According to researchers at the Paris School of Economics and the European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research in Vienna, religious believers have “higher levels of life satisfaction”.
Study leader Andrew Clark says that believers are better able to cope with life’s tribulations. He also suggests that religion acts as a protective “buffer”, and adds that believers are happy in the here and now, rather than focusing on the promise of eternal life:
“What we found was that religious people were experiencing current day rewards, rather than storing them up for the future.”
There are, however, a number of caveats attached to this, and these include the influences of lifestyle and upbringing, and the stability of family life and relationships.
The researchers surely know that correlation does not imply causation, but still they appear to claim that religion is a force for good. Clark goes so far as to conjecture that the supposed benefits of religion might stem from an increased “purpose of life” felt by believers:
On the other hand…
“These findings are consistent with other studies which suggest that religion does have a positive effect, although there are other views which say that religion can lead to self-doubt, and failure, and thereby have a negative effect.
“The belief that religion damages people is still in the minds of many.”
I think it’s safe to say that people who live without hope are joyless creatures. And hope, in whatever form it comes, can provide at least temporary respite from life’s disappointments. But religious hope is at root illusory, and it is difficult to understand how anyone with an open and enquiring mind could allow themselves to be fooled by it.
The obvious conclusion is that religious believers are either stupid, or, as is more often the case, they wilfully anaesthetise themselves to reality.
In his “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, Karl Marx wrote:
Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again… The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”
Surely it is better to be open-minded and aware than closed and insensate.