The science is in: God is the answer

Research shows kids raised with spirituality are happier and healthier in the vulnerable teen years. Why aren’t we all signing up?


Photo Illustration by Levi Nicholson and Richard Redditt

Eighteen years ago, Lisa Miller, now the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University’s Teachers College, had an epiphany on a New York subway car. She had been poring over the mountains of data generated by a three-generation study of depressed women and their children and grandchildren. The biological trend was clear: Women with severe—and particularly with recurrent—depression had daughters at equally high risk for the psychological disorder. At puberty, the risk was two to three times greater than for other girls. But the data seemed to show that the onset and, even more so, the incidence of recurring bouts with depression, varied widely.

Miller couldn’t discern why. Raised in a close-knit Midwestern Jewish community, she had already looked for what she says psychologists rarely bothered to seek—religious belief and practice—and found some mild benefit for both mothers and children, but nothing that stood out among the other variants, such as socio-economic status. Then came the subway ride.

“There I was, on a Sunday—quite invested in this question, wasn’t I, going up to the lab on a Sunday,” recalls Miller in an interview. She was in a subway car crowded at one end and almost empty at the other, because that end was occupied by a “dirty, dishevelled man” brandishing a piece of chicken at everyone who boarded while yelling, “Hey, do you want to sit with me? You want some of this chicken?” The awkward scene continued for a few stops until an older woman and a girl of about eight—grandmother and granddaughter, Miller guessed—got on. The man bellowed his questions, and the pair nodded at one another and said, “Thank you,” in unison, and sat beside him. It astonished everyone in the car, including Miller and the man with the chicken, who grew quieter and more relaxed.

The child’s evident character traits—compassion, acceptance, fearlessness—at so young an age prompted Miller’s eureka moment. What struck her was the nod and all it implied: “It was clear as day that the grandchild fully understood how one lives out spiritual values in her family.” Twenty minutes later, Miller was in her lab, running equations on the data that were, in effect, a search for “the statistical nod.” She was looking for mother-teen pairs who had reported a shared religion or non-religious spirituality. She calls the results “the most amazing science I had ever seen.” In the pairs Miller found in the data, shared spirituality (religious or otherwise)—if it reached back to the child’s formative years—was 80 per cent protective in families that were otherwise at very high risk for depression.

It was the start of a long and sometimes rocky road for both Miller and the place of spirituality—however defined—in mainstream psychological thinking. She remembers doors literally slammed in her face and “people walking out of talks I was giving.” But Miller and other researchers, including so-called “spiritual” neuroscientists like Montreal’s Mario Beauregard and the much-cited American psychologist Kenneth Kendler continued to explore the intersection of religiosity and mental health in studies published in major, peer-reviewed science journals. By the end of it, as Miller sets out in a provocative new book, The Spiritual Child, out later this spring, she was convinced not only of spirituality’s health benefits for people in general, but of its particular importance for young people during a stage of human development when we are most vulnerable to impulsive, risky or damaging behaviours.

Related: Inside your teenager’s scary brain

In fact, Miller declares, spirituality, if properly fostered in children’s formative years, will pay off in spades in adolescence. An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever the individual identifies as his or her “higher power,” she found, is more protective than any other factor against the big three adolescent dangers. Spiritually connected teens are, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented. twitter-birdtweet this They’re 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, and 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations, Miller points out, also tend to excel academically.

And teenagers can use all the help they can get. Recent research has revealed their neurological development to be as rapid and overwhelming as their bodily change. The adolescent brain is simultaneously gaining in intellectual power and losing in emotional control; its neural connections—its basic wiring—is a work in progress, with connections between impulse and second (or even first) thought slower than in adults. There is a surge in unfamiliar hormones and, as it turns out, a surge in spiritual longing.

Related: Why teens are getting upset over One Direction—and why that’s a good thing

Humans have an innate tendency to ascribe random and natural events to conscious agents and a hunger to belong to something larger than ourselves—both militant atheists and fervent believers can agree on this. The urge is never sharper than in adolescence, when, in the fraught process of individuation, teens develop their own sense of the world and their place in it. “A teen looks out at what’s been handed to him or her, from family or community,” Miller says, “and asks, ‘What about these values, what about this way of life is me, and what is not me?’ And this ‘me/not-me’ work is the most important work a teen does.”

In Miller’s view, and that of many traditional cultures, individuation—the way children become their own individuals rather than unconscious copies of their parents—is an essentially spiritual process. When that process runs into difficulties, says Miller, the health effects can be severe, especially in terms of depression, to which adolescents are suddenly vulnerable. In fact, half of all adults who have suffered depression had their first experience in adolescence; teens are considered the demographic most at risk for it. Research shows that up to 20 per cent of adolescents have a major depression episode at some point, with an additional 40 per cent or more exhibiting what are known as “sub-threshold” levels that leave them distressed enough to seek treatment at the same rates as kids with major depression—and as much at risk for depression in their adult years.

And numbers approaching two-thirds in a single age bracket, Miller argues, are far too high to ascribe to illness alone. Her argument is that brushes with depression are intrinsic to developmental and spiritual awakening. Teens in this often excruciating situation sometimes will turn to substance use, risky sex, physical danger—all of which are shortcuts to transcendence that ultimately have their roots in the same universal drive. On the other hand, adolescents who have supported spiritual lives, especially dating back to childhood, and “practice in asking and living through hard questions, are more prepared to face them,” Miller says.

The evidence for a personal religious advantage is overwhelming, Miller claims, drawn from literally “hundreds” of epidemiological and longitudinal studies. In a 2002 article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, data taken from a 1995 survey of 3,300 teen girls in North Carolina showed that higher frequency of prayer or meditation correlated with decreased risk of depression. It’s worth noting that the advantage was conferred by individual devotion rather than the degree to which the girls believed sacred writings were the literal word of God—spirituality, then, rather than religion.

(Other studies have identified this distinction, which was first laid out in Kendler’s landmark twin study in 1997. Examining 1,900 female pairs, identical and fraternal, in the Virginia Twin Registry, he concluded people’s religious practices were broadly determined by environment, but that individual devotion was almost 50 per cent due to a twin’s “unique personal environment.”)

