Another Mystery of Faith, or, Why Americans Are Still Fat Slobs

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Another study has discovered that regular church attendance "accounts for" longer life spans. Regular religious observance provides better longevity returns, at a lower price, than statin-type therapies.

"Our culture, particularly our medical culture, tends to have a strong secular bias. This data shows in ways that are unquestionable that there's something going on in people's beliefs and practices that makes them healthier," says Daniel Hall, author of the report "Religious Attendance: More Cost-Effective Than Lipitor?" in the current issue of The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (available in its entirety here). "To ignore this phenomenon would be foolish."

Hall, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physician and a "priest" in the Episcopal church, plays up the value of being "knit into" a religious community and having "meaning" in your life, but leaves for the jump page the news that regular exercise gets you many more years of life at a much lower price than either drugs or religion.

The study doesn't go into it, but I suspect that as in previous such reports, the real key is that religous observance correlates highly with abstemiousness, regimented daily habits, and other behavior patterns that tend to lengthen your life span. But with the evolution brouhaha winding down (for now), I wonder again why the biggest opponents of natural selection tend to be religious people. They outbreed the rest of us; they live longer; they're better at nurturing the necessary survival mechanisms in their young; they're so much more numerous it's not even worth discussingβ€”by any measure, the religious are the big winners in the natural selection lottery. So why are they so opposed to it?

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  1. So if ‘we’ athiests start going to church without changing our beliefs, would we start living longer, or would we just drag the average life span of the congregation down?

  2. Because it’s incompatible with the supernatural belief system that knits their community.

  3. “the religious are the big winners in the natural selection lottery. So why are they so opposed to it?”

    It’s not that biblical literalists don’t believe natural selection occurs in the everyday world, they just don’t think that humans evolved that way.

  4. “So if ‘we’ athiests start going to church without changing our beliefs, would we start living longer, or would we just drag the average life span of the congregation down?”

    -If only because it gives ‘me’ less time to drink on Sunday mornings

  5. Mr. Cavanaugh:

    Do you set off the word priest with quote marks in reference to Roman Catholic and Orthodox clergy as well or is there some question about Dr. Hall’s ordination in particular?

  6. by any measure, the religious are the big winners in the natural selection lottery. So why are they so opposed to it?

    That’s an excellent, excellent point. Then again, many of my fellow theists fancy themselves to be “persecuted” because they have to use peer pressure and persuasion to try to get people to refrain from certain behaviors. They feel persecuted because they can’t just arrest the people who engage in those behaviors.

  7. Regular religious observance provides better longevity returns, at a lower price, than statin-type therapies.

    Exercise is better than religion or statin drugs; therefore, both the religion and drugs are pretty crummy.

  8. . . . abstemiousness, regimented daily habits, and other behavior patterns that tend to lengthen your life span . . . outbreed the rest of us; they live longer; they’re better at nurturing the necessary survival mechanisms in their young . . the religious are the big winners in the natural selection lottery

    Here’s your answer, Tim (two parts):

    1. Some of them are marginal and nutz. Your colleague, Bailey, is excellent at finding these (sometimes even going so far as to attend their conferences) and basically giving this contingent a bully pulpit here at reason so that people like yourself overestimate the nut quotient.

    2. For others, they like the selection lottery. They like the mechanisms of the selection lottery that you have identified. They simply don’t agree that it is a natural selection lottery. They have a point in the sense that your only evidence that the selection lottery is natural derives from pointing to a lack of observable, dispositive evidence of a supernatural component in the selection lottery. In other words, your assertion that the selection lottery is natural is a faith based statement.

    My advice 4u, Tim: ignore the type 1 people that Bailey wants to shove in our faces and start engaging the type 2 people.

  9. I suspect that a high degree of religious observance correlates with having a strong familial support system.

    Also, what’s up with the quotes around “priest?”

  10. Priest says religion is good for you! Film at 11!

  11. You heathens don’t realize that there is a special elixer in the crackers and Jesus-juice given out during services. It lengthens life.

    So ha-ha, the joke’s on you sorry, non-believing clowns.

  12. I suspect that a high degree of religious observance correlates with having a strong familial support system.

    Do you think it is a causitive correlation or just a correlation?

  13. by any measure, the religious are the big winners in the natural selection lottery. So why are they so opposed to it?

    I’ve been to creationist seminars. No one I’ve heard denies natural selection. They deny natural selection as a means of speciation (i.e., natural selection accounts for variation within dogs, say, but will never result in their evolution into a different species). Creationists have some fanciful ideas, but they don’t deny natural selection.

  14. I wonder again why the biggest opponents of natural selection tend to be religious people.

    Because if you’re stupid enough to beleive in God and/or religion, then you’re stupid enough not to understand evolution.

