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How Religion Affects Society

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Why Religion Matters: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability Published on January 25, 1996 by Patrick Fagan, Ph. D. Backgrounder #1064 • Print PDF • Download PDF Share • Facebook • Twitter • Email • More Introduction2 By extolling freedom of religion in the schools, President Bill Clinton has raised the level of debate on the importance of religion to American life. 3 The time is ripe for a deeper dialogue on the contribution of religion to the welfare of the nation. America has always been a religious country. Its first Christian inhabitants were only too anxious to explain what they were doing and why," explains historian Paul Johnson. "In a way the first American settlers were like the ancient Israelites. They saw themselves as active agents of divine providence. "4 Today, he adds, "it is generally accepted that more than half the American people still attend a place of worship over a weekend, an index of religious practice unequaled anywhere in the world, certainly in a great and populous nation. 5 At the heart of religious practice is prayer: Americans pray even more than they go to church. According to a composite of surveys, 94 percent of blacks, 91 percent of women, 87 percent of whites, and 85 percent of men regard themselves as people who pray regularly. Some 78 percent pray at least once per week, and 57 percent pray daily. Even among the 13 percent of the population who call themselves agnostics or atheists, some 20 percent pray daily. When policymakers consider America's grave social problems, including violent crime and rising illegitimacy, substance abuse, and welfare dependency, they should heed the findings in the professional literature of the social sciences on the positive consequences that flow from the practice of religion. 7 For example, there is ample evidence that: • The strength of the family unit is intertwined with the practice of religion. Churchgoers8 are more likely to be married, less likely to be divorced or single, and more likely to manifest high levels of satisfaction in marriage. Church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness. • The regular practice of religion helps poor persons move out of poverty. Regular church attendance, for example, is particularly instrumental in helping young people to escape the poverty of inner-city life. • Religious belief and practice contribute substantially to the formation of personal moral criteria and sound moral judgment. • Regular religious practice generally inoculates individuals against a host of social problems, including suicide, drug abuse, out-of-wedlock births, crime, and divorce. The regular practice of religion also encourages such beneficial effects on mental health as less depression (a modern epidemic), more self-esteem, and greater family and marital happiness. • In repairing damage caused by alcoholism, drug addiction, and marital breakdown, religious belief and practice are a major source of strength and recovery. • Regular practice of religion is good for personal physical health: It increases longevity, improves one's chances of recovery from illness, and lessens the incidence of many killer diseases. The overall impact of religious practice is illustrated dramatically in the three most comprehensive systematic reviews of the field. 9 Some 81 percent of the studies showed the positive benefit of religious practice, 15 percent showed neutral effects, and only 4 percent showed harm. 10 Each of these systematic reviews indicated more than 80 percent benefit, and none indicated more than 10 percent harm. Even this 10 percent may be explained by more recent social science insights into "healthy religious practice" and "unhealthy religious practice. 11 This latter notion will be discussed later -- it is seen generally by most Americans of religious faith as a mispractice of religion. Unfortunately, the effects of unhealthy religious practice are used to downplay the generally positive influence of religion. 12 This both distorts the true nature of religious belief and practice and causes many policymakers to ignore its positive social consequences. Religious practice appears to have enormous potential for addressing today's social problems. As summarized in 1991 by Allen Bergin, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, considerable evidence indicates that religious involvement reduces "such problems as sexual permissiveness, teen pregnancy, suicide, drug abuse, alcoholism, and to some extent deviant and delinquent acts, and increases self esteem, family cohesiveness and general well being.... Some religious influences have a modest impact whereas another portion seem like the mental equivalent of nuclear energy.... More generally, social scientists are discovering the continuing power of religion to protect the family from the forces that would tear it down. "13 Professor Bergin's summary was echoed two years later by nationally syndicated columnist William Raspberry: "Almost every commentator on the current scene bemoans the increase of violence, lowered ethical standards and loss of civility that mark American society. Is the decline of religious influence part of what is happening to us? Is it not just possible that anti-religious bias masquerading as religious neutrality is costing more than we have been willing to acknowledge? "14 Other reviews15 also list the positive effects of religious belief and practice in reducing such problems as suicide, substance abuse, divorce, and marital dissatisfaction. Such evidence indicates clearly that religious practice contributes significantly to the quality of American life. Given this evidence, Congress should: • Begin a new national debate to help renew the role of religion in American life; • Ask the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the evidence on the beneficial effects of religious practice in the relevant social science literature and report its findings to a national commission formed to promote the consideration of religious practice among U. S. itizens; • Fund federal experiments with school choice that include religiously affiliated schools; • Pass a sense-of-the-Congress resolution that data on religious practice are useful for policymakers and researchers as part of the public policy debate; and • Mandate a census question on religious practice. It violates nobody's freedom of religion for Congress to know the