A 2005 study found that a teen with this sort of spiritual connection—as manifested by statements like “I turn to God for guidance in times of difficulty”—was at least 70 per cent less likely to move from substance dabbling to substance abuse. Again, the key was personal engagement; there was no protective factor at all from going to church or taking part in family prayer when those acts came from obligation rather than conviction.

And a massive 2012 study from the department of child and family services at the University of Tennessee looked at 9,300 teens from half a dozen countries and regions, from China and India to Palestine and the United States. Its authors cited an earlier American study that showed that religion had an inverse correlation with anti-social behaviour, including substance abuse, carrying weapons and drinking and driving, and a positive correlation with what the researchers called “pro-social behaviour,” which included everything from volunteerism to school engagement. Across the world, the Tennessee study found, adolescents who were more religious than their peer groups had lower rates of depression and higher self-esteem. Those teens who reported experiencing such internal states as “relational spirituality” and “meaningfulness of religion” also reported lower levels of depression. “Overall, there is much support for the relationship between religiosity and youth psychological well-being,” the authors wrote.

Similar correlations have been seen by neuroscientists who work primarily with adults. Researchers who have used neuroscans to examine people at high familial risk for depression have noted brain abnormalities. One 2004 study pinpointed cortical thinning across the lateral surface of the right cerebral hemisphere, which the authors suspected would produce disturbances in sensory arousal, attention and memory for social cues, a situation they suggested might explain the increased chances of developing depression.

“In our lab, we looked at the brains, through MRIs, of people who had a strong sense of relationship in a transcendental dialogue with their higher power,” recalls Miller. That two-way sacred relationship is central to Judeo-Christian spirituality—hence the importance of the subway nod—and those people showed a thickening of the cortex in the same region. “They essentially had stronger wiring, through a sustained personal spirituality,” Millar explains. The exact implications of the neurological findings remain tentative, but stronger, thicker wiring is considered beneficial.

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In his now iconic brain-scan studies of Franciscan nuns praying and Buddhist monks meditating, Andrew Newberg—perhaps the leading American expert on the neurological aspects of religion—saw the same neural pathways being used (and strengthened) whether his subject was seeking God or attempting to become one with the cosmos. So Miller was delighted to learn that her lab’s work with devout Christians was, “in an entirely different lab, in an entirely different sample,” replicated with subjects who were meditating. “This is no longer prayer in the Judeo-Christian tradition, this is experienced meditators,” says Miller. “And they too showed cortical thickening in the same regions.”

Patrick McNamara, whose neurological lab at Boston University studies what happens to the brain in religious practice, says, “There are studies that show that religiosity is associated with better executive function and self-control. Those things are moderating factors on a whole host of health-related behaviours.” Although he is more cautious than Miller and thinks religion’s protective features need more study, McNamara agrees that “in the long run we think that religiosity will confer a protective effect against all kinds of disorders.” McNamara has studied the role of the frontal lobes—the part of the brain that exerts executive control over other regions and which teens, incidentally, find hard to access—in religious experience. “The right prefrontal region is especially important for supporting maintenance of the self,” he says. “People who’ve had strokes in that region have problems with self-concept, and people who have dysfunction in that region show lower scores on religiosity tests—that’s what we found.” A strong self-concept, which tends to be enhanced by religion, he notes, is associated with better health outcomes.

In the two decades since she began her career, Miller’s field has moved from the fringe to respectability. Universities such as Duke and Baylor have research centres that focus on the intersection of religion and health and publish studies looking at everything from integrating spirituality into nursing care, to private religious activities and cardiovascular risk, to the interconnections of religious involvement, inflammatory markers and stress hormones in chronic illness. In 2012, Columbia’s teachers college, the oldest and largest graduate school of education in the United States, began to offer the Ivy League’s first master’s concentration in spiritual psychology.

Miller’s ideas may also resonate more with many Canadians than the conventional wisdom about religion’s decline would suggest. University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby pioneered the study of religious trends in Canada. His newest data, gathered in partnership with the not-for-profit Angus Reid Institute, sees more than a quarter of Canadians reject religion, compared with the 30 per cent who embrace it. But there is a vast middle ground, 44 per cent, who file themselves between those two poles. Most of them presumably overlap with the 40 per cent of Canadians who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Some of the antagonism to, and hesitation about, religion comes from a reaction to organized religion’s institutional hypocrisies—shunting pedophile priests from one diocese to another, for example—and from what modern Westerners increasingly see as intolerable restrictions on their personal autonomy. But Miller says she frequently encounters mothers who worry the spirituality baby has been tossed out with the religious bathwater. The dogma-free spirituality she recommends (and practises herself), which can be “cultivated in nature, in service, in human relationships,” has appeal for adults, and not just for the benefits it promises their children.

But while the public may be open to Miller’s ideas and her fellow academics may no longer slam their doors on her, not everyone is sold on her conclusions. Many materially minded social scientists are skeptical of the neurological view and argue that the health benefits conveyed by religion result from the community support it offers. In her 2014 book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier, Montreal-based developmental psychologist Susan Pinker cites a seven-year study of 90,000 women from across the U.S. that found that those who attended religious services at least once a week were 20 per cent more likely to have longer lifespans than those who did not. As much as the attendance itself, Pinker points to the ritualistic physical synchrony of religious services, the way “praying, chanting, singing, swaying and rocking all together” is “brain-soothing.”

The social benefit of community is behind the sporadic attempts, mostly in the U.S. and Britain, to establish “atheist churches,” though this “if you can’t beat ’em” thinking—epitomized by skeptical philosopher Alain de Botton’s comment, “Religion is too important to be left to believers”—is repellent to more militant atheists. The human tendency toward religious belief should be resisted in the cause of evidence-based science, not accommodated, even in health care.

Related: Religion isn’t dying. In fact, it may be rising from the grave.

Their cause is bolstered by religion’s dark side.​ Tight-knit religious communities can also be over-controlling and outright abusive. “Look at Bountiful,” says Pinker, in reference to the polygamy and child-trafficking charges laid against members of a fundamentalist Mormon community in the small B.C. town. And fundamentalist teens often exhibit high levels of risk-taking because, Pinker says, they have no space for mild rebellion. “They are from families where it is easier to get pregnant at 15 than confess to your parents you don’t believe in God.”