  15. Hall, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center physician and a “priest” in the Episcopal church…

    Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but shouldn’t we be skeptical of any sort of study about the alleged benefits of religion published by a member of the clergy?

  16. You mean the same reason we automatically reject proofs of atheism put forward by lifelong atheists?

    No and no.

  17. I’m not a “lifelong atheist.” I was raised conservative Catholic until I came to my senses in college.

  18. You have made no proofs of anything, either.

  19. Akira:

    that’s a troll with an imaginary friend. just ignore. since you can’t hear the words of the voices in his head, you can’t address what he’s “thinking”. sigh.

    you know, russell, the happy tree friend, has the best way of describing this…

  20. You have made no proofs of anything, either.

    Sagan said it best: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m not the one claiming that there is a omnipotent and omniscient supernatural entity that rules the universe and hands down moral judgments on us all. That’s your claim, and its a pretty extraordinary one at that. Ergo, it’s your job to provide the extraordinary proof, not mine.

  21. Look, akira, there was no knock on you personally. i am not trying to say that you have or ever should have made a proof of atheism.

    All I am saying is that if you want to look at the religious bias of priests when it comes to questions implicating religion, then by the same token you would look at the irreligious bias of atheists when it comes to questions implicating atheism. I didn’t say all that at such length because I didn’t realize all that verbiage would be neccessary to communicate my point.

  22. The religious people I know are so afraid of death they’ll do anything to keep from dying, even if for some it means living a completely miserable life.

  23. If you go to Utah, you’ll find that Mormoms tend to live forever. And they don’t just live long lives, they live extraordinarily long, happy, healthy, productive lives. They are pretty much the nicest, happiest people you will ever meet.

    The causes are manifold: they don’t drink or smoke, they tend to get lots of exercise outdoors in the fresh air, they have strong family and community ties. All of these have been shown to correlate to long lives, regardless of religion.

    Their religion is really, really wacky – but every time I meet a Mormom I come away thinking, “Man, I need to raise my kids as Mormons”…

  24. All I am saying is that if you want to look at the religious bias of priests when it comes to questions implicating religion, then by the same token you would look at the irreligious bias of atheists when it comes to questions implicating atheism.

    No, because most atheists operate on a methodolgy the excludes “bias” from our thinking; the scientific method, skepticism, logic, etc. We have no reason to bias our data, nor do we want to.

    Tu quoque, anyone?

  25. Lemur:

    Of course, you know that there are only Mormons in heaven. And Saddam.

  26. OK, Christard, show me evidence where atheist have fudged data.

  27. Whatever, fucktard.

  28. BTW, the server’s on the fritz again. I had to send my insult to the Christian pile-of-shit twice!

  29. Today’s religion threads have me too angry for words right now, I’m stepping away before I post anything more.

  30. evidence where atheist have fudged data

    I don’t know about fudged data. For evidence of an atheists with a bias, despite those wonderful Baconian methods, just read the global warming literature of the 1990s.

  31. The actual study is, according to the author:

    “intended primarily as a thought experiment designed to explore the controversial association between religious attendance and longer life, and it is not intended for use in economic or clinical decision making.”

    The numbers it uses as a starting point already assume a “lower mortality rate for those who attend religious services once a week or more when compared with the general population”. That assumption is based on a questionable meta-analysis.

    The conclusion that I draw from Dr. Hall’s thought experiment is that Dr. Hall isn’t qualified to conduct thought experiments and the press isn’t interested in vetting, or even accurately reporting them. Skim the report, read the first sentence of Jennifer Harper’s piece and the first sentence of Tim Cavanaugh’s introduction of the study and see if either represents what Dr. Hall has done.

    This post doesn’t include the reasons for my conclusion that Dr. Hall is unqualified, but if anyone reads his report and disagrees, I’d be happy to hear an opposing opinion.

  32. This study simply tells me that you could basically get all the benefits of community involvement, etc. without the religious hulabaloo. Sort of like being a UU or a member of the Grange or the VFW.

  33. Well, Akira certainly has convinced me of athiests’ superhuman ability to avoid being biased in favor of their preferred belief system.

    If only more of us fucktards were like him, we’d be able to be free of bias, too.

  34. Skim the report, read the first sentence of Jennifer Harper’s piece and the first sentence of Tim Cavanaugh’s introduction of the study and see if either represents what Dr. Hall has done.

    The reason “accounts for” is in quotes in my first sentence is because that’s a quote from the study. If he had said “correlates with” or “coincides with” I would have noted that. I don’t see where I have misrepresented Dr.-or-Fr. Hall’s own claims.

  35. Because if you’re stupid enough to beleive in God and/or religion, then you’re stupid enough not to understand evolution.

    I believe in God, and I understand evolution. Unless you’re willing to claim that, since I believe in God, I clearly don’t understand evolution, since people who believe in God are too stupid to understand evolution.

