Religious people live longer, are more generous, have greater resistance to depression and recover quicker from illness. These are the claims of Glen Scrivener, the Director of evangelistic ministry, Speak Life. The Australian-born ordained Anglican minister also says those with an 'intrinsic religiosity' produce more children, give more blood and are generally happier in their life.
The comments were recorded as part of The Big Conversation, the online debate series, and featured Scrivener up against Matt Dillahunty - the American atheist activist and host of the popular Atheist Experience YouTube show. In the conversation Scrivener said, "If you ask those people [with an intrinsic religiosity] on any kinds of measures of reproduction; how many babies do you have; longer life; are you happier?; their resistance to depression; to recovery from illness, recovery from surgery; resistance to divorce, to suicide, there are any number of factors where an intrinsic religiosity would make society better -they give more money to charity, they give more money to secular charities than secular people do, they give more time to secular charities than secular people do, they give more blood than secular people give."
Scrivener continued "There is a tremendous amount of public benefit for religions to flourish in societies. Those people thrive in a world where, if the government were able to put a magic elixir into the water that could deliver those benefits - longer life, happier, healthier, societies, all of these things have been demonstrated in thousands of studies - it would make society better."
The conversation, which asked the question "can atheism deliver a better world?" is the latest episode to be released as part of The Big Conversation debate series, moderated by Unbelievable? host, Justin Brierley.
Dillahunty argued that while religious traditions could provide benefits, secular communities could potentially do the same: "The truth has to do with who we are and it maybe is the case that what people need is the community which religions have done a really good job of building, and it's one of the things that secular organisations are working towards doing now, building stronger communities. But we had to fight for just the right to exist and be open and talk about this before we could get to a point of building those sorts of communities."
The host of The Atheist Experience continued, "I can prove to you that prayer works because if you're in a cave in and you pray, you are more likely to be rescued. Not because there's some God listening to answer that but because prayer has a calming effect on you which extends the amount of time that you can be trapped, which extends the likelihood that you can be rescued. So, if you know that it's the calming that extends the amount of time, could you do the same thing with meditation? Or does the awareness that it's the calming somehow eliminate the benefit of it? And that's the thing that I think we don't know."
Scrivener based his claims about the social benefits of religiosity on a number of recent studies including those compiled by atheist psychologist Jonathan Haidt who concluded in his paper titled 'Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion' that surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are "happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people. . . . Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbours. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood."
Scrivener concluded, "What follows from atheism? If we're biological survival machines clinging to an insignificant rock hurtling through a meaningless universe towards external extinction, what follows? I think Matt's venture is very much a venture of faith to want to create more atheists - or at least create more sceptics about religion - when everything we know about the utility of religion is that it's a net win to society. The consequences of getting rid of this story, especially the Christian story of the God who became weak, is to create a certain callousness in the rest of society, and I think that issue will play out in negative ways about how we treat the least and the last and the lost."
Produced by Premier Christian Radio's faith discussion show Unbelievable? this is the sixth episode in the current season of The Big Conversation, which airs on Friday 10th January. The Big Conversation explores science, faith, philosophy and what it means to be human. Other episodes feature high-profile thinkers across the Christian and atheist community such as Bret Weinstein, Jordan B Peterson, Susan Blackmore, Derren Brown and Bart Ehrman. For videos, commentary and the programme schedule visit: www.thebigconversation.show