In fact, depression can strike those adolescents harder than teens outside organized religion. A paper by Rachel Dew, a prominent religion and health researcher at Duke University, examined 117 teen psychiatric patients, most from religious families, and found depression in them linked strongly to feeling abandoned by God or unsupported by their faith communities.

Dew, one of the most cited researchers in her field, agrees in an interview that there is “overwhelming evidence that teens involved in religion are less likely to fall into drug or alcohol abuse,” particularly teens who “self-identified” with their faith. Still, Dew continues, studying depression rates so far provides less certain evidence of the health benefits of spirituality or religion. Part of the reason for caution, she says, is that researchers are still uncertain how to define religion and are wrestling with questions of correlation and causation. “We know from twin studies that there is a genetic predilection for religion,” she says. When that’s accompanied by a lower risk of depression, is the cause “in the religion or in the same genetic predisposition?” Moreover, many survey tools remain unsophisticated, seeking religious internalization through religious affiliation questions like “Do you go to church?” “Here in the South,” says Dew, “people see no difference between spirituality and religion.”

Miller thinks it all actually proves her case. In a very real sense, she says, debates over social versus natural, or about neural correlates, miss the point. When she talks about spirituality, she says, it’s with the pragmatism derived from clinical experiences, itself born from patients’ experiences. “No one’s laying any theology or implicit theology on the child; it’s his or her emerging natural spirituality,” she says. Look at the narratives of those who come out of addiction, Miller urges. “They say, ‘It was a hunger to feel a sense of connection that got me in, and it was when I found my relationship with my higher power that I came out.’”

Parents don’t need “big answers” for adolescents working through this, Miller says, and certainly not dogmatic answers. “We just need to show up and take an interest, and let them know the work is real, that this is the set-up, the foundation on which they’ll build their house in life.” However defined—and Miller’s own includes “Shabbat and Seder and a lot of nature”—an inclusive spirituality plainly works for human health and well-being, “and that’s why we do this work, to help kids not suffer.”


The science is in: God is the answer

  1. Religious people cause all the problems in the world. Muslims, Jews, Christians…they all believe in magic and like killing. Anyone who raises their children to be religious is an ibecile, regardless of what this half-assed study conducted by religious zealots says.
    Religious people are the most ignorant, opinionated arseholes in the universe. They are generally too stupid to grasp science and they do irreperable damage. Just look at the lunatics in the Conservative Party…Jason Kenny…god squad. Stockwell Day…god squad. These people are as dumb as posts. Neither Kenny nor Day went to university, preferring to keep everything in their world imaginary.

    • What an articulate, well thought out opinion! Insightful. Thought-provoking, and witty. I suggest you change your screen name to Really Smart Betty. It would be more in keeping with your obvious intellectual gifts.

    • Religious people are the most ignorant, opinionated arseholes in the universe.

      …. says the person who believes all religious people “like killing” and “cause all the problems in the world”. Clearly we need more progressive, tolerant and understanding deep intellectuals such as yourself. I’m sure your kids aren’t psychopaths.

      • Listen, I was just speaking to God and he told me you’re not getting into heaven…hahaha! I could hear Buddha in the background agreeing with him but I take Buddha’s opinion with a grain of salt since he always agrees with everything to keep the peace.
        Religion has dragged mankind down into the depths of evil. From the Crusades to the missionaries in the New World to ISIL, religion brings out the worst in humanity, all blessed by the churches.
        Then again, religion is only a means to control the masses and obviously amongst the weak minded, it works as expected.

        • I’ve been agnostic since I was about 14, so if you think you’re insulting my “religion”, you’ve failed badly. I don’t have one. In fact, the whole benefit of being agnostic is that I don’t feel the need to debate religion, or to defend a certain god or other deity. Which is why I’m not doing that here. (Also, I’m intimidated by your obviously superior intellect.)

          However, when I see some sociopathic loon show up in a comments section and write off 2/3 of the human population as “killers”, that is something I can have some fun with. Have you taken your antidepressants today? You know, those pills that (mostly) atheists take to fill the vacuum in their lives? Just wondering. You seem to be running a little low on seretonin.

          • Her type is an insult to agnostics and atheists she is a hater

    • Pssst! Check out the atrocities committed in Communist regimes – where the state is not just officially atheist, but often actively persecutes the religious. Stalin and Pol Pot are worth a search. You might check on Hitler too – though he sometimes claimed to be Christian, he was an atheist who has Christians next in his sights had he been able to stay in power.

      Another thing to consider when saying all evil is perpetrated by religious people… are they actually doing it in the name of religion, or some other purpose, such as their nation? Unless they are acting in the name of their faith then it is false to attribute their behaviour to their religion.

      Finally, you may want to look at all the good done in the name of religion. Schools, charities, hospitals… mostly secular these days in the western world, but most such good works in the past were established by… the religious.

      War, killing… all sorts of bad behaviour… are human weaknesses perpetrated equally by the religious and non-religious alike. Religions, by and large, try to teach us how to get along with one another, to help one another, and to avoid this kind of strife.

      Sometimes, religion gets perverted by some of the leaders and takes a faith down dark roads. But again – that’s not the religion per se, but more opportunistic, charismatic sociopaths using a version of the religion for their own purposes. Politicians do the same regularly. Sometimes, they are one and the same.

      And BTW, I’ve met plenty of atheists who are “ignorant, opinionated arseholes” – in fact, I suspect I just replied to one ;-)

      • Psst! Communism is not atheism. Communism is a political religion. An ideology just like religion.
        Atheism is not a religion. it is not a philosophy, it doesn’t tell you how to go about your life. We atheists look elsewhere, often to humanism for our philosophical outlook.
        Atheism’s not a thing. It’s only a position on a single claim. So to blame communism on atheism is fallacious.

