Religion and self-control
Many people often say that religion can provide benefits to its practitioners. But what is there, other than a sense of community and support? (Can’t you get that from a non-religious community?)
A recent article highlights one possibility: it allows people to practice self-control. A review of psychology studies on the subject concludes that the religious have more self-control. People who were religious for extrinsic reasons (wanting to impress others, etc.) or merely spiritual were not as conscientious.
Does this mean that we should support religious beliefs? It’s strange that unreasonable faith in specious things can produce so many benefits–order, social stability, happiness and a fulfillment that can seem so hard to attain. Sometimes I think religion just provides a scaffold for the human behaviors that are most difficult to attain. It provides a route for self-improvement that does not come so easy to the heathen.
John Tierney notes this in his article and writes, “What’s a heathen to do in 2009?” He seems a little jealous that there is no paved route to self-control and psychological well-being for the secular person. I, too, am a little jealous: it’s hard to figure out everything for yourself, including how to exercise self-control and why and how community can be so nourishing and helpful. (And then to use the self-control and find a community that will benefit you in the long run.)
But I don’t think, ultimately, that we should support religious beliefs for these benefits. There are plenty of downsides to religion–namely, that it overrides reason and critical thinking–that aren’t going to convert me to religion anytime soon.