Friday, December 18, 2009

“Does faith make you happy?”

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Smiley face
What religion makes you feel like. Also, what religion makes you look like.

This is what the USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog asks of its readers today, after mentioning a CDC study on happiness in the US with results that you can see as being either intriguing, or rather random.

A CDC released a four-year, 1.3 million-person study on happiness: Apparently the happiest Americans are in Louisiana, while the Empire State (N.Y.) is leaving people least satisfied.

The CDC speculates this has to do with things like sunshine hours, congestion, cost of living, air quality and availability of public land. Not on the list of criteria: religiosity.

If you compare the ranking of happiest states to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, is it interesting that New York has almost double the people who report "no religion" as Louisiana (14% vs. 8%)? Or not, since Florida, which ranked third in happiness, tied with New York for "Nones"?

Now, of course, correlation doesn’t imply causation. That some states with more avowedly religious folks are seen as being generally happier than others can very much be completely irrelevant – after all, there are many more things in life that determine whether you’re a happy camper or not, such as personal relations, your job, the neighborhood you live in, and how much time your in-laws spend at your place over the winter holidays.

But, to answer if religion tends to make people happier: I would say that yes, it does, for religious people themselves. After all, religion – chiefly Christianity as it is the dominating branch of faith in the U.S. – gives you the assurance that you know The TruthTM about the nature and origin of the Universe over any and all other religions and faiths, giving you that nice superiority ego boost; it coddles you up in warm blankets of security in the afterlife, knowing that you’re going to heaven when you die whilst the rest of the sinners will end up frying in Hell (a thought that also seems to elicit a frightening amount of glee with the devout); it tells you that there is an all-powerful and all-knowing daddy floating somewhere in the skies, watching over your life and making sure you’re all blessed and happy (disregarding the fact that your equally-devout neighbor’s house just went up in flames, which must mean he just got caught choking the gecko[1] one time too many, the filthy sinner); it provides you with endless flocks of sheep that you can follow and make friends with, reveling in how you all know and believe the same things and are taught the same life lessons and stories by pastors and holy men; and, of course, religion even provides you with all the answers to life in ancient, unverifiable, scientifically-debunked sacred writings that were cobbled together by goat-herders in the Middle East thousands of years ago and yet which somehow prove endlessly useful in your modern-day lives, disregarding the fact that you really only choose to follow a relatively small portion of the texts and lessons within.

Religion takes away your view of reality and replaces it with false assurances, false knowledge and a false confidence in life that what you know and do is right, and that anyone who doesn’t believe the same sort of stuff you do is wrong and will end up in whichever variant of a fiery underworld you believe in. It’s the ultimate win-win: you end up with Jesus or virgins or lots of chocolate (if that’s your thing), and your enemies end up roasting for all eternity. What’s not to like?

Of course, what’s curious is that while following a religion tends to make the religious person more happy than otherwise (if only because their head and heart is filled with fluff), religion tends to have the opposite effect on competing faiths, and especially on folks who avoid adhering in any religion at all.

[1] In case you don’t get it: beating the beaver. Flogging the dolphin. Polishing the wand. And so on. (Seriously, how many of these are there?)

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