        • And Hitler was most certainly a Christian. Hitler claimed to have destroyed atheism in Nazi Germany. The Catholic church never excommunicated him. And the overwhelming majority of the Nazi soldiers, the ones doing the actual killing, also professed Christianity. Nice try though.
          “Another thing to consider when saying all evil is perpetrated by religious people… are they actually doing it in the name of religion”. yes they are doing it directly in the name of religion. It’s in the texts itself. Kill blasphemers, kill adulterers, kill gay people. Silence women and so on. This isn’t an example of religious people misreading the texts. This is an example of them following it.

          • I didn’t say no one kills in the name of religion; “Smart” Betty started out with the statement “Religious people cause all the problems in the world. Muslims, Jews, Christians…they all believe in magic and like killing.” [My emphasis.] That’s complete nonsense and it was the statement I was refuting.

            I didn’t blame communism on atheism either. I was pointing out the error of her claim. Communism is no more a religion than capitalism. Or tribalism.

            Anti-religionists all make the same mistake – they blame religion for a condition that is inherent in all, religious or not. They claim moral superiority where it doesn’t exist.

            Humans distrust and dislike the “other”. Whether that “other” is an opposing sports team or business, up to nations, or sex, race or creed – it’s what we do. Religion may sometimes be used as the excuse; it’s not the cause. In fact, most wars in the last few centuries have been in the name of country; tribalism writ large.

            As to Hitler – there is debate as to where exactly he fits where religion is concerned. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler#Hitler_and_atheism He wasn’t a practicing Christian, though, and his actions were not done in the name of God.

            Which was, and is, my point. One most anti-religionists, in their bigotry, seem to have a hard time grasping

    • Hey Betty how many universities and medical schools were founded by atheists?

        • Interesting – but doesn’t answer the question asked.

        • Emily? Is that you? Or do you just share her habit of posting links that weaken your own arguments?

      • Not sure about universities, but there was this little country called the United States of America that was created by founding fathers who recognized the dangers of religion and worked hard to ensure religion and state were separated, despite the relatively modern movement by right-wing evangelicals to re-write that history…

      • Hey Brian, thanks for pointing out that, until about the last 50 years, everyone in western civilization was forced to be Christian. That’s the reason why until recently religion, like a peeing dog, sprayed itself over everything in our society. However, now that atheists can openly leave Christianity without fear of being stoned to death or burned at the stake for doing so, you might be disappointed to learn that at the highest levels of all sciences atheists are VASTLY over-represented per capita. Kind of shoots your “all the old hospitals were named after Saints” argument in the foot.

    • “Religious people cause all the problems in the world.”
      Better change your name ‘Smart Betty’…what a ridiculous opening.
      Oh; I bet you went to University…as if that means anything? Your comment is nonsense from front to back.

    • Yeah, that Martin Luther King Jr. was a real pip.

      What we have here is a sweeping generalization, contradicted by the evidence.

      Religious organizations have caused a lot of problems in the world, religious fundamentalism has been a force for nothing good.

  2. I would argue the science is not “in” and this article is completely misleading. There has been a lot of research that contradicts some of the findings here and, nonetheless, the beginning of your article mentions “non-religious” spirituality (think Sam Harris’ ‘Wake Up’) and no need for God or religion.

    Eliassen, Taylor, and Lloyd (2005) found that the highest level of mental distress, for youth, were the weakly religious; were as the highly religious and nonreligious had similar levels of mental wellbeing. Donelson (1999) supported this finding with evidence that mental wellbeing is associated with strong beliefs either way (religious or nonreligious). This suggests that group cohesion and understanding where you stand has positive effects on mental wellbeing. In addition, how do we know that nonreligious aren’t experiencing problems because they are a minority in many countries?

    Putative liability to mental health and irreligion may reflect being ostracized or a lack of group belonging. For example, Doane and Elliott (2014) find that atheist identification is positively associated with well-being and that atheists fare better when they strengthen their group identification, which is protective against discrimination. Also, Chou and Hofer (2013) found that the congregation matters when protecting against depression. For example, individuals that don’t feel accepted within their church experience heightened states of depression; moreso than those that feel like they “belong” in their church congregation.

    This also leads to the current problem in religious research: church attendance (and associated social in-group benefits) often confounds with religiosity itself. Although religiousness has been found to affect factors such as wellbeing and moral behaviours, demographics factors such as class and socioeconomic status are much better predictors of these variables.

    Articles like this are definitely not helping stigmatized atheist youth and are actually reflective of a huge problem: bad science reporting. No; the science is not in that “God is the answer”. I strongly suggest that the authors review some of the problems within religious research and that they also look at the research that completely contradicts this supposed consensus. For a great source of a lot of the research please see ‘Emerging Adults’ Religiousness and Spirituality: Meaning-Making in an Age of Transition by McNamara Barry and Abo-Zena. There are some great citations there and many more sources available that, if reviewed, clearly contradict this “science reporting”.

    • Where are non-religious youth being “stigmatized”? Certainly not in the public school system. That only happens in insular, closed societies like Hutterites, Amish, Mennonites, Hasidic Jews or other Orthodox sects, and perhaps a few others. While sizeable, these groups are very much in the minority. The “research” you cited (I can have fun with quotes too) is no more or less valuable than the research cited above. All we can conclude is that the verdict is still in. But some very disturbing signs (high teen suicide, record high antidepressant use despite the severe side effects, increasing narcissim that not even the pop psychobabblers try to deny anymore, ) are pretty much begging for an explanation. Clearly, a steady diet of self-esteem and secularism has not helped the post-religious generations much. I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I sure can tell when someone else is pretending.

      • Of course, I meant “the verdict is still out”, not ‘in’. I wish we had an edit feature.

        • Also, I don’t have the answers and neither does science. My point is that this is “bad science reporting” because it attempts to suggest “The Answer is God”. Look no farther than the heading. I don’t know why my reference of contradictory research, which shows that the science is NOT in, is problematic for you. If you believe the verdict is still out, then why is this article acceptable to you?

          • Maclean’s likes attention-grabbing headlines. The article is a little more equivocal, but intends to challenge existing preconceptions. From your response, I’d say it may be doing just that.

          • I don’t recall declaring a wholesale endorsement of the the article. I merely stated that it has as much value as the studies you cited. You seem to think the studies you cited completely invalidate what was discussed in the article. Personally, I commend the brave researchers for challenging the Dawkins’ inspired status quo, and look forward to more of the same. It’s a debate worth a thorough airing.

