Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Did you know that weekly church attendance has been scientifically linked to lower blood pressure, a strengthened immune system and can add up to three years to your life span? So contends an April 22 New York Times blog by T.M. Luhrmann.
Luhrmann speculates on the reasons for the health benefits of church attendance and comes up with several. First, being a part of a community has social benefits. This is especially true in a faith community with the mission of helping others. Secondly, healthy behavior is encouraged in religious communities. As the Dali Lama once said, "The purpose of religion is to make us better persons."
However, her the third reason she cites is the most intriguing. Because God is immaterial, she contends that those going to church are encouraged to conceive of God as personal and real. Therefore, religious persons can have a personal relationship of love and trust with God. While she admits this way of visualizing God may work in a similar way to the "placebo effect," she nonetheless argues that it is powerful and even transforming.
Religion at its best can make our lives healthier and better. However, Christians follow a Jesus whose spiritual path led him to suffering and death. The paradox at the heart of Christianity is that when we give of our lives for others, we receive a fuller and more abundant life.
I don't believe we ought to "sell" church-going as a cure for physical, emotional or social ills. At the same time, I do believe that connecting with the sacred dimension of life will make our lives fuller, richer and better. And, when suffering does come, we have a community and a God who walks this journey with us.