Is this how to mature as a christian?

How do people mature? Does it just happen automatically as we grow, or are there things we can do to aid maturity?

And do christians mature in any different way from other people?

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Quick reads for busy people

quick-reads

I’m all the time trying to make this website relevant and useful to christians looking to extend their understand and resolve difficult issues. (Whether I succeed is another matter!)

I recently became aware that some people, mostly younger, tend to find some of the pages a little long, perhaps in part because they are reading on a smart phone’s small screen. So I decided to take some of the important questions that I’ve covered in long pages, and summarise them in shorter pages that give an overview of the question and a link to a longer treatment.

I’ve called this new section Quick reads, and it is specially written and set out to be read quickly and easily on a smaller screen.

So far I’ve written three pages for the new section:

I hope to add several more pages over the next few weeks. If you have any thoughts about this – possible topics or ways to make it better – please let me know.

Photo Credit: barnimages.com Flickr via Compfight, modified by unkleE.

Walking wounded

Walking Wounded

I must admit it jolted me a little.

I was walking slowly through a local shopping centre when I was confronted with the sign shown above. 46 Australian soldiers have been killed on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, since 1999. But more than 5 times that number of returned soldiers have committed suicide in the same period.

What was I going to make of that?

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I remember when the world was very different

This is an adapted re-blog from Is there a God?

The world in 1945

I’m not sure if I was a normal boy, but I always loved maps. So one of my favourite books was the Oxford University World Atlas. I loved it because of the diversity of its maps – it even included details on the solar system (I loved astronomy too!) and the exploration of Australia by Europeans (the unexplored parts of the country were shown black, as if the first Australians weren’t even there). As you can see, I still have the atlas, much the worse for wear – sort of like me and the world it portrays! 🙂

I was born in 1945, right at the end of the Pacific war in which my dad fought. The atlas was from about the same period – it doesn’t show Israel as a separate country (which occurred in 1948). And it shows, as you can see in the above world map, the British Empire, on which the sun never set, proudly marked red.

The might and grandeur of the Empire was a wonderful fact of life in those days – we even celebrated Empire Day with a half day school holiday in May, and fireworks in the evening.

They were innocent days. But they didn’t last. (You can read more about my story, should you be interested.)

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Morning rituals

Spiritual principles series

Praying or meditating

Every morning, unless something extremely unusual happens, my wife and I spend about half an hour praying together. We pray for each other, for our children, our friends and other relatives, for the ministries we are involved in, and anything else that comes to mind.

Maybe you’re thinking there’s nothing so unusual in that. Christians pray. That’s sort of part of the deal, isn’t it?

We think it is one of the most important aspects of our lives. And it may have even greater benefits than we might think. But I’m not so sure it is part of the deal at all – for many christians.

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Seek the peace and prosperity of the city

City

In the west we generally live in post-christian societies. Although the majority of people in many countries may list their religion as “christian”, weekly church attendance is down around 5-15% in many countries, and somewhere around 30% in the US.

It seems that in many cases, churches haven’t really adjusted to the end of Christendom in the methods they adopt for mission, “outreach” or evangelism.

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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