Science Says You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Benefit from its Wisdom

Adobe Stock

Scientific evidence continues to confirm that one does not have to be religious to benefit from religious teachings no matter the denomination or particular religious faith.

Science affirms benefits from the wisdom of religion

Whether you study the teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or other religious faiths, science is increasingly finding that there is wisdom in all of them that brings meaning and psychological benefits to practitioners.

Psychologists have not been able to ignore how humans have turned to religious practices in order to deal with the various issues of life, including meaning, loss, and death for thousands of years.

In a new book entitled “How God Works,” David DeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University, used the latest scientific evidence to explore how rituals have helped shape behaviors such as compassion, trust, and resilience, the Washington Post reported. Further, he studied the data to understand why many of these practices are so beneficial

In the book, DeSteno set out to answer questions such as the role religion plays in people’s lives, does it make it better? He explored how rituals around childbirth strengthened parental bonds. How meditation increased compassion. How certain Jewish practices aided those who were mourning.

Further, he looked for clues on how we become more virtuous and find connection. He examined how gratitude makes people more honest and generous.

Rituals and practices serve as tools that improve the mind and body

In one study, DeSteno said he and his colleagues found that after only a couple of weeks of practicing meditation, people became more compassionate.

DeSteno said he felt like he and his colleagues were “discovering techniques in the field of psychology that were used for thousands of years.”

He said whether people believed these practices were divinely inspired or not, he found there was some wisdom in these religious tools.

“I think science needs to take them seriously,” DeSteno said. “The time people spend engaged in spiritual practices like going to a church or synagogue, on average, the longer, healthier and happier their lives are.”

Agnostic, but convinced of the power of religious practices

Even though DeSteno reveals that he grew up Catholic, he says he teeters on the edge of being atheist or agnostic, being firmly in the latter camp. However, he says he is open to the possibility that there is some type of supreme being or God.

Nonetheless, he said the wisdom he’s gained in studying religion has made him embrace a lot of the principles.

“I embrace a lot of the principles about how to live in this world that most of the religions offer about what virtues are and how to treat other people,” DeSteno says.

Wisdom developed over thousands of years

“You can’t just create a ritual randomly,” DeSteno says. “Over thousands of years they’ve been kind of debugged to leverage the mechanisms of our minds and bodies.”

DeSteno said he is worried about moves towards doing certain rituals online. “That’s not how they were designed to work.”

“These rituals are designed to happen and work best in the presence of other individuals,” DeSteno stresses. “When we’re together, our heart rate synchronizes our breath. These mechanisms are leveraging our minds and bodies.”

In fact, synchronization is a mystery and marvel all on its own.

The power of prayers and gratitude

DeSteno said one of the biggest takeaways that has influenced him personally through his research is how beneficial the practice of prayers and gratitude are on a daily basis. He’s made both of these a ritual for himself.