level and intensity of religious practice in America. The President should: • Appoint judges who are more sensitive to the role of religion in public ife, with the Senate ensuring that such is the case by ascertaining the stand of judges on matters of religion and its relationship to the Constitution; • Direct the Bureau of the Census to record levels of religious practice in the census for the year 2000 (time is running out for preparation of the census questionnaire); and • Issue a directive to all federal agencies making clear that cooperation between government entities and the social, medical, and educational services of faith-based organizations does not violate separation of church and state. The U. S. Supreme Court should: • Review the decisions in which it has changed the laws of the land by changing commonly held beliefs regarding the Constitution and religion and send to Congress those that should have been the object of legislative action rather than judicial reinterpretation. America's religious leaders should: Be much more assertive in emphasizing the contribution of religion to the health of the nation and in resisting efforts to minimize religion in public discourse; • Make clear to their congregations that they are contributing not only to their own welfare, but also to the well-being of the nation by their regular attendance at religious worship; • Take special care of the religious formation of children, especially during the transition period from childhood to adolescence, when they are most likely to lose their religious faith; • Recognize that the church in the inner city, especially the black church, has a vital role to play in helping its people escape from the degrading culture of inner-city poverty; and • Encourage education leaders, social scientists, and social policy practitioners to rely more on religious belief and worship to achieve social policy and social work goals. religion and Happiness Ever since Aristotle outlined the goal of a sound civil order in his Politics,16 social and political scientists and social psychologists have been particularly interested in what makes human beings happy. Happy people tend to be productive and law-abiding. They learn well, make good citizens, and are invariably pleasant company. It turns out that the practice of religion has a significant effect on happiness and an overall sense of personal well-being. Religious affiliation and regular church attendance are near the top of the list for most people in explaining their own happiness17 and serve as good predictors of who is most likely to have this sense of well-being. 18 Happiness is greater and psychological stress is lower for those who attend religious services regularly. 19 Those pursuing a personal relationship with God tend to have improved relationships with themselves and with others. 0 A large epidemiological study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley in 1971 found that the religiously committed had much less psychological distress than the uncommitted. 21 Rodney Stark, now of the University of Washington, found the same in a 1970 study: The higher the level of religious attendance, the less stress suffered when adversity had to be endured. 22 Similarly, in a longitudinal study of 720 adults conducted by David Williams of the University of Michigan, regular religious attendance led to much less psychological distress. 23 In 1991, David Larson, adjunct professor at the Northwestern and Duke University Schools of Medicine and president of the National Institute of Healthcare Research, completed a systematic review of studies on religious commitment and personal well-being. He found that the relationship is powerful and positive; overall, psychological functioning improved following a resumption of participation in religious worship for those who had stopped. 24 religion and family Stability There is a growing consensus that America needs to pursue policies aimed at re-strengthening the family. The beneficial effects of religious worship on family stability clearly indicate one way to help accomplish this. Professors Darwin L. Thomas and Gwendolyn C. Henry of Brigham Young University's Department of Sociology sum up earlier research25 on the quest by young people for meaning and love: "Research on love clearly indicates that for many, love in the social realm cannot clearly be separated from love that contains a vertical or a divine element.... Young people see love as the central aspect of the meaning of life; they believe that religion is still important in helping form judgments and attitudes. "26 Their conclusion: "family and religious institutions need to be studied simultaneously in our efforts to understand the human condition better. "27 "Middletown," one of the century's classic sociological research projects, studied the lives of inhabitants of a typical American town, first in the 1920s and for the third time in the 1980s. Based on the latest round of follow-up research, Howard Bahr and Bruce Chadwick, professors of sociology at Brigham Young University, concluded in 1985 that "There is a relationship between family solidarity -- family health if you will -- and church affiliation and activity. Middletown [churchgoing] members were more likely to be married, remain married and to be highly satisfied with their marriages and to have more children.... The great divide between marriage status, marriage satisfaction and family size is... between those who identify with a church or denomination and those who do not. "28 Four years later, Professor Arland Thornton of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan likewise concluded from a Detroit study of the same relationship that "These data indicate strong intergenerational transmission of religious involvement. Attendance at religious services is also very stable within generations across time. 29 "With striking consistency, the most religious among us [as Americans] place a greater importance on the full range of family and friendship activities," concluded a Connecticut Mutual Life report in 1982. 30 A group of Kansas State University professors reached the same conclusion: "family commitment is indeed a high priority in many American families and it is frequently accompanied by a concomitant factor of religious commitment. "31 In yet another study conducted during the 1970s and 1980s, professors Nick Stinnet of the University of Alabama and John DeFrain of the University of Nebraska sought to identify family strengths. From their nationwide surveys of strong families, they found that 84 percent identified religion as an important contributor to the strength of their families. 