Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. SPECIAL PROMOTION FOR NEW MONTHLY DONATIONS! Thank you and God bless.

Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. SPECIAL PROMOTION FOR NEW MONTHLY DONATIONS! Thank you and God bless.

Background Image

The Benefits of Religion

Jimmy Akin

DAY 283

CHALLENGE

“Religion is a destructive force that harms people.”

DEFENSE

This is not supported by the evidence.

Every institution—churches, hospitals, schools, governments—makes mistakes and harms people on occasion. However, to claim an institution is fundamentally harmful, one needs to provide evidence it does more harm than good.

Further, one would need to show not just that individual examples of an institution do more harm than good (individual churches, hospitals, schools, or governments may, in fact, be destructive). Instead, one would need to show that the institution itself, conceived generally, is, on balance, harmful. This claim is implausible when applied to major, widespread human institutions. People aren’t stupid, and if an institution were fundamentally harmful then it would not become a major, widespread one. People would abandon it before it ever got that far.

The reason people support and patronize institutions is they perceive the benefits the institutions bring to their lives. Some are so successful that they have become human universals—institutions that appear in every culture in history. Examples include religion, medicine, education, and government.

In particular historical circumstances, the track record of these institutions is decidedly mixed (paleolithic medicine was nowhere near as good as modern medicine), but they still have provided enough benefit that they achieved universal status.

Indeed, it’s hard to see how an institution that did net harm could become a universal, because biological and cultural evolution would select against it (i.e., people who did not practice some form of it would outcompete and outreproduce those who did, and the institution would die out).

In the case of religion, it’s easy to see how it provides benefits to people even in this life. These include helping individuals find meaning and purpose, helping groups bond together and share resources, and helping societies promote moral behaviors (“Honor thy father and mother”) and discourage immoral ones (“Thou shalt not kill”).

Also, statistically speaking, religious individuals live longer on average than non-religious ones.

TIP

For a discussion of how religions in many parts of the world promote moral values, see the appendix of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!Donatewww.catholic.com/support-us