Strongly Religious Folks Have More Self-Control

This according to research published by Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby.  Thanks to Wes Milam for bringing this article to my attention in the NY Times.

The researchers found that those who are intrinsically and strongly religious just have more self-control than those who don’t.  They are better able to withstand temptation and are less impulsive.  The non-religious, including extrinsic believers (those just going through the motions of religion) and outright non-believers, are, by comparison, more impulsive and exhibit less self-control.

There is also bad news for those devotees of a vague New Age concept of God as a spiritual force, much like the concept of God that Oprah Winfrey consistently promotes.  Their self-control was also worse than the strongly religious.   

Another interesting sidebar in the article is worth mentioning:

Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that devoutly religious people tend to do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and be generally happier.

Even though researchers have repeatedly found these things to be true, the media rarely report on such research, and so most of us aren’t aware of these findings, but thanks to the NY Times, now we are!

So religious people do better in school, live longer, have better marriages, are happier, are better able to withstand temptation, are less impulsive, and exhibit better self-control.  So what?  Does this prove any religion true?

Of course not, but it does show one important thing.  Any worldview worth following should work for its adherents.  It should genuinely improve their lives because they are believing in something that more closely conforms to reality. 

Over the long run, a worldview that sees reality more accurately is going to benefit its followers more than one that gets reality wrong.  This study shows that strongly religious worldviews really work for the adherent.  Believing in God, and taking that belief seriously, is a worldview that is good for people in their everyday lives. 

Some critics might claim that the religious are just self-deluded, but they have to explain why this self-delusion persists across all places, times, and peoples.  We find religion in the most primitive to the most advanced societies on earth, all over the earth, and all throughout history.  Where did this powerful delusion originate and why does it persist?  I’ve heard the evolutionary accounts of religious belief, but they are nothing more than bedtime stories without any shred of empirical evidence.  Scientific accounts without any evidence are not persuasive, but this doesn’t stop some scientists from telling these stories anyway.

Those of us who believe in God notice that it seems to be built into us, as if  God Himself placed it there.  When we believe, we are responding to a natural desire to know God that seems to be present in all mankind.  Some of us respond positively to this desire, and some of us negatively.  The research seems to show that those of us who respond positively are better at living life.

  • Wes

    I don’t remember if the article mentioned the chicken-and-the-egg aspect: do people with better self-control gravitate toward sincere religion? I’m sure that is a valid question for a researcher in this area. Oddly enough, Jesus is more interested in reaching out to those who struggle with sin than to those who feel like they can control their urges under their own power.

    Also, many may claim that a Christian worldview does not “work for its adherents.” Many Christians are persecuted and deprived because of their belief. The Bible claims that believers should expect this result. Christians know that there are benefits that outweigh these drawbacks, and that sometimes the “drawbacks” may make us stronger.