2 It should be noted that the same pattern appears to hold for African-American families: Parents who attended church frequently cited the significance of religion in rearing their children and in providing moral guidelines. 33 Marital Satisfaction Couples with long-lasting marriages indicate that the practice of religion is an important factor in marital happiness. Indeed, David Larson's systematic reviews indicate that church attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability. 34 Others have found the same result. 35 Twenty years ago it was first noted that very religious women achieve greater satisfaction in sexual intercourse with their husbands than do moderately religious or non-religious women. 6 The Sex in America study published in 1995, and conducted by sociologists from the University of Chicago and the State University of New York at Stonybrook, also showed very high sexual satisfaction among "conservative" religious women. 37 From the standpoint of contemporary American media culture, this may appear strange or counter-intuitive, but the empirical evidence is consistent. Divorce and Cohabitation Regular church attendance is the critical factor in marital stability across denominations and overrides effects of doctrinal teaching on divorce. For instance, black Protestants and white Catholics, who share similarly high church attendance rates, have been shown to have similarly low divorce rates. 8 Furthermore, when marital separation occurs, reconciliation rates are higher among regular church attendees, and highest when both spouses have the same high level of church attendance. 39 Findings on the other end of the marital spectrum reinforce the point: A 1993 national survey of 3,300 men aged 20-39 found that those who switch partners most are those with no religious convictions. 40 Significantly, cohabitation before marriage poses a high risk to later marital stability,41 and premarital cohabitation is much less common among religious Americans. "The cohabitation rate is seven times higher among persons who seldom or never attend religious services compared to persons who frequently attend," writes David Larson of the National Institute of Healthcare Research. Women who attended religious services once a week were only one-third as likely to cohabit as those who attended church services less than once a month. " Furthermore, "If the mother frequently attended religious services, both sons and daughters were only 50 percent as likely to cohabit as adult children whose mothers were not actively religious. "42 Rockford Institute President Allan Carlson summarizes the pattern: "Social scientists are discovering the continuing power of religion to protect the family from the forces that would tear it down. "43 The fact is that too many social scientists have failed to appreciate the significance of research on the relationship between family and religion. As another researcher of the same period concludes, "We may have underestimated this 'silent majority' and it is only fair to give them equal time. "44 The centrality of stable married family life in avoiding such problems as crime,45 illegitimacy,46 and welfare47 has become indisputable. If such a stable family life is linked closely to a lively religious life, as these studies indicate, then the peace and happiness of the nation depend significantly on a renewal of religious practice and belief. religion and Physical Health In public health circles, the level of educational attainment is held to be the key demographic predictor of physical health. For over two decades, however, the level of religious practice has been shown convincingly to be equally important. As early as 1972, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health found that cardiovascular diseases, the leading killers of older people, were reduced significantly in early old age by a lifetime of regular church attendance. By contrast, non-attendees had higher mortality rates for such other diseases as cirrhosis of the liver, emphysema, and arteriosclerosis, in addition to other cardiovascular diseases and even suicide. 48 Research on mortality patterns among the poor confirmed a decade later that those who went to church regularly lived longer. 49 Since then, other studies have reinforced this general finding. 0 Blood pressure, a key factor in cardiovascular health, is reduced significantly by regular church attendance, on average by 5mm of pressure. 51 Given that reducing blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm also reduces the mortality rate by 10 to 20 percent for any given population,52 a reduction of 5 mm is a very significant public health achievement by any standard. For those over 55 years of age, the average decrease was 6 mm. Among those who smoked -- a practice that increases blood pressure -- regular church attendance decreased the risk of early stroke by 700 percent. 53 Nor are the health benefits of religious commitment confined to the cardiovascular system. In 1987, a major review of 250 epidemiological health research studies -- studies which examined the relationship between health and religion and measured such additional outcomes as colitis, cancers of many different types, and longevity measures -- concluded that, in general, religious commitment improves health. 54 A 1991 study of two national samples55 also concluded that the degree to which people prayed and participated in religious services significantly affected their health status, regardless of age. 56 In what must be one of the most unusual experiments in medical history, Dr. Robert B. Byrd, a cardiologist then at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School, conducted a random-sample, double-blind study of the effects of prayer -- not by the patients but for the patients -- on the outcome of cardiac surgery. The study was published in 1982. None of the patients knew they were being prayed for, none of the attending doctors and nurses knew who was being prayed for and who was not, and those praying had no personal contact with the patients before or during the experiment. Outcomes for the two sets of patients differed significantly: Those prayed for ha d noticeably fewer post-operative congestive heart failures, fewer cardiopulmonary arrests, less pneumonia, and less need for antibiotics. 