      • A study, published in the October issue of Psychological Medicine but online now, followed more than 8,000 people in rural and urban areas in seven countries for one year. During the research, they were each examined at six- and 12-month intervals.

        In those time frames, 10.3 per cent of religious participants became depressed, compared with 7.0 per cent for atheists and 10.5 per cent for those with a “spiritual understanding of life,” the study found.

        See: Spiritual and religious beliefs as risk factors for the onset of major depression: an international cohort study, Psychological Medicine / Volume 43 / Issue 10 / October 2013, pp 2109-2120

      • Atheists are discriminated against in the public school system; even “secularism” is discriminated against. An example of this is the CFI Canada saga with the Chilliwack School District that refused to distribute Dawkins’ ‘The Magic of Reality’, but circulates Gideon Bibles.

        Also, depending on where you come from, I am originally from the USA, you will not have (at least an openly) nonreligious rep in government. This leads to issues we are seeing today like the anti-gay “religious freedom” bill recently approved in Illinois.

      • Bullshit! I would like to see the statistics, from a relevant source, about how non religious kids are more prone to drug abuse etc. Human beings that have a propensity for addiction are hard wired in the chemistry of their brains, and although they can overcome this burden, it is usually accompanied by depression and feelings of isolation, not religion or no religion. Besides, a spiritual person is not necessarily a religious person. I believe in God, but I don’t claim to know exactly what the supreme being will look like or what the afterlife holds, because no one does until they are dead. Unless they are crazy, or manipulative. People that say they talked to God and he told them such and such? Are crazy, OK? Delusional. Or narcissists, liars and possibly schizophrenic. I don’t pretend to have the answers either, but I don’t feel the need to hack at people just because they have a different point of view.

        • Spirituality is a pure & natural truth. It is free and available to all but not compulsory.
          Religion is the thief that perverts that truth. This is wickedness in the classic sense, truth twisted.

        • I don’t feel the need to hack at people just because they have a different point of view.

          So then you’re doing it for fun?

          Given the angry, agitated, aggressive tone of your responses, may I humbly – with great humility – suggest that your belief in God is no longer sufficient. You may wish to seek counselling, and perhaps consider medication. You have a very difficult time making a point without angrily denouncing someone, even while completely misunderstanding what they wrote. A lack of concentration (possibly the cause of your poor reading comprehension?) is the hallmark of depression. I wish you good luck and a speedy recovery.

        • Lily Tomlin, wildly popular and dearly loved, widely quoted throughout the world, approx., 25 yrs. ago: “IT IS SAID WHEN WE PRAY WE ARE TALKING TO GOD. IT IS ALSO SAID WHEN HE TALKS TO US WE ARE SCHIZOPHRENIC.” It has often been determined by regular contributers to Psychology Today and other scientific journals that not only the Prophet Isaiah, but also Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others were clearly schizophrenic as they heard “voices.” (Incorrect as they almost entirely only heard one voice, a whisper on the wind, or the sound of many waters, etc., but it was always the same voice of the one and only Lord of Hosts.) “Let those with ears to hear…”

          These same old schizophrenics are still much in our conscience today, thousands of years later, are studied carefully and quoted daily throughout the world, and will continue to be, no matter how much the thought of it irks for one reason and one reason alone: Way too much, especially from Isaiah, not only came to pass at the time but continues to today. It takes more faith to doubt in view of the incontrovertible proofs than it does to believe. And yes, Moira, He talks to me and sure, I’m crazy and those who know me, know it’s best not to forget it, honey, ’cause crazy or not, He/She digs me.

          • Well-said ANNA!!!
            ~when I was expelled from some nameless seminary for the crime of pointing out that, “speaking to the soul has more tangible reaction than controlling one’s actions with a list of don’ts”, … I left and took the way with me, as they clearly had no use for it.
            Years later after someone jokingly called me lao tzu I took interest to learn who that was. About the time of the other persons mentioned, he spoke of the way.
            To those I love, who do not have time for parlour games, I say this:
            All one must do if they wish to be correct, is to see where the light is shining & stand so that it is inside oneself. It is not important to always be correct, but if something IS important to you … stand where the light is inside you. You will know/gno what to do.

          • Rejecting someone’s claim isn’t a question of faith, but a rejection of their evidence.

      • Recently, non religious students in the States have had issues with both school boards, teachers and admin. I recall being coerced to stand during the lord’s prayer at my high school years ago. Any theocratic government on the planet has some nasty plans for non religious pupils. So, there you go.

        • Religion; is a matter of intellect, conscience & the outward sign of physical obedience to ritual.
          If such a thing is mandatory, the line has been crossed. Freedom has ceased.
          Any religion, whose elements in whole or in part, are now or have ever been, compulsory, whether physically or implied, is a work of Satan & can go fuck itself with both hands.
          But that is just my original opinion :)

          • What is the penalty for the theosophic rape of minors? Surely it is not the same as a teacher selling opium to students in class. Correctly it should be the same as forcing students to eat opium in school.

    • Great comment Suzi. I’ll check out your suggestion.

  3. In a 2002 article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, data taken from a 1995 survey of 3,300 teen girls in North Carolina showed that higher frequency of prayer or meditation correlated with decreased risk of depression.

    ^ Here is just such an example of bad science reporting. How does, “prayer or meditation correlated with decreased risk of depression” translate to evidence that “the answer is God”. We know that meditation can help people’s mental wellbeing.

  4. “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.” — George Bernard Shaw

    • Then, by logical extension, a depressed person who becomes “cured” by antidepressants is not really free of depression at all, but high on prescription medication. I’m not necessarily stating that is the case, but it MUST be the case if one follows your line of reasoning. Or more likely, antidepressants do help some people, and religion also helps some people, and equating someone who believes in a higher power with drunkeness is intellectually weak.

      • Good Lord! You are indeed a raging ranter. People who take antidepressants don’t get “high”, nitwit! People who take sedatives or narcotics get high. Equating someone who believes in a higher power with drunkeness? I did not get that from the poster you attacked so viciously, and if you are indeed a religious person, you would know that HUMILITY is the road to God, “just not lest ye be judged” and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And you would practice it. But you obviously don’t, so what religion exactly do you practice?

