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Patrick Fagan, in his article, Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability, enumerated several positive effects of religion such as good health, personal happiness, stable family relationships and deterrence of juvenile delinquency. As I read through the article it became evident to me that the positive effects are due to the fact that religion makes better people. Better people make right choices that result to personal happiness, good health and stable family relationships. From the individual and family, the positive effect then translates into the general society.
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Among the many positive effects of religion that Fagan enumerated, what I find most significant is religion’s effect on health. I am in awe of the fact that many people gets sick mainly because they had no religious commitment and not because they ate the wrong kind of food or did not exercise enough. Psychologists, therapists and doctors had claimed over and over gain that most people are sick because of depression, stress or anxiety. Depression, stress or anxiety is a result of man’s daily coping with the struggles and uncertainties of life. People without religion are more anxious, stressed and depressed because they do not have the comfort, guidance and hope of religion from which to rely upon. They only draw strength from within themselves without even realizing or ignoring the fact that human strength alone cannot stand against life’s adversities. As I ponder on this truth, I began to wonder how many “unreligious” sick people in America today were confined in the hospitals for the prime reason that they did not practice religion. I reckon that there must be many of them for from what I know, fast-paced America is full of stressed people.
At this point, I am reminded of a man I met in my friend’s house. He was my friend’s grandfather who came for a visit. He was an old strong man. One day I found him alone in the garden and when he saw me, he called me over to him. I was always curious about his age and now that I have the opportunity to ask I was surprised that he was turning 90. He was old, for sure, but I never expected that he was that old. I always picture people that age lying sick in bed. Since I have always admired people who reached old age with grace, I ask him what his secret for long life was. I was prepared to hear a litany of eating the right kind of food, avoiding smoking and drinking, etc. But instead he pointed to a book beside him, it was a Bible. Moreover, I never forgot what he said, “that book keeps me healthy”. He informed me that I do not have to search the world to find wisdom for right living, if I were diligent enough to read the Bible and practice what it says, there is a big possibility that I will live as long as he did. That was an amazing revelation for me. And now I am convinced that he was right. Well, perhaps not about me living that long, but the positive effect religion had on health.
Religious practice had its own share of critics. Many would say that religious people are hypocrites, outwardly good but inwardly bad. This criticism may be best understood if one understands what Fagan describes as the two types of religious behavior: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic practice can be described as the genuine practice of religion while extrinsic practice can be described as the false practice of religion. The main focus of intrinsic religious people is God while extrinsic people’s focus is not God but themselves for they are more concerned on the positive benefit religion will have on their reputation. These two types can be distinguished in the behavior they display. Intrinsics are more responsible, have self-control, more sensitive to others, more disciplined, more consistent and more concerned with moral standards. For example, in work they can be trustworthy enough not to cheat their boss concerning working hours.
They come to work on time, work diligently for the next eight hours and go home on time. In addition, they are humble people who consider the effects of their words and actions to others. The extrinsics, on the other hand, are self-indulgent, critical, loves to justify themselves, indolent and are less dependable. In the workplace, they may not work diligently for the next 8 hours and they may justify why it was so. They are mostly authoritative; they are unconcerned about the effects of their words or actions on others. Fagan further revealed that while it is beneficial to practice intrinsic religion, extrinsic practice may be more harmful than no religion at all. This is because compared to the Intrinsics who are less anxious and to the unreligious that do not care much about what will happen to them, the Extrinsics are more prone to anxiety because in truth they are not prepared for the difficulties of life.
Because of the trying times that America is facing, many felt that the practice of religion should be promoted the way the Founding Fathers did. The Founding Fathers had clearly emphasized the importance of religion in American society. In fact The First Amendment stated that the “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I agree with what Fagan said that this means that the intent of the Founding Fathers was not to make any religion an official religion of America but that they allowed the people to practice whatever their chosen religion is. Thomas Jefferson, the coiner of the phrase `separation of church and state’, interpreted the first Amendment to mean that all men are allowed to practice their chosen religion and that no man should suffer because of it and furthermore, their religion should not be a cause of hindrance in exercising their civil liberties. To freely exercise civil liberties suggests that religion should not be barred from the operations of the state.
Similarly, to prove his point in the importance of religion in the American political society, Fagan pointed out George Washington’s belief in the necessity of religion in the exercise of free democracy. Washington considered religion to be the foundation of morality and consequently the foundation of political prosperity. I agree with Washington simply because religion provided man the standard by which to measure the rightness or wrongness of his decisions or acts. Although democracy promotes freedom, it is not absolute for it recognizes limitations or boundaries. Without it, man would do anything he wants and justify any actions he does and the democratic America would be nothing but a State of perpetual chaos. Upon the exercise of freedom, man must be careful not to go beyond this limitations or boundaries because if he does it will lead to potential negative consequences. Religion tells man what this boundaries and limitations are. Religion provided man moral absolutes that if carefully heeded would lead to the sustenance of a society.
I find the negative view of the social scientists and practitioner’s on religion to be without basis and biased. I just could not accept their argument that people who exercised religion are people who have low self-esteem or had no sense of personal well-being. In fact for me the opposite is true. People who practiced religion are strong because they have the strength to resist doing the things which are not only harmful to themselves but also to others. Without the restraints of religious people are prone to gratify the desires of the flesh that in close inspection are not beneficial to them or to the society as a whole. Religion gave them wisdom to distinguish what is right and wrong. For me people who do not want to practice religion are those who do not want others to tell them what to do, or they do not want to stop from doing sinful and shameful things. This reminds me of a friend of mine who professed as an atheist. For him practicing religion is a sign of weakness, having to rely to an unseen God on what one should do. As a man with intellect, he argued, a man ought to know what he should be doing. He should know that abusing drugs is wrong for him, for now he is in the drug rehabilitation center. Sometimes when I think of him I cannot help but conclude, “Here is a man who is trying to be wise in his own eyes”.
I, too, do not agree on many professionals who considered religion to be an exercise of mysticism and sometimes fatalism (like having to rely on faith). There is nothing mystical in believing in Someone higher than I am (because surely I am limited) and having to entrust to that Someone the things that are beyond my control. I think the reason why people who have no faith in God are stressed because they are constantly trying to find various ways and means to solve their problems; they are always trying to figure things out. They cannot seem to relax; they are always affected by the external happenings of their lives. They are also worried about not getting what they want or desire so they are always obsessed with success and self-fulfillment. I think people without religion are more prone to delusion and mental illness than the religious ones. People with religion entrust many happenings in their lives to God so they tend to be more relax. They are comforted with the fact that there is Someone unseen out there who cares for them and will help them get through their problems. Their desires and goals are more realistic and achievable. They do not feel compelled to be successful for they do not find it necessary to prove themselves to the fallen human beings like them.
Fortunately, Fagan revealed that in spite of the negative views some social professionals have on religion, many Americans still see religion as important and necessary for a happy , stable society. This is indeed a very encouraging report for this means that the large part of the American people still considers the pursuit of right morality (instituted by God) as a desirable act in life ( Fagan).
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