57 To date, this study has not been replicated, though the intriguing results challenge the academic and medical community to verify or disprove them. religion and Social Breakdown The practice of religion has beneficial effects on behavior and social relations: on illegitimacy, crime and delinquency, welfare dependency, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, depression, and general self-esteem. Illegitimacy One of the most powerful of all factors in preventing out-of-wedlock births is the regular practice of religious belief. Given the growing crisis in out-of-wedlock births, their effects,58 and the huge social and economic costs to national and state budgets, this should be of major interest to policymakers. It has long been known that intensity of religious practice is closely related to adolescent virginity and sexual restraint and control. This general finding, replicated again and again,59 also holds true specifically for black teenage girls,60 the group with the highest teen pregnancy rates among all demographic subgroups. 61 Reviews of the literature demonstrate that, nearly without exception, religious practice sharply reduces the incidence of premarital intercourse. 62 The reverse is also true: The absence of religious practice accompanies sexual permissiveness and premarital sex. This is confirmed in numerous studies,63 including a 1991 analysis of the federal government's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. 64 The impact of religious practice on teenage sexual behavior also can be seen at the state level: States with higher levels of aggregate religiousness have lower rates of teenage pregnancy. 5 In an important study published in 1987, a group of professors from the Universities of Georgia, Utah, and Wyoming found that the main cause of problematic adolescent sexual behaviors and attitudes is not only family dynamics and processes, as previously thought, but the absence of religious behavior and affiliation. They further concluded that healthy family dynamics and practices are themselves caused to a powerful degree by the presence or absence of religious beliefs and practices. 66 The same results also hold true in international comparisons. 67 As with drugs, alcohol, and crime, the religious behavior of the mother is one of the strongest predictors of the daughter's sexual attitudes. 68 It also has long been known in the social sciences that daughters of single mothers are more likely to engage in premarital sexual behavior during adolescence. 9 These mothers are more frequently permissive in their sexual attitudes, and religion for them has less importance than it has for mothers in two-parent families. 70 These findings also have been replicated. 71 The religious practices of parents, particularly their unity on religious issues, powerfully influence the behavior of children. Thus, for policymakers interested in reducing teenage (and older) out-of-wedlock births, the lesson is clear: Religious belief and regular worship reduce the likelihood of this form of family breakdown. One faith-based sex education course that included both mothers and daughters, for example, was aimed specifically at reducing the teenage pregnancy rate. The results were notably successful: Out-of-wedlock births among the at-risk population were almost eliminated. 72 crime and Delinquency A review of the small amount of research done on the relationship between crime and religion shows that states w ith more religious populations tend to have fewer homicides and fewer suicides. 73 A four-year longitudinal, stratified, random-sample study of high school students in the Rocky Mountain region, published in 1975, demonstrated that religious involvement significantly decreased drug use, delinquency, and premarital sex, and also increased self-control. 74 A 1989 study of midwestern high school students replicated these findings. 5 Similarly, young religious adults in Canada were found in a 1979 study to be less likely to use or sell Narcotics, to gamble, or to destroy property. 76 What is true for youth is also true for adults. 77 Religious behavior, as opposed to mere attitude or affiliation, is associated with reduced crime. 78 This has been known in the social science literature for over 20 years. 79 In research conducted in the late 1980s -- controlling for family, economic, and religious backgrounds -- a research team from the University of Nevada found that black men who eventually ended up in prison and those who did not came respectively from two different groups: those who did not go to church, or stopped going around ten years of age, and those who went regularly. 0 This failure of faith at the onset of adolescence parallels the pattern found among those who become alcoholics or drug addicts. Clearly, the family's inability to inspire regular religious worship among emerging young adults is a sign of internal weakness. welfare Dependency In his classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber, the preeminent German sociologist of the first half of the 20th century, demonstrated the connection between religious practice and financial well-being among Protestants. Other work on the same theme shows that this is not confined to Protestants, but that it applies across a longer period of history and across denominational lines. This link between religion and prosperity has important implications for the poor. In 1985, for instance, Richard B. Freeman of the National Bureau of Economic Research reported that: [Church attendance] is associated with substantial differences in the behavior of [black male youths from poverty-stricken inner-city neighborhoods] and thus in their chances to "escape" from inner city poverty. It affects allocation of time, school-going, work activity and the frequency of socially deviant activity.... It is important to recognize that our analysis has identified an important set of variables that separate successful from unsuccessful young persons in the inner city. There is a significant number of inner city youth, readily identifiable, who succeed in escaping that pathology of inner-city slum life. 81 For the sake of the nation's future health, it is time to redirect public policy so that these two vast resources, instead of being weakened further, can be rejuvenated and encouraged. Many of the goals of social policy and social work can be attained, indirectly and powerfully, through the practice of religion. None of this invalidates education or social work, which operate at a different level of the human condition. However, as demands for social work outstrip (and give every indication of far outstripping) social work resources, it is good to know that the practice of religion is a powerful ally. The practice of religion is good for individuals, families, states, and the nation. It improves health, learning, economic well-being, self-control, self-esteem, and empathy. It reduces the incidence of social pathologies, such as out-of-wedlock births, crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction, health problems, anxieties, and prejudices. The Founding Fathers, in their passionate love of freedom, promoted the freedom of all Americans to practice their religious beliefs, but Congress and the courts have crowded religion out of the public square. It is time to bring it back. Religious practice can and should be factored into the planning and debate on the nation's urgent social problems. Americans cannot build their future without drawing on the strengths that come to them from the practice of their religious beliefs. The widespread practice of religious beliefs can only benefit the nation, and the task of reintegrating religious practice into American life while protecting and respecting the rights of non-practice -- rights that, despite persistent demagoguery on the subject, remain totally unthreatened -- is one of the nation's most important tasks. Academics of good will can do much in this area, and history will look kindly on those who help America achieve this wonderful balance. Since the beginning of time, dietary practices have been incorporated into the religious practices of people around the world. Some religious sects abstain, or are forbidden, from consuming certain foods and drinks; others restrict foods and drinks during their holy days; while still others associate dietary and food preparation practices with rituals of the faith. The early biblical writings, especially those found in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament (and in the Torah) outlined the dietary practices for certain groups (e. g. , Christians and Jews), and many of these practices may still be found among these same groups today. Practices such as fasting (going without food and/or drink for a specified time) are described as tenets of faith by numerous religions. Religious Belief Expressed as Food Customs To understand the reasons for nutritional and dietary customs in any religion requires a brief orientation of the rationale for such practices and laws. Many religious customs and laws may also be traced to early concerns for health and safety in consuming foods or liquids. In the past, preservation techniques for food were limited. Modern conveniences such as electricity were unavailable, and the scholars of the day did not understand theories of health promotion, disease prevention, and illness as they do today. Therefore, religious leaders of the day developed rules about the consumption of foods and drinks, and religious practices, restrictions, and laws evolved. Specific laws about what can be consumed remain in most religions today. The lack of mechanisms to refrigerate or preserve foods led to certain rituals, such as the draining of blood from slaughtered animals, while restrictions on the eating of foods known to spoil easily, such as eggs, dairy products, and meats, were devised for safety reasons. Attention to specific eating practices, such as overeating (gluttonous behaviors), use of strong drink or oral stimulants, and vegetarian diets, were also incorporated into the doctrine of religious practice. In addition to laws about the ingestion of foods or drinks, the practice of fasting, or severely restricting intake of food and/or drink, became prevalent, and is still practiced by many religions today. The Role of Fasting Many religions incorporate some element of fasting into their religious practices. Laws regarding fasting or restricting food and drink have been described as a call to holiness by many religions. Fasting has been identified as the mechanism that allows one to improve one's body (often described as a "temple" created by God), to earn the approval of Allah or Buddha, or to understand and appreciate the sufferings of the poor. Fasting has also been presented as a means to acquire the discipline required to resist temptation, as an act of atonement for sinful acts, or as the cleansing of evil from within the body. Fasting may be undertaken for several hours, at a specified time of the day (e. g. , from sunrise to sunset, as practiced by modern Jews), for a specified number of hours (e. g. , twelve, twenty-four, or more, as observed by Catholics or Mormons who fast on designated days), or for consecutive days, such as during the month of Ramadan for certain Muslims. Regardless of the time frame or rationale, religious groups observe the practice of fasting worldwide. Health Benefits and Risks Associated with Specific Practices Certain groups of people must necessarily be excused from fasting and restrictive practices. These groups include pregnant or nursing women; individuals with diabetes or other chronic disorders; those engaged in very strenuous work; malnourished individuals; young children; and frail elderly or disabled persons. Recognition of these exceptions has been addressed by each religious group. Most fasting practices allow certain intakes of liquid, particularly water. In fasting regimes where water is restricted, a danger of dehydration exists, and those fasting should be monitored. Those who fast without liquids increase their risk of a number of health problems. Symptoms of dehydration include headache, dry mouth, nausea , fever, sleepiness, and, in extreme cases, coma. When these symptoms occur, it is important to end the fast or add water to the fast. Depending on the extent of the symptoms, ending the fast may be the only alternative. In severe dehydration cases, medical care should be sought as soon as possible to restore proper health. Some negative health consequences have been observed as a result of fasting practices, however, especially those carried out over longer periods, such as the Muslim fast during Ramadan. For example, excess acids can build up in the digestive system during a prolonged fast. This gastric acidity results in a sour taste in the mouth, a burning in the stomach, and other symptoms of illness. The structure and outward appearance of each person's body is, in part, a reflection of the food and drink he or she consumes. All the organs of the body, as well as the skin, bones, muscles, and nerves, need nutrition to