        • The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. – Westley quoting Shaw

          Equating someone who believes in a higher power with drunkeness? I did not get that from the poster you attacked so viciously… – Faulds

          I have to say, I’m at a loss as to how you could have missed it.

          Upthread, RR said “I’ve been agnostic since I was about 14…” so no, he’s not a religious person.

          As for “high”, how about we agree to substitute “altered state of consciousness”? His points being that (1) medications for depression are NOT a cure; (2) for some, faith can be as effective in staving off depression as medicine. Westley attacked (by proxy by quoting Shaw) and RR showed him up for the prig he is. As an agnostic, he was under no requirement to turn the other cheek.

          • Thanks. I was going to respond to her, but you’ve covered most of what I would have said. I too am at a loss to understand her response. Westley quite plainly states what she angrily insists he did not state. You quoted it.

            Then she totally misunderstood what I was saying. Perhaps that was my fault for being too cryptic. I was not claiming antidepressants make people high, I was merely applying Westley’s faulty reasoning about faith and happiness to another oft turned-to treatment for depression, to demonstrate the flaw in his assertion. Faith helps some people. ADs help some people. Who is Westley (or Shaw) to dismiss the legitimacy of someone’s happiness by equating it with drunkenness?

            Finally, I love how she called me a “nitwit” before chastising me for not demonstrating the appropriate level of humility. She needs to look up the word ‘irony’ in the dictionary. I must conclude that her brain had disconnected from her fingers before she even sat down at the keyboard. Otherwise she’d have at least taken the trouble to read through the thread before jumping in with both barrels blazing, shooting blanks.

  5. A deist must allow that metaphysical experience may be a product of schizophrenia in the same way that an atheist must allow that they might just be too stupid & boring for a deity to bother with.
    Pagan idolatry is a highly observable sport, (from behind protective sheeting.) It involves contestants worshipping their own ideas.
    Ideology is the real enemy. It is dismissive of now/present reality livers.

  6. God is NOT the answer. It’s belonging to something, feeling part of a larger group, that is the essence of the value of religion. We need to replace religion with something that gives us that same sense, without indoctrinating us into weird and false belief systems that only hurt and cause pain.

    • The infomercial wall’o’text style of ‘pick a religion; any religion, con game is what is really offensive.
      Perhaps if people were willing to think for themselves & then thusly be brave enough to make that part of the education, the three great evils of adolescence (as they are depicted) would find their own balance.
      Spirituality is a private matter, (like sex drugs & rock ‘n roll). Why is it that religion is allowed unsupervised proximity to minors? The RICO case against cat-lickers must have raised some flags.
      Each person needs to get their own cocktail straight: When we are no longer sick, we quit taking the medicine.

  7. Yes, because nothing does wonders for your psychology than being told that you’re a dirty, rotten, evil sinner, worthy of damnation, and that only through a sacrifice on your behalf are you worthy of redemption.

    That you need permission from on high to find value in yourself and others. Nothing fosters alienation and division like religion. “We’re right.” “They’re wrong”.
    But all that said, even if it were true, that religion made you feel better about yourself, less prone to depression, and so on. That doesn’t make it true. A drunk man is quite often more merry than a sober one. But that merriness is a just drug. Nothing more than a sugar pill.

    • Not sure if you are speaking from experience or from what you think happens in a religious setting, but your description does not match reality for a good many Christians (and I’m pretty sure from your choice of words it is Christianity you are referring to).

      I’m sure there are extremist branches that could fit your description, but I haven’t personally encountered them.

      And there are plenty of atheists who also say “We’re right.” “They’re wrong” and look down their noses at those who don’t hold to their belief system. You would seem to be one of them, to judge you by your post.

      As for depression: modern medicine doesn’t “cure” anyone of depression either. So if religion helps, why deny them that relief?

      • The religious bigots are the only true atheists. To quote my grandfather, “if they truly believed in god, they would not dare act that way.”
        ~In the Christian story it was religion, (the political element), that performed human sacrifice with god as the victim. Today, for a group to have a name or a building is to be corrupt, (despite the fantasies of the inhabitants.) Being a member of THAT book club does have its benefits. Sin is not without its wages ;)

  8. DEPRESSION: the main point of this address.
    Depression has been defined as a natural response to a loss.
    (..taken from a French study determined to discover which children will smoke tobacco. The tendency runs to favour smoking amongst children who have suffered a loss.)
    I prefer the apology for DEPRESSION as; A naturally occurring phenomenon when a person finds themselves in an unacceptable situation but is also powerless to change it.
    ~frequently the unacceptable is in inescapable oppression of the idealism of others.
    It is frequently interesting to note, that those with ‘the solution’ are the ones creating the problem.
    Incidentally, the original communist manifesto was a dead rip-off of the church at Antioch. “ For love of god and our fellow man, we will work together …blah, blah.”
    On spotting the word ‘god’ in the text, the Catholic Church informed them that they, (the church), were in charge of that. So to not expose the new movement to that slavery, ..(and possibly copyright infringement), communism became officially atheist for pragmatic reasons.
    This merely banned religion as a political entity, (an obvious great wickedness, an entity which hard drug addiction is deemed almost as bad as). One’s personal beliefs & private spirituality were unharmed.
    Hence, (ahem) one may transfer the weight of the sins of communism directly to the Pope.

  9. Why is every time there is a story on religion the pompous, holier than thou, afraid of another opinion atheists outnumber the pompous,holier than thou, afraid of another opinion Christians 4-1?

    • They religious bigots have trouble with the large words?

    • ~but seriously, apart from the ad hominem attack & the pious, “you know better” smile, (which sadly as yet does not have its own emoticon), the Christian (official) position is indefensible. But one would think, if goD really were on their side, numbers would not matter. Their overwhelming truth would strike the heathen speechless.
      ~it is just that claiming by private interpretation, (to the exclusion of all others), that, “goD said” is not only bad form, laziness and at present, a shameless non-existent ‘trump’ in their game of aggression.
      ~it must be some knee-jerk reaction paralleling not letting rodents set up shop in an old house from which they have been driven.

