Traditionally, religion has been defined as a social-cultural system that includes beliefs, texts, practices, and organizations. It is an individual and communal process that relates to the sacred. However, a large portion of the population is not religious.
According to the Religious Freedom Center, religion is “a system of shared belief and morals that are shaped by a variety of factors, including culture and tradition.” It is a way of life. It provides a sense of purpose, a code of ethics, and a coherent belief system. In addition, it is a social support network. It informs politics and economics, and it can be used as a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the United States saw rebellion against authority, including organized religion. This included the creation of new categories of spirituality. It was a reaction to a growing trend towards consumerist “New Age” beliefs. In addition, many Americans were not prepared to give up their religion.
Today, religion remains a source of meaning and social support. However, it is important to understand that religion is not the answer to all health questions. Although it may provide a sense of purpose and a clear moral code, it cannot guarantee optimal health. Moreover, a rigid religion can be an oppressive ideology that erodes social support. The psychological literature suggests that the benefits of religion to wellbeing are related to the meaning and purpose of beliefs, the sense of morality, and the support of a social community.
Among the different types of religious organizations, the most common are evangelicals, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. These groups make up about 11 percent of the US population. While religious fundamentalism adheres to the literal truth of sacred texts, these organizations also often cede too much power to the church. In addition, they are often more ambivalent than secular groups. For instance, a church member might not tell others about an abusive husband, but he fears judgment from the church. This fear, combined with the lack of vital social support during a difficult time, can increase the level of stress.
There are other ways to find social support. It is possible to be “spiritual but not religious,” which combines an ambivalent view of religion with a desire for personal growth. This category of people often see Jesus as loving, but they do not acknowledge his death. This is a form of ambivalence that is not as severe as claiming harm from institutions.
Religion is a complex and dynamic social institution. Despite its bad name, it can offer social support and help in many ways. In fact, the health benefits of religion can include the ability to increase gratitude, which can act as a buffer against stress. Additionally, it can help people to access the ingredients they need for optimal health. It can also provide a sense of purpose, a code for ethical living, and a framework for making sense of the universe.