survive, regenerate, maintain function, and develop structural foundations. The vital organs, such as the liver, heart, brain, and kidneys, depend upon essential nutrients from food and drink to sustain life, increase strength, and improve health. Throughout life, the body constantly breaks down the food products that are ingested, using some components to rebuild the tissues that contribute to good health. Similarly, the body also disposes of the waste products of food through excretory processes or in storage centers ( fat deposits, for instance) in the body. The restriction of, or abstention from, certain foods may have a direct impact on the health of those engaged in such practices. Some effects have been found to be positive, as in the case of vegetarian diets, which are eaten by many Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus, Buddhists, and Rastafarians. Research results have documented a 50 percent reduction in heart disease and longer life expectancy in people who eat a well-planned vegetarian diet . There are a number of religious rationales for a vegetarian diet. According to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, humans were given a plant-based diet [pic] An archbishop leads communion at a Catholic mass. The importance of the ceremony, which calls for ritual consumption of bread and wine, shows how food traditions and religion have evolved together. [Photograph by Stephen Senne. AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission. ] at the creation of the world. There are also ethical issues that involve the killing of animals for food, and environmental issues regarding the raising of livestock and the safety of the food supply. Use of, and Abstention from, Stimulants A stimulant is a product, food, or drink that excites the nervous system and changes the natural physiology of the body, such as drugs and consumable products that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, or chocolate. The use of caffeine is prohibited or restricted by many religions because of its addictive properties and harmful physical effects. Many also restrict spices and certain condiments, such as pepper, pickles, or foods with preservatives, because they are injurious by nature and flavor the natural taste and effect of foods. The use of wine in religious ceremonies is regarded as acceptable by certain groups. For example, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and certain Protestant denominations use wine as a sacramental product to represent the blood of Christ in communion services. According to the writings of the apostle Paul, wine used in moderation may be consumed for the soothing effect it has upon an upset stomach. Mormons, however, specifically forbid wine or any alcoholic drinks because of their stimulant properties. Jews regard grapes as a fruit of idolatry, and therefore forbid the use of wine or products made from grapes except under special conditions. Many religious leaders and health care experts regard tobacco, another stimulant, as a malignant poison that affects the health of its users. Research continues to support the harmful and deleterious effects of the use of cigarettes and tobacco products. Cancer , high blood pressure , and heart disease have all been linked to tobacco use. Although marijuana has been shown to control pain in advanced diseases such as cancer, it has been considered a restricted drug by all but those practicing Rastafarianism. Rastafarians introduced marijuana into their religious rites because they consider it the "weed of wisdom," and because they believe it contains healing ingredients. Major Religions with Food Proscriptions Although no two religions hold exactly the same ideology about diet, health, and spiritual wellness , many do embrace similar practices. Buddhism. Many Buddhists are vegetarians, though some include fish in their diet. Most do not eat meat and abstain from all beef products. The birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha are the three most commonly recognized festivals for feasting, resting from work, or fasting. Buddhist monks fast completely on certain days of the moon, and they routinely avoid eating any solid foods after the noon hour. Eastern Orthodox Christianity. An essential element of practicing an Orthodox life includes fasting, since its intrinsic value is part of the development of a spiritual life. To practicing Orthodox believers, fasting teaches self-restraint, which is the source of all good. Hinduism. Hindus do not consume any foods that might slow down spiritual or physical growth. The eating of meat is not prohibited, but pork, fowl, ducks, snails, crabs, and camels are avoided. The cow is sacred to Hindus, [pic] Many Hindus are strict vegetarians. Those who do eat meat are forbidden from eating beef, because cows occupy a sacred place in the Hindu religion. [Photograph by Craig Lovell. Corbis. Reproduced by permission. ] and therefore no beef is consumed. Other products from the cow, however, such as milk, yogurt, and butter are considered innately pure and are thought to promote purity of the mind, spirit, and body. Many devout Hindus fast on the eighteen major Hindu holidays, as well as on numerous personal days, such as birthdays and anniversaries of deaths and marriages. They also fast on Sundays and on days associated with various positions of the moon and the planets. Islam. To the Muslims, eating is a matter of faith for those who follow the dietary laws called Halal, a term for all permitted foods. Those foods that are prohibited, such as pork and birds of prey, are known as Haram, while the foods that are questionable for consumption are known as Mashbooh. Muslims eat to preserve their good health, and overindulgence or the use of stimulants such as tea, coffee, or alcohol are discouraged. Fasting is practiced regularly on Mondays and Thursdays, and more often for six days during Shawwal (the tenth month of the Islamic year) and for the entire month of Ramadan (the ninth month). Fasting on these occasions includes abstention from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan In the Muslim faith, the holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year and is devoted to prayer, fasting, and charity. Muslims believe that it was during this month that God first began to reveal the holy book of Islam, the Quran, to the prophet Muhammad. Most Muslims are required to refrain from food and drink during daylight hours for the entire month. The fast is broken in the evening by a meal called the iftar, which traditionally includes dates and water or sweet drinks, and is resumed again at sunrise. