Re: HEA report on religion and mental health

Raymond O Recchia (
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 21:36:03 -0400

Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1999 21:36:03 -0400
From: "Raymond O Recchia" <>
Subject: Re: HEA report on religion and mental health


On Tue, 12 Oct 1999 17:11:34 Gatherer, D. (Derek) wrote: >A few weeks ago I was talking to somebody on the list about whether religion >is selected at the level of the individual (ie. is it physically good for >you?) or at the level of the meme (ie. is it bad for you but propagates fast >enough to overcome this?). A recent report by the Health Education >Authority (UK government organ) suggests that religion is good for mental >health, ie. you are less likely to suffer a mental breakdown if you are >religious. > I think we can objectively speak of religion's impact from a sociobiological standpoint (Yes, I'm aware of the term 'Evolutionary Psychology' and while it may be more politcally correct to use I prefer the term invented by the founder of the field). Humans have a certain level of altruism which has evolved because of its advantages for kin selection. The conditions under which that altruism evolved no longer exist and instead we exist in a society where human interdependance is higher than it was in the primative world of our ancestors. The possibility of an afterlife allows humans to be more altruistic than they would more normally because of a promised reward that never manifests itself in this life.

Even from a purely memetic standpoint it makes little sense to treat religion as a parasite. If it were simply a parasite one might expect there to arise societies with an immunizing set of memes which would enjoy advantages allowing them to dominate other societies. After all, these societies would be to spend resources on things other than large temples and a supposedly parastic clergy. (of course here I am speaking of selection at the group level whereas the example in the previous paragraph dealt with selection at the individual level but a little thinking could apply this thinking on an individual level - not wasting time on useless prayers, not having to make Sunday donations etc.)

Still, just to leave religion's role as that of altruism amplifier would, I think, be a vast oversimplification of religion's important role in shaping societies. Joseph Campell in his 'Masks of God' series attempts to focus objectively on the multiple important psychological functions that religion plays. 'The Masks of God: Primative Mythology' even touches on cultural evolution.

>A further strand of supporting evidence was in last weekends Sunday Times >which reported that US Catholics now have a considerably higher per capita >income than US non-Catholics. This is remarkable in view of the poor >Irish/Italian/Polish immigrant origins of Catholicism in the US. So it >seems that religion not only keeps you healthy but also makes you rich. > I am not sure about the signficance of this. Non-Catholic Christians in the States tend to take their religion a bit more seriously than the Catholics. The predominance of pro-abortion politicians in the highly Catholic northeast (the Kennedy's stick out as a prominent example) would suggest a less than strict adherence to faith. In fact, regions like Appalachia and the Deep South which are considered to be the poorer sections of the country are also known here as 'The Bible Belt'.

Ray Recchia

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