A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.
Vernon focused on the paper’s finding that spiritual but not religious people are more prone to . But there were two other unusual findings:
-Non-spiritual, non-religious people were no more likely to have mental health disorders, other than heavy drinking (the abstract notes that they also are more likely to have tried drugs, but doesn’t indicate that they are more likely to have developed a habitual drug habit). This conflicts with previous studies that assumed that religion was a key part of happiness.
-According to Vernon’s write-up, non-spiritual, non-religious people tended not to have education beyond secondary school, challenging previous findings that atheists are more intelligent (or perhaps the assumption that intelligent people go to university).
Vernon concludes that churches in Britain should do a better job of reaching spiritual people who don’t have religious affiliations. He’s holding on to the idea that religion can treat mental health issues, but I think he’s reading too much into the study. First of all, it will need to be repeated and compared with other studies with conflicting results. Second, it’s not clear that religiosity is what “healed” anyone — correlation vs. causation and all that. But it does lend some credence to concerns about religious practices being taken out of context.