Religions have existed throughout history, influencing the beliefs of cultures from isolated tribes to vast empires. They have evolved in response to human beings’ attempts to control uncontrollable aspects of their environment, such as weather, fertility and pregnancy, or success in hunting. Early attempts at this manipulation took the form of magic, where humans tried to manipulate their surroundings directly by attempting to control the environment or by offering sacrifices to gods and spirits. Religion evolved into a system of myths, or stories about the creation of the world and tales of individual gods and goddesses, certain rituals and rules of behavior that define people’s lives.
Whether you consider your faith a matter of belief or submission, the fact remains that most religions provide at least some benefits. They create a sense of community – a large worldwide social group whose members share a common set of beliefs and practices. They encourage good human traits such as love, kindness and humility. They provide a moral compass to guide us through difficult times in life. And they offer a comforting explanation of the universe and our place in it (although they do so not quite as efficiently as science).
Even if you believe that all religions are false, there is no doubt that religious beliefs can benefit society, as well as individuals. They contribute to a better understanding of the world around us, promote charity and selflessness, strengthen families and support children’s development. They also help to prevent health problems like addiction, depression and mental illness. And in one striking study, scientists have found that people who attend church are healthier, happier and live longer than those who do not.