A recent study, one of the first in Canada, on the influence of faith and religion on health. Not surprisingly to me, the combination of reflection and social support helps health outcomes.
There is a lively debate whether this is mainly due to religion itself, or the social support has more of an impact. Quote:
…. parishioners and clergy said they always felt that going to church was therapeutic, said Ananya Banerjee, the epidemiologist who headed the research.
“They [priests] felt people were in a meditative state, it was a place where they felt at peace,” she said. “It was a time they could actually reflect on their lives and absorb everything that was being said … about how to live life to the fullest according to God’s will.”
And the contrary view:
Critics dismiss much of that research, though, arguing partly that something other than religion likely explains the positive results.
The Canadian paper …. suffers from a shortcoming shared by many of the U.S. studies: the source data made it impossible to filter out the general health effects of “social support,” said Richard Sloan, who critiqued the field in his 2006 book, Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine.
Any disease-fighting benefits of attending church, synagogue or mosque probably stem from the support and comfort those institutions offer, said the behavioural medicine professor at Columbia University. And many other types of social activities — from bowling leagues to theatre groups — deliver similar rewards, he said.
I tend to think that there are additional benefits from reflection and meditation that happen in a faith setting beyond the social; should one not be religious, alternative forms of reflection and meditation may be equally beneficial (but we need someone to do a study on that!).