    • Because these days, there are more of them. They’ve been emboldened by Dawkins and Hitchens, and feel the need to spread the gospel I guess. Which makes them an awful lot like… oh never mind. I won’t bother pointing out the obvious similarities between religious fanatics and modern day “atheists”, not least of which is their desire to “save” society from one evil or another.

  10. We know/gno who these predators are.

  11. It’s not ground breaking news that spirituality can have a positive effect. But it should be equally unsurprising that spirituality doesn’t have to come from religion. We do not need to lie to our children or ourselves to tap into spirituality. Spirituality can be based in reality because the value and benefits of it are absolutely tangible and there are concrete, objective ways to access and understand those benefits. None of that needs ridiculous sky monsters or lies.

    If religion is indeed rising from the grave (though the wider evidence doesn’t support that across developed countries. It shows reality is being embraced at a fast growing pace) but if religion is lifting it’s skull from the grave, we simply need to keep kicking it back down. Faith (strong belief on insufficient evidence) is a terrible thing. The worst of things.

    • Yeah, yeah, ..that thing Plato was whinging on about last week at the café. Some allegory about people in a cave & one guy who gets out but then is put back in!
      I took those bound in the cave to be the non-spiritual norm & the full colour outdoor reality to be the enlightenment of spirituality. But who knows/gnos, you know how that Plato guy is, always so fvcking cryptic.

  12. I find the springboard for this story questionable. The anecdote about the child and grandmother sitting down next to the strange man on the subway indicates two things to me: empathy and an understanding of how to handle the mentally ill (possibly because of personal experience with another family member). There was nothing spiritual about it.

    The need to attach to a religion is hardwired in some people’s brains. Its probably a heritable trait, as is depression. That’s why there’s a statistical link.

    • You know how book club people are. In an unacceptable reality, these creatures identify with characters in their chosen novel. ..(and if we all wish and hope &… it will all be true.) It is a shame that goD doesn’t like them, … they are missing out on the beauty of the next dimension. How sad is it when their lives are so devoid of the supernatural that they have to claim basic-human kindness as a miracle. …or the rain, yeh, that’s a miracle too, one more for us, …suck it! Secular humanists! (…if you’re happy and you know it shake your meds!)

  13. More studies are needed to determine whether religion is a construct to help mankind get over depression or a way used by really smart powerful people to make not so smart people accept their lot in life.

    • A study hmmm good, yes why? Do you know some people who could use the werk?
      Is it the smart buggers who will pay for this study …ultimately exposing their crime?
      You did notice what happened to Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli? ..i mean after he wrote THE PRINCE? Died hated in poverty from both ends of the stick. I’ll personally never tell the truth publicly again!

  14. I wouldn’t say science does it but apart from the objective, the process of “conversion” is, I believe, empowering – whether Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, space existence, The people who are so influenced are “empowered” to do things, go into a Roman circus of lions, accomplish the unbelievable, bear difficult things, strap a bomb on — so it’s not the objective, but the process that changes things. I’ll leave it to the religionists as far as the beliefs are concerned. Perhaps it is just being taken out of one’s self that does it although each religion or belief system will claim it is their god or whatever.

  15. This is not at all surprising. Just look at every organized Atheist regime and you see what evil is. The French Revolution, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot. Nothing but murder and evil. Look at what trait most serial killers share and that’s is that they are Atheist.

    Now just look at White Atheist kids in Canada and you soon see what no morals and no values does. You hardly see any White kids in Universities these days because they are too busy wasting their lives away.

    Just look at Internet Atheists and the constant hate they preach and it’s apparent what they stand for.

    Atheism produces the worst governments, the worst people and this study/article merely supports what the world already knows. Jus

    • It is a shame that an education was not allowed you. You might have had something interesting to say :)

    • Stalin studied at a Jesuit seminary in Tiflis where brooking no dissent and dealing firmly with underlings were principles he applied with zeal on a russian population that was well conditioned to the central authority of the church. Questioning authority was not something the church or communism can tolerate.
      Hitler has many wonderful quotes about his staunch support of the Vatican…..I rather like this one
      “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty
      Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

      [Adolph Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936]

      The Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1997 found that .0207% of federal inmates were Atheists at a time when Atheists were 8-15 percent of the population. That is 40 times less than what you would expect based upon random sampling.
      I should also point out that atheists are over represented in the ranks of professors, scientists, engineers and creative people. People who do all this “book learning and thinky stuff” must be really good at getting away with crimes perhaps?

      Finally I should add that atheism is “without god” …you have made a choice to not believe in a supernatural actor governing your life. It does not require belief. It does not require faith…..saying that someone has chosen to “believe” atheism is like saying that “not stamp collecting” is a hobby. Morality is not the exclusive preserve of the religious…….I do not need a bible to know to not steal or murder………although the 10 commandments should have included something about slavery and perhaps Yahweh should not have been as vengeful, jealous and asking people to kill their kids to prove their loyalty…..can you imagine your neighbour pulling such a dick move?? ….rest assured Micheal that if at some point I become omnipotent and all powerful I will NOT stand aside and watch a child be raped or slowly die of cancer…that is the difference between this Atheist and your God ……you will understand exactly how I operate ……..fairly, justly consistently and with loving kindness for the world. No one will ever have to say that I work in mysterious ways.
      Peace Micheal and when your orbits around the Sun have come to an end and you return to earth, may you leave this world with more knowledge and tolerance that you have shown today.

      • …dude! (i hesitate to mention also that a swastika IS a cross ..under which they marched. ..this sorta makes adolph a reeally ‘goood’ christian no?)

      • All organized Atheist countries have been intolerant racist murdering countries. Fact.

        What has Atheism accomplished? Mass murdering countries?

        What has Christianity accomplished? The most accomplished countries with the greates technology and the highest standard of living ever seen. The greatest scientists, mathematicians thinkers and entrepreneurs.

        Atheism has always been a stain on humanity pretending to be relevant and just.

