This headline caught my eye: “Believers consume fewer drugs than atheists.” A Swiss National Science Foundation research team found that young Swiss men who say they believe in God are less likely to smoke cigarettes or pot or take ecstasy pills than young Swiss men who say they are atheists. Their findings were reported this week in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.
Religion has “enormous potential for lowering the risk of substance abuse among teens and adults,” according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. They report that adults and teens who consider religion to be very important and who attend religious services weekly or more often are “far less likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs.” In addition, those battling addiction who attend spiritually-based support programs as part of their treatment “are more likely to maintain sobriety.”
By contrast, adults who never attend religious services are “almost seven times likelier to drink, three times likelier to smoke, more than five times likelier to have used an illicit drug other than marijuana, almost seven times likelier to binge drink and almost eight times likelier to use marijuana” than adults who attend religious services at least once a week.
Research also indicates that teenagers who are involved in religious activities are half as likely to have substance abuse problems as those who are not. In addition, spirituality has been found to help teens overcome genetic tendencies for alcoholism, social pressure, and a family history of abuse.
Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs costs our nation more than $600 billion each year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. You would think that any approach found to make such a difference on such an enormous problem would receive great publicity. If someone invented a pill that countered substance abuse as effectively as religion does, wouldn’t it be front page news? Why, then, is religion’s value so underreported?
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) told a story: “Once, a musician came to town—a musician of great but unknown talent. He stood on a street corner and began to play. Those who stopped to listen could not tear themselves away, and soon a large crowd stood enthralled by the glorious music whose equal they had never heard. Before long they were moving to its rhythm, and the entire street was transformed into a dancing mass of humanity. A deaf man walking by wondered: Has the world gone mad?”
Is our culture deaf to religion? Does a deaf person’s inability to hear music make music less real? When last did you listen for the “gentle whisper” of God’s Spirit (1 Kings 19:12)?