“Is atheism affecting my health?”

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This is the question that Victoria Derbyshire asks herself in a book titled Reconstruction. Strangely enough as a self-confessed atheist, she said she wishes she had a religious faith and advises others to consider resurrecting any faith that they may have previously had.

So why then would an atheist be putting forward ideas that she had trouble accepting herself? Well it all seems to come down to the research. 

Of recent times there seems to be a plethora of studies, books and documentaries centred around longevity. Where can we find the highest proportion of centenarians and what can we learn from their lifestyle, are among the top two questions researchers seem to be asking.

Dan Buettner, famous for his book The Blue Zones, discovered that of the 263 centenarians he interviewed all but five belonged to a faith-based community. His research indicated that if you attend faith-based services four times a month then you could expect to add between four and 14 years to your life expectancy.

A research paper from Ohio State University also seems to support Buettner’s findings. The university conducted two surveys that looked at more than 1500 newspaper obituaries initially from Ohio, then later from a broader population across the United States. Laura Wallace, the lead author of this study, found evidence from both studies showing that those with documented religious affiliations lived an average of 9.45 and 5.64 years longer respectively than those who did not. 

So what is it about attending a church that helps people live longer? Is it that people attending church tend to engage less in unhealthy practices such as excessive drinking or is it more a matter of the heart? Are they more likely to forgive and hold less resentment? Perhaps it is the meditative practice of prayer and communion with God. Another suggestion might be the connection between one another, and the support freely given by its members to one another without any expectation of recompense. 

Many believers these days will say “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian” and this is true, you don’t. However, by not doing so you may be losing out on some longevity. If you profess to be a Christian, then no doubt you are keen to follow what the Bible says regarding this matter.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) says: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

So whether you are believer or not there seems to be some benefits to attending a loving faith-based community. If you don’t attend church regularly, maybe it’s time to recommit. Consider joining one today. If you do, maybe you can invite someone else to share your blessings. I hope if you’re reading this, you are part of, or can find a kind and loving church community to be a part of.

Jenna Morgan is a member of Murwillumbah church in NSW.

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