Why Is Religious Commitment Beneficial

While the statistics do not explain the reasons why, we might surmise why the so-called "faith factor" is associated with positive health outcomes, especially as relates to our exploration of problem anger.

1. Self-esteem is heightened by knowing that one is infinitely loved, infinitely worthwhile, and unlimited in potential. In one study, high self-esteem was associated with viewing God as loving.3 It is easier to let the negative opinions or offenses of others roll off one's back when one knows that one's value is rooted in deeper, more spiritual truths.

2. In their unadulterated forms, all the major world religions teach values that are inconsistent with problem anger: patience, tolerance, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, etc. "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is found in similar words across diverse religious traditions. I'm thankful for the WWII officer who told me when on retreat, "Pray in advance for love for those people you'll one day lead." I found that to be a very effective approach to leadership.

3. Religious beliefs provide a larger perspective—a sense of meaning, purpose, peace, and hope that is greater than the chaos of everyday living. All the major world religions teach a sense of continuity beyond this life. Such an eternal view helps to put temporary irritations in perspective. It also reminds us that all things cannot be completed in this life, but the godly life eventually leads to all good outcomes—removing much pressure. Meaning is encouraged through selfless service, so we stop seeing the world purely in terms of pleasure and needs.

4. The larger view helps one to place control in perspective. Individuals realize that they can strive to control themselves and be an influence for much good, but there is a grander force piloting the world. Thus, we can release control when it is warranted. This is the basis of the Serenity Prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous, generally attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:4

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Or as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "My obligation is to do the right thing. The rest is in God's hands."

5. Peace of conscience is encouraged by adhering to universally valued moral principles, including honesty, fairness, fidelity, and schooling of the appetites.

6. Religion affords a sense of connection. Religion derives from the Latin word religare, which means "to bind together." Religious communities support their members in diverse ways. Members of the communities can support one another in living ethical lives, despite the pressures of the world. They come together for important rituals to help each other grieve, celebrate, and worship— reminding each other that they are part of God's family. One teenager said, "Church is a time to be friendly with people of all ages. I feel more secure with God, a part of God's family. Church makes my relationship with God stronger—it helps me think of God more; it's like having another friend." Members of a religious community can provide emotional and temporal support in times of need. In such times, many people turn to pastoral counselors, who can augment psychological counseling with spiritual support. Religion also promotes connection and a sense of communion with one's creator. Said one, "I feel a great sense of comfort as I draw close to God through prayer."

7. Religion provides a way to reconcile with God and start anew. Generally, the method involves acknowledging errors, making amends, and striving to forsake the offensive behaviors.

8. Whether it is observed on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, the Sabbath provides a physical and emotional rest from the cares of the world and a chance for renewal of the spirit.

9. Most religions advise members to take care of the body, through proper rest, nutrition, and physical activity. They also exhort individuals to solidify the family and respect its members.

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