One rarely stands back to consider whether faith is good for you or, if it is good for you, where its benefits might lie.
One can carry out objective research and, indeed, some research has taken place in America. Most people had assumed that prayers for patients in hospital might give inner peace and comfort to the afflicted, if not full recovery. The results showed that prayers seem to be linked to increased rates of recovery and to better long-term survival rates. People of faith do remain unhealed, like some people with no faith, but there may be less of them than average.
Other research has also indicated that committed people of faith tend to live longer than the average person without faith - by seven years. Again, this does not mean that some do not die earlier than average.
We also note that electors tend to elect national leaders who do not openly state that they are atheists. However, any politician declaring “faith” has to then prove it through his decisions and integrity, or run the risk of not being re-elected.
If we know people of faith, we may note the value they place on family, faithful relationships, public service, the needy, integrity, a balanced and "clean" lifestyle, reliability, creativity, perseverance, stability and groundedness. We may also find these things in the lives of people of no faith. Any difference may very subtle, possibly qualitative.
We might more clearly note the ability of people of faith to resist the more extreme temptations of pleasure and money. They may avoid the Lottery or shop on a Sundays. Research shows that Christians may not be top religious earners. The top religious earners, in Europe, are Jews and Hindus. Some Anglican Christians may be in key positions of influence, if not at the very top.
We might notice in the lives of people with faith, what one might call their “good luck”, which they would call “rescue” or “blessing”. For example, we may know of people of strong faith who, looking forward to a bleak retirement, have been suddenly offered a house which they have rented all their life at a very low price. We might note similar “windfall gifts” in the lives of Lottery winners, or among deserving, civilised people with no discernible faith.
One thing is certain: people of faith can develop dementia, cancer, degenerative disease like MS, Parkinsons and motor neurone disease. They do not escape bodily suffering. They all experience death like the rest of humanity - though it may take them longer! It is noticeable, however, that many go on being productive and a vital part of mainstream life, until they depart for "a better country".
So where lies any benefit of faith? One might answer “....not in this life, but in the next”. Another might also say “....quality of life”. As we have seen, it would be hard to prove objectively.
We could ask people of faith themselves as they regularly make claims. Most people of faith who know life without faith, will say this about the benefits of faith:
- knowing God/Jesus
- knowing the truth
- inner joy and hope
- no longer feeling lonely or alienated
- finding purpose
- knowing who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do
- having guidance and help
- becoming stable and predictable
- beautiful, harmonious memories
- feeling loved and more able to love others
- the quality of friends and/or spouse
- being able to fully trust one nearest and dearest
- hope and strength in adversity
- becoming more open to need
- appreciating the beauty of nature
- having the big questions answered
- intellectual challenge and interests
- ongoing uplifting experiences
- being part of a world-wide community.
- I would not have been rescued at the last moment
- I would be homeless
- I would have died of a drug overdose
- I would be in a wheelchair/ prison/ slavery/ hospital/ divorced/ in therapy
- I would be on constant medication, a burden on the State
- I would be out of work, totally alone (or dead e.g. through suicide)
- I would be violent and abusive
- I would still be crippled by trauma
- I would never have met X, who gave me hope and changed my life around.
Leaders of faith can be faced with extreme suffering, or even torture. Jesus said that he had “nowhere to lay his head” before he was crucified. St Paul said that if faith was for this life, then it was a sad life - but he willingly suffered extremes of persecution and violence in bringing faith to Europe.
There are numerous Scriptures to support claims of “rescue” and healing, particularly in The Psalms. Jesus also promised his followers "life to the full". Part of that "fullness" starts, like a seed growing upwards, in the material world.
‘Testimonies’ of the faith tend to suggest that, taken over the long term, people recognise a certain quality in their life of faith or miracle in their survival. They think this exceeds the experience they would have had in life, without faith. Since many have also tasted that life they may want others to benefit, out of love and concern for them.
Still, this is not why most people want to share their faith. The main reason is because people believe that the main benefit of faith is mostly in the next life, in "eternal life".
They believe that everyone has the human right to hear the real evidence and make an informed, responsible decision about ultimate questions and ultimate destinations. Often they make decisions that matter so much, without the full facts, or using misinterpretations.
That evidence is from the Apostles - not from Christians.
New York Times article on comparative income of religious groups in the USA. See chart (left).