  36. And yeah, I’m wondering about Tim’s quotes around the word “priest” too. Is Tim questioning whether or not the apostolic succession is valid for Episcopal priests? πŸ˜‰

  37. Their religion is really, really wacky – but every time I meet a Mormom I come away thinking, “Man, I need to raise my kids as Mormons”…

    Thank you, Lemur. I’m sure we could arrange that. The missionaries will be by shortly. πŸ˜‰

  38. And yeah, I’m wondering about Tim’s quotes around the word “priest” too. Is Tim questioning whether or not the apostolic succession is valid for Episcopal priests? πŸ˜‰

    Aren’t Epsicopal priests called “vicars”? Or is that just for those High Anglicans across the Pond?

  39. Tim,

    The word you chose to turn into a link is “discovered”. Dr. Hall’s study does no discovery at all. From the study itself:

    Background: A recent meta-analysis demonstrates a robust but small association between weekly religious attendance and longer life. However, the practical significance of this finding remains controversial.

    Methods: Age specific, actuarial death rates were modified according to published odds ratios to model the additional years of life attributable to: (1) weekly religious attendance; (2) regular physical exercise; and (3) statin-type lipid-lowering agents. Secondary analyses estimated the approximate cost for each additional year of life gained.

    In other words, the longer life span was “discovered” by the recent meta-analysis that is referred to in the background.

    You might think my objection is a quibble, but if you were to discover the cure for cancer and then I cited your work and two reporters both reported me as having discovered the cure for cancer, you might agree that the reporters did a disservice to their readers and to you, the discoverer of cancer. In this case, the original discovery is dodgy and the significance of it is not on the order of a cure for cancer, but the reader of your summary may incorrectly believe that Dr. Hall’s study is an extra data point showing that regular church attendence increases lifespan.

    A better, in my opinion, synopsis would be “Doc rehashes existing study into irreproducible cost-benefit numbers for regular church attendance (and the Washington Times misreports it).” I say irreproducible, because if any scientists were asked to come up with cost-benefit numbers, but not provided with Dr. Hall’s assumptions, they would not come up with the same values, or anything particularly near them (except, perhaps, the cost of the Lipitor regimin). People can attend church for free. People can exercise for free.

    BTW, although I didn’t explicitly mention your second sentence, it may be problematic too. Dr. Hall’s study explicitly mentions weekly attendance at religions services, not religious observance. That may be important because there’s potential for huge selection bias when you’re counting attendance, because the ability to attend church requires a degree of health that many of the most sickly among us do not have. However, the abstract for the meta-analysis that Hall cites uses the term “religious involvement”, so it’s not clear if that particular bias is rearing its head.

    My bottom line is this study didn’t add any new data at all suggesting that doing anything adds to life expectancy; it’s merely a (flawed, in my opinion) cost-benefit analysis of prior results. Yet both your and Jennifer Harper’s synopsis would, I believe, lead the average person to believe that there is new data here.

  40. Aren’t Epsicopal priests called “vicars”? Or is that just for those High Anglicans across the Pond?

    Some are. Vicars are, in America, the heads of churches that are not yet independent from their diocese (“mission” churches, IIRC). A church that is independent (a parish) has a rector to head it, often with assistant and associate rectors, and is lead by a vestry of laypeople. A cathedral (a church where a diocesan bishop officially has his seat) is headed by a dean, and has a chapter instead of a vestry. Any and all priests can be addressed as “Reverend X,” where X can be either their first or last name, depending on how formal the priest likes to be. High church (and many broad church) types often call a priest “Father X” or “Mother X,” although some of the more low church types are uncomfortable with this.

    And that concludes this installment of “More than you ever wanted to know about the Episcopal Church.” πŸ™‚

  41. Caveat: I don’t have time to RTFA.

    Someone, I forget who, once observed that “religion has social utility regardless of its truthfulness.” Most people think of that in terms of producing rules of conduct and enforcing them by means of threatening supernatural punishment. But I think at least some religions (including Christianity) are also useful in coping with stress.

    A theist who is having a run of overwhelming bad luck can at least pray to his god and has some hope that his prayers will be answered and that the bad times will end. An atheist might be more likely to simply feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Regardless of the truth of the religion, I think people who persevere (even irrationally) have an edge in pulling through through bad times, compared to people who have more difficulty finding a reason (even an irrational one) to persevere.

    And I’m sure this is an observation without useful application, because you can’t expect atheists to decide to become believers based on the reputed benefits to handling stress. But if believers do tend to outlive and demographically outcompete nonbelievers — and I understand this particular study may not be very convincing in this regard — I suspect this is a major reason why.

  42. And that concludes this installment of “More than you ever wanted to know about the Episcopal Church.” πŸ™‚

    Thanks. But could you also please explain the difference between High, broad, and low church types?

