Religion: It turns out it’s good for you!
This week I read an interesting article (which you can find here: https://www.nextavenue.org/religion-affect-health/) which is another piece of evidence pointing to the healthy benefits of religion. Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist whose work on exploring the link between the brain and our spiritual selves has given him the opportunity to study the brains of people as they are praying, meditating and involved in other religious activities. It turns out that as people are involved in some meaningful, spiritual activity that they are increasing dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter released by the brain affecting our moods, memory, attention, movement and sense of positive reward. Prayer and religious activity help the brain release positive things into our body. Other studies have shown that religious practices also lower our heart rate and blood pressure, help us cope better with difficult issues in life, reduce stress and improve mood.
It makes me happy when scientific studies point to that which we already know from personal experience, that there is something good and important about church and religion. It cannot be a small thing that every culture in every part of the world throughout history has found a religious expression. It is a human activity that has gone on since human activity began. And we know for ourselves what we get from it.
The challenge for today is that our religion has grown less important in people’s habit and practice. Yet the very things we do at church are now needed more than ever. Recent scientific studies show that suicide rates are up (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/numbers) and anxiety and stress are on the rise, especially for young people (https://www.theeagle.com/news/what-s-driving-the-rise-in-mental-health-issues/article_1ee90a9c-90bc-11e9-940b-534576169b0a.html). Opportunities to find relief and peace and well-being are in houses of worship everywhere, but there is often a sharp disconnect between those suffering and places of prayer.
This is another reason why we should feel empowered and encouraged to share our story of Faith and Church, another reason for us to think about who we can invite to church, invite to pray, or invite to have a conversation about faith. I don’t think we’re in the business of looking for converts or even really trying to grow our Cathedral. But I do think we owe it to others to share our experience.
How has prayer or singing in church or receiving the Holy Communion or listening to a sermon changed you? How does it change you to come on Sundays or at other times?
Can you share that?
Tom Callard, Dean