        • Really MIcheal? Atheists are all around you. Living their lives and making positive contributions to the life you live….where would you be without Alan Turing the father of computing and Betrand Russel and Claude Shannon who did so much to advance information theory? WHat about the discoverers of DNA both WATSON and CRICK were atheists, Peter Higgs of Higgs-Bosun Fame? THe richest men in the world Warren BUffet and Bill Gates are atheists but God must favor them more than you right? THey are atheists because they are giving away their fortunes to help the less fortunate……they believe that a better future lays ahead than that Rapture nonsense or waiting for Armageddon. Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman the father of QUantum Mechanics are atheists, Linus Pauling is as well….David SUzuki and Carl Sagan are declared as well….None of these guys go around spouting intolerance about CHristians…..no one is going to throw you to the Lions…no one is going to persecute you for believing in whatever silliness gets you through your day. Atheists are not evil because they do no need an imaginary guy to fear if they do the right thing.

      • And thank you for the great example of Stalin. A good child growing up and then turning into a mass murdering maniac once he became an Atheist.

        It’s very disturbing when looking at the short time organized Atheism has been around and all the evil and murder they commited trying to “help” the world by attacking religion. You see the same disturbing evil language with Internet Atheists hoping to rid the world of religion.

        No values, no morals creates an evil monster. Atheists.

        • I see your point, but if you comb your hair right, no one else will notice.
          Firstly, it is nice that you have someone to hate. You should really move to the USA. I hear that they really go in for that sort of thing. They are pretty pushy about WHOM to hate though.
          You say ‘mass murdering’ like it is a bad thing. So, what you just rename it “Fluffy bunny happiness insuring”, when the side you approve of, does it?
          ~the political part of religion is the really sad part. No fixed values. Hitler was a good Christian until he lost.
          The presumption to know the heart & mind of another by current assessment of their actions is tiresome. Joseph Stalin taught the world an important lesson. Dig out the bullets & take off the shoe leather. Lime does not destroy these things. (..if a future body count could contradict your claims of righteousness ;)

        • Evil Monster? why am I am evil monster….do you think Jesus would say that? Pointing out that Stalins ability to take over Russia was based upon the way the Othodox Church and “Church Supported” Monarchy cowed the citizens and made them obedient to central authority is not a radical historical perspective.

          Atheism has been around a long time in fact all the people who lived before Moses were technically atheists…..where was God for all the people who lived in the time of HORUS and LOKI and ZEUS…. what about Buddhists are they going to hell because they do not believe in a supernatural god? What about people who practice Zen or Yoga and do not believe that a vengeful wrathful god puts cancer in little babies eyes to test our faith? Will they burn in hell along with all of the people who believed in other gods like WOTAN prior to Christianity.

          I find it interesting that you focused on Stalin….being atheist means there is no requirement to hate….it simply means you call Bullshit on a magical dude in the sky, you have nothing to defend, you have no belief to kill over….no reason to think my god can kill your god…..no reason to to have GOD IS WITH US on your Belt Buckle like the Nazis did. Stalin was a bad man but there is nothing about Atheism to make him kill….only hatred of other people whom he did not view as worthy of life ….so he labels then as evil Kulaks and kills them all….20 million or more….. DO you not see the irony Micheal that calling me an “Evil atheist” is what Stalin would have done? You can only kill people when you remove my humanity…..I would never call you evil….I feel sorry you have no sense of history, irony or humour but I do not think you have nothing to offer the world. I am sure you do. Atheists are too busy being the greatest scientists, mathematicians, engineers and artists to bother persecuting CHristians……we are more worried about religious self righteous demonization and what it can do to a man and how he views people who disagree.

  16. Let me just say that I am a religious person, raising my children in my religion, and I think this article is really dumb.

    The science is never “in.” Scientific discovery is never really finished, and this social science theory is hardly proven. Sure, a few researchers are convinced, but others are not.

    Secondly, I doubt very much that it’s religion or spirituality that keeps kids safe during their teenaged years. It’s probably the fact that many of these families have close community ties.

    I’m quite sure that atheist families can confer these benefits to their children by being tied to their communities and by encouraging introspection and questioning, as well as respecting their children’s needs and interests.

    Frankly, I’ve seen a number of functional and dysfunctional religious and non-religious families, and from what I have observed, children who feel respected and loved have better lives than those who don’t. Full stop.

    • ^^ Full marks. A pleasure to read. thank-you.

  17. Muslims believe in the same GOD. How is their religion working out for their teenagers and society.
    Hmmm, suicide bombing, killing of innocent women and children, killing of each other, destruction of entire countries, need I go on?

    People who believe in God also believe in the devil.

    It is clear from history and the present that Religion is the work of the DEVIL, just look at the results. The devil must be laughing uncontrollably at the stupidity of the masses.

    • ..if you intend to premise an argument on only half the story; a recitation of only the ‘crimes’ of one’s opponent, … as if they were free-standing events, ..the lie you live is its own reward.

  18. What unmitigated bilge. The same empty rhetoric used for fad diets. We’ll just ignore the fact that the most religious States in the US have the highest violence, teen pregnancy and illiteracy rates. But sure, a couple of studies (contradicted by more studies elsewhere) claim superstition is good for you sop lets toss all the actual statistics.

  19. I read this article and sent a letter to the editor. This is an un-scholarly and un-academic propaganda piece. Reg Bibby is just a mouthpiece for religion, as he pretends that it isn’t declining in slanted “poll” after biased “article”. The values of Western civilization come from the 18th Century secular Enlightenment, not the Christian-dominated Dark Ages – and thank goodness for that! If you want to see where religion still dominates “morality” and “ethics”, look at Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.

  20. Lets pretend for a while and assume that this study is accurate. If you re-run the data and the positive results are mostly seen in only one religion then the conclusion is obvious. But if its seen in multiple religions … well you can figure it out

  21. Macleans, fire this author/editor/headline writer for misusing data to bolster his personal assumptions. To wit: ” In the pairs Miller found in the data, shared spirituality (religious or otherwise)—if it reached back to the child’s formative years—was 80 per cent protective in families that were otherwise at very high risk for depression.”

  22. Well, in “our time”. I do not remember any of us “”young people” suffering from depression – at least not in Western Canada. We were high on life, hope and at times on beer and some bad fruity Canadian vine in paper cups – how is that for nostalgia.

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