    That way, I can better understand those Monty Python skits and Jethro Tull songs… πŸ™‚

  43. anon2,
    Right on, man!

  44. Any and all priests can be addressed as “Reverend X,” where X can be either their first or last name, depending on how formal the priest likes to be.

    Well, no. Yes, that is the common, grammatically incorrect practice, but “reverend” is an adjective like “honorable” and one doesn’t go around, for example, calling judges “Honorable Jones.” Correct forms of address for Anglican (and thus Episcopalian) priests is “the Rev. (or Rev’d) Mr. Smith,” “the Rev. Dr. Jones,” etc., and becomes “the Right Reverend …” for bishops.

    Salutations are a bit trickerier, but as a general rule Anglo-Catholic clergy will prefer “Fr. Jones” and the rest are perfectly happy with “Mr. Jones” making appropriate changes for gender as required.

    In my experience, holders of the M.D. degree consider it the highest academic degree possible and themselves alone entitled to being called “Dr. Brown,” etc. Given the cancerous growth of bogus and almost bogus doctorates of all sort, I am inclined to agree with them up to a point and address as “Dr.” only those legally qualified to prescribe controlled substances. But that’s just my take on it.

  45. Thanks. But could you also please explain the difference between High, broad, and low church types?

    Sure! Now bear in mind that there are subdivisions in each of these, so that some high church types are ultra-conservative, and some are ultra-liberal.

    High church generally refers to those who have a more catholic, ceremonial approach to the service. They’ll often have incense and such (smells and bells) in most or all services. They have eucharist every Sunday, and some will even call it mass. Some will even have services in Latin, though not many. The priests will wear full eucharistic vestments, i.e., the chasuble, stole, etc. Quite often the service will be sung instead of said. They’ll usually use wafers instead of bread for communion. Some, the Anglo-Catholics, will go even further, and are often “more catholic than the Catholics.” They’ll have veneration of the saints, belief in transubstantiation, and other things that are marks of Roman Catholicism.

    Low church means that the church is very Protestant in its orientation. The service is very stripped down; services are almost never sung, and those parts of the service that are sung in high or broad church churches (i.e., the psalm, some other parts) will be spoken. The vestments are more like those in most Protestant churches, without the full chasuble and such. Eucharist can be held once a month, or even more rarely, with Morning Prayer being held the other Sundays. Most of the time you’ll find bread instead of wafers.

    Broad church is intermediate between high and low, and holds that there’s room for both types in the church. Most churches are (like mine) broad. They have the vestments, but sung services are reserved for Easter, Christmas, and a few other very holy days, as are incense and bells. They’ll most often have Eucharist every Sunday, though that’s probably not invariant. They could use either wafers or bread, depending on the custom. People might cross themselves or genuflect (as in high church usage) or they might not, and no one looks twice either way.

    This used to be more than a matter of taste, especially in England, with low church being more Puritan and high church being more Catholic/Anglican. Nowadays it’s just window dressing for the most part.

    Well, no. Yes, that is the common, grammatically incorrect practice, but “reverend” is an adjective like “honorable” and one doesn’t go around, for example, calling judges “Honorable Jones.” Correct forms of address for Anglican (and thus Episcopalian) priests is “the Rev. (or Rev’d) Mr. Smith,” “the Rev. Dr. Jones,” etc., and becomes “the Right Reverend …” for bishops.

    Yeah, that’s the written style, but it’s not what people say. You’ll write, “The Rev’d Smith,” but you’d say, “Reverend Smith,” if you were so inclined. I don’t know of anyone who says, “Right Reverend Smith,” about bishops, but I suppose it’s possible.

    Incidentally, the style is “the Rev’d” for priests and deacons, “the Very Rev’d” for deans, “The Rt. Rev’d” for bishops, and “the Most Rev’d” for archbishops (of which the Episcopal Church has none). In England you’ll get really cool stuff like the Archbishop of Canterbury being able to sign “Cantuar,” or the Archbishop of York replacing his last name with “Ebor.”, or the Bishop of Durham signing his last name “Dunelm.” But we don’t yet have those neat little things here yet. πŸ™‚

  46. In my experience, holders of the M.D. degree consider it the highest academic degree possible and themselves alone entitled to being called “Dr. Brown,” etc. Given the cancerous growth of bogus and almost bogus doctorates of all sort, I am inclined to agree with them up to a point and address as “Dr.” only those legally qualified to prescribe controlled substances. But that’s just my take on it.

    Comment by: D.A. Ridgely at April 4, 2006 01:59 PM

    no doubt MD’s consider their degrees to be the highest academic degrees, but they’re the only ones. there is a lot of variance in quality, of course, but a PhD is typically a more rigorous and demanding degree program and deserving of more respect than an MD

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