If God knows everything, why pray?

Spiritual Principles series

praying

There are several different types of prayer – several different types of conversations we may have with God, if you like to look at it that way. Sometimes we need to ask for forgiveness, sometimes we want to thank him or tell him we love him, sometimes we just want to meditate on God.

In this post I am talking about when we want to ask God to do something, for us or someone else. And the simple question is, does praying make a difference?

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Does religion do you harm or good?

Wellbeing

Famous atheists have said that religion is harmful to the believer and to society. Religious belief is “poisonous”, making believers “delusional” and anti-social. And internet sceptics have followed them in repeating the allegations until they have some sort of authority.

These accusations may trouble some christians. But the thing is, the scientific evidence shows otherwise.

The science of religion and wellbeing

You may not be aware of it but the study of the neurophysiology, sociology and psychology of religion is a scientific discipline. There have also been many scientific studies of health and wellbeing, including many on the contribution religious belief or attendance makes. These studies make no assumptions about the truth or otherwise of religious belief, but look at how such belief is experienced and how it affects people and society.

I have listed almost 40 studies on religion and wellbeing in Studies of medicine and religion and outlined the conclusions of these studies in The health and wellbeing benefits of active and positive christian belief.

Religion, wellbeing and prosociality

The results are not black and white, sometimes different aspects of religion have different effects, but the overall conclusions are very clear. Religious belief and religious practice are associated with higher than average levels of physical and mental health and wellbeing, and higher levels of prosociality (prosociality is a term for “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another”). Sometimes religion is found to be a significant cause.

So religious belief and or practice has been found to help people under stress, assist recovery from physical and mental illnesses, and reduce the incidence of depression, suicide, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour. Believers are generally happier and more likely to donate to charity and volunteer in the community.

Some summary quotes

  • “our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, How God Changes Your Brain, led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.” (Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman.)
  • “the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial.” (Connor Woods, PhD student in Science and Religion.)
  • “the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation.” (Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati, university researchers and atheists.)
  • “There’s no shortage of research on religion and health. Most of it suggests that the religious not only live longer, but are also likely to live better.” (Jonathan Morgan on the Science on Religion blog.)

Take-home messages

1. This question can be settled by properly designed medical studies carried out by competent medical and psychological researchers and reported in respected scientific journals.

2. The overwhelming evidence is that religious belief and practice, overall and with many exceptions, lead to better than average health and wellbeing and a higher than average degree of prosociality.

3. The causation and mechanisms are not always clear. Possible explanations have been proposed but in most cases the jury is still out.

4. None of this “proves” God exists, and I haven’t seen any researchers would claim that. But it is consistent with belief in God.

5. This evidence is broadly contrary to the claims of some atheists that religion causes great harm.

6. Christians should not be concerned about scientific studies of religion. Scientists may often treat them as an explanation of religion, but we can just as reasonably see them as how God is experienced by human beings.

Further reading

Photo Credit: realize_photo via Compfight cc

Sometimes we need to be reminded

God cares about the poor, the suffering and the victimised. I don’t know why he made a world where so many suffer, but I do know he expects his people to do something about it – to ease the pain and to bring justice to the systems that cause the pain.

Sometimes we forget. But sometimes we are reminded. And music is one of the ways that reminds me, and moves me, the most.

So here are four video clips that generally leave me close to tears, that remind us of situations that may still be unfinished business, requiring repentance, or an apology, or a change of policy, or at the very least, the determination to not allow such victimisation to happen again.

I hope you watch all four, and I hope you both enjoy and are challenged.

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Face to face with the Old Testament

Old Testament scholar

The Old Testament presents a number of problems for many christians. We are taught it is the inspired Word of God, yet it contains many things we find difficult – Genesis 1-3 is contradicted by evolution, God commands his people to invade and kill, and there are some strange events that are hard to swallow (e.g. the Nephilim, Noah’s Ark, God trying to kill Moses but not succeeding, and a talking donkey).

The Old Testament is probably a major reason why many people brought up as christians reject their belief, and it probably causes far more difficulties to christians than the New Testament does.

For many years, I put the problems aside. Jesus was the basis of my faith, and the New Testament told me all I needed to know about him, and how to follow him. I read the Old Testament mainly for understanding Jesus as a Jew, and I left the problems on the backburner.

But a couple of years ago, I started to pray that God would show me how to understand the difficult and nasty parts of the Old Testament, and then I read a few good books on the topic. Whether God has answered that prayer or not is not for me to judge, but I have certainly come to some conclusions…..

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Old Testament God angry, New Testament God loving. Right? Or wrong?

Painting of God

In the Old Testament, God, who is variously known by names like Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai and El Shaddai, is active, angry and violent – talking to Moses, defeating armies, guiding by pillars of smoke and of fire, and threatening those who disobey.

But in the New Testament, God seems to be more relaxed – a voice at Jesus baptism and not much else – while Jesus, and later the Spirit, take centre stage.

Is this a fair picture, a caricature, or totally wrong? What should christians think about the Old Testament picture of God, especially the violence he seems to sometimes initiate?

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Knowing God’s will – do we have to learn Greek?

Tug of war

It was an argument about women preaching in church.

The first guy was a moderate and a historian, and he wrote a book about why women should be allowed to preach. The second guy was a pastor and a conservative, and he argued against this view. The first guy replied, the second guy responded. Each response was slightly more testy than the one before, but still polite, I guess.

I don’t want to focus on the topic just now (that will come some other time) but on the basis of the two arguments.

If that doesn’t sound all that thrilling, please read on, because I think it is very important.

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