Although the Ebola epidemic has wrought an international scare, it has also shined forth a new ray of confidence in the power of prayer and trust in God. Both American nurses who survived their battles with Ebola, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, praised God for their health. Not long after her release, Pham said, “I first and foremost would like to thank God, my family and friends. Throughout this ordeal I have put my trust in God and my medical team. I believe in the power of prayer because I know so many people all over the world have been praying for me.” Vinson also thanked Our Lord, and added, “I sincerely believe that with God all things are possible.”
Pham’s and Vinson’s faith are beautiful testimonies to the immutable fact that social science has long confirmed: religious practice contributes to a wide range of physical health benefits. Studies show that men and women who attend church weekly have the lowest mortality rates. Religious practice delivers longevity benefits, most significantly by encouraging a support network among family and friends that helps to maintain a pattern of regimented care, reducing one’s mortality risk from infectious diseases and diabetes. This greater longevity is consistently and significantly correlated with higher levels of religious practice and involvement, regardless of the sex, race, education, or health history of those studied. Furthermore, a literature review of medical, public health, and social science literature that empirically addressed the link between religion and mortality found that religious practice decreases mortality rates. Those who are religiously involved live an average of seven years longer than those who are not. Astonishingly, this gap is as great as that between non-smokers and those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.
The benefits of religious practice to African Americans and youth are particularly pronounced. For example, the average life span of religious blacks is 14 years longer than that of their nonreligious peers. Adolescents whose mothers attend religious services at least weekly display better health, greater problem-solving skills, and higher overall satisfaction with their lives, regardless of race, gender, income, or family structure. Youths who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are more likely to eat healthfully, sleep sufficiently, and exercise regularly. Correspondingly, young people who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving, riding with drunk drivers, driving without a seatbelt, or engaging in interpersonal violence. They are also less likely to smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or drink heavily
Religious practice also contributes to mental health benefits. An increase in religious practice is associated with having greater hope and a greater sense of purpose in life. Religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness. According to a review of 100 studies, people who are frequently involved in religious activities and highly value their religious faith are at reduced risk of depression. Furthermore, religious practice correlates with reduced incidence of suicide, as demonstrated by 87 percent of the studies reviewed in a 2002 meta-analysis. By contrast, a lack of religious affiliation correlates with an increased risk of suicide.
MARRI research, like “95 Social Science Reasons for Religious Worship and Practice,” highlights the wide range of benefits that religious practice brings to the individual, family, and community. Pham and Vinson are living testimonies to the power of faith.