late life. Data from a nationwide survey of older adults provide support for the following hypotheses that were embedded in this conceptual scheme: (1) older people who do not attend church often tend to have more doubts about their faith; (2) older individuals who have doubts about religion will not feel closely connected with others; (3) older people who do not feel a close bond with others will be less likely to forgive people for the things they have done; and (4) older people who are not willing to forgive others will be more likely to experience depressive symptoms. The data further reveal that older blacks are more involved in religion than older whites and that the beneficial impact of religion on depressive symptoms is greater for older African American study participants.
This paper examines the relationship between religious involvement and self-reported satisfaction with life in general, and with six specific domains of life. The sample consists of persons aged 25–59 (N = 6,621) surveyed in 1985 in the first Canadian General Social Survey. Overall, there appears to be a positive association between religious involvement and satisfaction for both men and women. However, in British Columbia, where levels of religious involvement are lower than the rest of Canada, the relationship is substantially weakened and, in some cases, actually reversed. Despite data limitations, which are discussed, it is concluded that a positive relationship between these two variables cannot be substantiated in all instances. It is suggested that more refined research is needed to assess and to explain the particular conditions under which a positive relationships will prevail.
The purpose of this studywas to see if feeling grateful to God reduces the deleterious effects of stress on health in late life. In addition, an effort was made to test for gender differences in this process. Three main findings emerged from the analysis of data provided by a nationwide sample of older adults. First, the data suggest that olderwomen are more likely to feel grateful to God than older men. Second, the results revealed that the effects of stress (e.g., living in a deteriorated neighborhood) on health are reduced for older people who feel more grateful to God. Finally, the analyses indicated that the potentially important stress-buffering properties of gratitude toward God emerge primarily among older women but not older men.
The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between feelings of God-mediated control and psychological well-being in a nationally representative sample of older adults. In the process, race differences in the relationship between God-mediated control and well-being are evaluated. The findings reveal that older people with a strong sense of God-mediated control tend to have greater life satisfaction, more optimism, a higher sense of self-worth, and lower levels of death anxiety. Pervasive race differences also emerged from the data. Specifically, older Blacks reported higher levels of God-mediated control than older Whites. In addition, the relationship between God-mediated control and all the well-being outcome measures was stronger for older Blacks than older Whites.