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Faith, which are the most important religious duties in Islam. The practice is meant to remind Muslims of the poor, to cleanse the body, and to foster serenity and spiritual devotion. Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the "Festival of Breaking the Fast. " —Paula Kepos Judaism. The Jewish dietary law is called Kashrut, meaning "proper" or "correct. " The term kosher refers to the methods of processing foods according to the Jewish laws. The processing laws and other restrictions regarding to the preparation of food and drink were devised for their effects on health. For example, rules about the use of pans, plates, utensils, and separation of meat from dairy products are intended to reduce contamination. Other rules include: 1. A Jewish person must prepare grape products, otherwise they are forbidden. 2. Jewish laws dictate the slaughter and removal of blood from meat before it can be eaten. 3. Animals such as pigs and rabbits and creatures of the sea, such as lobster, shrimp, and clams, may not be eaten. 4. Meat and dairy products cannot be eaten at the same meal or served on the same plate, and kosher and nonkosher foods cannot come into contact with the same plates. Mormonism. The law of health—the Word of Wisdom—contains the laws for proper eating and the rules of abstinence for tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, and illegal drugs. Mormons must choose foods that build up the body, improve endurance, and enhance intellect. Products from the land, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, are to take the place of meats; meats, sugar, cheeses, and spices are to be avoided. Reason and self-control in eating is expected in order to stay healthy. Rastafarianism. Members of this group are permitted to eat any food that is I-tal food, meaning that it is cooked only slightly. Therefore, meats are not consumed, canned goods are avoided, and drinks that are unnatural are not allowed. Fish under twelve inches long may be eaten, but other types of seafood are restricted. Roman Catholicism. The dietary practices of devout Catholics center around the restriction of meat or fasting behaviors on specified holy days. [pic] WORLD RELIGIONS, FOODS PRACTICES AND RESTRICTIONS, AND RATIONALE FOR BEHAVIOR |Type of religion |Practice or restriction |Rationale | |Buddhism |• Refrain from meat, vegetarian diet is desirable • |• Natural foods of the earth are | | |Moderation in all foods • Fasting required of monks |considered most pure • Monks avoid all | | | |solid food after noon | |Eastern Orthodox |• Restrictions on Meat and Fish • Fasting Selectively |• Observance of Holy Days includes | |Christianity | |fasting and restrictions to increase | | | |spiritual progress | |Hinduism |• Beef prohibited • All other meat and fish restricted or |• Cow is sacred and can't be eaten, but | | |avoided • Alcohol avoided • Numerous fasting days |products of the "sacred" cow are pure | | | and desirable • Fasting promotes | | | |spiritual growth | |Islam |• Pork and certain birds prohibited • Alcohol prohibited • |• Eating is for good health • Failure to| | |Coffee/tea/stimulants avoided • Fasting from all food and |eat correctly minimizes spiritual | | |drink during specific periods |awareness • Fasting has a cleansing | | | |effect of evil elements | |Judaism |• Pork and shellfish prohibited • Meat and dairy at same meal|• Land animals that do not have cloven | | |prohibited • Leavened food restricted • Fasting practiced |hooves and that do not chew their cud | | | |are forbidden as unclean (e. g. hare, | | | |pig, camel) • Kosher process is based | | | |upon the Torah | |Mormonism |• Alcohol and beverages containing caffeine prohibited • |• Caffeine is addictive and leads to | | |Moderation in all foods • Fasting practiced |poor physical and emotional health • | | | |Fasting is the discipline of | | | |self-control and honoring to God | |Protestants |• Few restrictions of food or fasting observations • |• God made all animal and natural | | |Moderation in eating, drinking, and exercise is promoted |products for humans' enjoyment • | | | |Gluttony and drunkenness are sins to be | | | |controlled | |Rastafarianism |• Meat and fish restricted • Vegetarian diets only, with |• Pigs and shellfish are scavengers and | | |salts, reservatives, and condiments prohibited • Herbal |are unclean • Foods grown with chemicals| | |drinks permitted; alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks prohibited|are unnatural and prohibited • Biblical | | |• Marijuana used extensively for religious and medicinal |texts support use of herbs (marijuana | | |purposes |and other herbs) | |Roman Catholicism |• Meat restricted on certain days • Fasting practiced |• Restrictions are consistent with | | | |specified days of the church year | |Seventh-day Adventist |• Pork prohibited and meat and fish avoided • Vegetarian diet|• Diet satisfies practice to "honor and | | |is encouraged • Alcohol, coffee, and tea prohibited |glorify God" | On the designated days, Catholics may abstain from all food, or they may restrict meat and meat products. Water or nonstimulant liquids are usually allowed during the fast. Seventh-day Adventists. The Seventh-day Adventist Church advocates a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, including moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products and the avoidance of meat, fish, fowl, coffee, tea, alcohol, and toboacco products (though these are not strictly prohibited). The church's beliefs are grounded in the Bible, and in a "belief in the wholistic nature of people" (Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Nutrition Council). While the dietary practices of different religions vary, and the rationale for each practice is based upon different texts, there is also much commonality. The practice of fasting is almost universal across religious groups, and most regard it as a mechanism to discipline the followers in a humbling way for spiritual growth. Many fasting practices are connected with specific holy days. The variation in consumption of meat and vegetables has a much wider variation. SEE ALSO E ATING H ABITS ; F ASTING . Ruth A. Waibel Bibliography Brown, Linda Keller, and Mussell, Kay, eds. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. Desai, Anita (2000). Fasting, Feasting. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Fishbane, Michael (1992). The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermaneutics. Bloomington, MN: Indiana University Press. Gordon, Lewis, ed. (1997). Existence in Black: An Anthology of Black Existential Philosophy. New York: Routledge. Landman-Bouges, J. (1997). "Rastafarian Food Habits. " Cajanus 9(4):228–234. Siregar, Susan Rogers (1981). Adat, Islam, and Christianity in a Batak Homeland. Athens, OH: Center for International Studies at Ohio University. Internet Resources Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. "The Word of Wisdom. " Available from "Judaism 101. " Available from Orthodox Christian Information Center. "Living an Orthodox Life. Available from "The Rastafarian Religion. " Available from "Rastafarianism. " Available from Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Nutrition Council. "GCNC Position Statements. " Available from Read more: Religion and Dietary Practices - effects, food, nutrition, body, diet, health, fat, nutrients, eating, acids, water, habits, Religious Belief Expressed as Food Customs http://www. faqs. org/nutrition/Pre-Sma/Religion-and-Dietary-Practices. html#ixzz106Fo7t8k Religion and politics – does religion affect politics or vice versa? Which one affects more on people’s lives and why? Can there be a balance or harmony between religion and politics? Due to the wide radius between different religions and political systems it’s important to state that different set of people may interpret the correlation between religion and politics differently. The discussion can be approached from many angles and I’d like to begin with sorting out my overall view on the question. In a world where different establishments and different ideologies flourish and fade it’s important to grasp the concept from the outside; mere dynamics such as morals, ethics, beliefs change over time and are all a part of a nihilistic value chain that has been created for the same purpose: To gather humans together on common grounds. This all may sound harmless, if it was done on mutual grounds, but there’s the followers and creators (Nietzsche, 1885). There’s people who destroy old value frames and create new, the creator of religion, capitalism, nationalism were all, in direct quote by Nietzsche; “Ubermenschen” – roughly meaning “overhuman”. The rest were referred to as humans, and Nietzsche said that “the human must be conquered”, by those words he meant that old ideas and old value frames must be conquered or “crushed” in order to flourish new ones. Nietzsche’s terms of expression may seem radical to some but none the less true, we live in an immanent society under the same value frame that works as a never ending cycle. Inside of this cycle exists different “-ism’s”, religion, politics etc. We humans create new ideas and new “-ism’s” under these branches and call it “progress” with a hint of actual transcendence in our environment. When truth is that these changes are going in the same cycle and the cycle isn’t moving forward – just round and round. To really understand our social environment one must first enable oneself to step outside of the immanent and nihilistic cycle that we call society. From there analyzing its interior becomes clearer, the problem is reaching there, one must first denounce everything inside from being absolute truths, which only a few percent of the earth’s population would. The correlation between religion and politics sparks differently in different establishments. The integration of religion into politics does not work very well in the bigger secular societies such as Sweden; if the Swedish prime minister were to announce himself as Christian he’d lose more votes than he’d win. But not all secular societies are alike. In, for example, USA, a president has to announce himself as Christian to even stand a chance running for office. That gives religion a big affect on politics in America, where countless presidents have praised God in their speeches. If the Swedish prime minister were to praise God in a speech he’d get laughed at, which shows the big psychological diversity even between secular states. Even though USA may have a lot of religious influence in their politics it does not have any overall affect on their policy, each state has their own right to determine most of their laws. In California gay marriage has been approved even though they have a republican senator, republicans are often associated to conservatism while democrats lean more to liberalism. This shows that the country is secular even though it’s overall religious which could be seen as a paradox. The easiest way to explain it is that religion has been used a tool of manipulation rather than guidance in governing, and the secular society has been accepted due to cultural aspects rather than religious. Liberal ideals are all part of the “American dream”. In Saudi Arabia which has an Islamic governing under Sharia laws, religion has a great impact on politics; conservative religious values are the foundation of internal politics. The country is ruled by diplomacy and freedom of speech is a myth, some may contend that this has nothing to do with religion itself but through history different religious establishments have had the same democratic problem. History leaves room for skeptics; religious establishments have never worked well in modern history. It’s all relative; depending on different social environments religion has had and has a different amount of impact on politics. From my point of view religion is a tool of manly made manipulation under Capitalism and is used as such for political gains when possible. So how has religion been a part of politics from a historical point of view? I, personally, see it fade and become more sublime in western countries whilst extremist regimes correlate it with their political agenda openly. Could there be a “good” balance between the two, has there ever been? I doubt it. Religion in its sole entity has a bigger impact on people than politics if believed in, due to it being viewed as the utmost truth. Thus the question of which one that has the most impact is an easily answered one, but I think the original idea with religion was to use it for political agenda, thus the correlation of the two is more dynamic for affecting people in their lives than one of them alone. In the question of balance and harmony I believe that there can and is a balance between religion and politics in the sense that they correlate for their
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