The Science of Sinning Less—From Christianity Today

Practicing Christians have more self-control than lax Christians and secular people according to a study that is featured in the latest issue of Christianity Today.  [Bold emphasis is mine.]

Because Christianity requires self-control, it logically follows that it also builds it, and thus we can expect active Christians to have relatively high levels of self-control. And we can test this expectation with data. Several colleagues and I conducted SoulPulse, a large-scale study of self-control and spirituality funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This study (which you can learn more about at had participants use their smartphones to answer survey questions twice a day for two weeks. It measured trait-level self-control using a standard scale that included questions about resisting temptation, refusing things that are bad, and acting without thinking. We compared the self-control levels of Christians with those of people who have no religious affiliation. Protestants and Catholics both averaged higher levels of self-control. Then we looked at how self-control varies among Christians by church attendance. Christians who go to church most often also had the most self-control.  Source: The Science of Sinning Less | Christianity Today

The article (written by the sociologist and the neuroscientist who conducted the study) points out that self-control is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, chapter 5.  This is  significant because Galatians 5 predicts that spiritual people will have more self-control than non-spiritual people—exactly what the study found to be true.  The study thus adds to a growing body of evidence that the fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians really are spiritual fruits—that living a Christian life cultivates these “fruits” in the disciple.

As I show in my book, more than twenty years of research has consistently shown that Christians do better than their secular counterparts on many, if not all of the spiritual fruits mentioned in Galatians.  And because these fruits include the positive qualities of good mental health, (joy protects against depression; peace of mind protects against anxiety; self-control guards against substance abuse and impulse control disorders) it follows that Christians should exhibit better mental health than those who are not religious.  I presented evidence for this thesis from my book at Duke Medical School just last week.  Here are some important takeaways:

(Fig.2) Source: Robert Whitaker

(Fig.2) Source: Robert Whitaker

  • People who pray have better mental health than those who do not.
  • People who go to church have better mental health than non-churchgoers.
  • People who  keep the 10 Commandments have better mental health than those who don’t.
  • The least Christian generation (Fig.3) has the worst mental health.(Fig. 2)
  • The least religious nations have the highest suicide rates.
  • America has become more mentally ill and violent (Fig. 1) as she has become less religious.

    (Fig. 3) Source: Pew Research Center

    (Fig. 3) Source: Pew Research Center

All of these outcomes are successfully predicted by Galatians chapter 5.  And they are exactly what a secular world would never expect.  This is quite obvious from the writings and tweetings of Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive scientist:

(Fig.1) Victims of Violent Crime

(Fig.1) Victims of Violent Crime

Pinker clearly believes that enlightenment will be found wherever secularism is found.  But research actually tells us a quite different story, namely, that, wherever Pinker and the New Atheists expect to find enlightenment, there you find mental
illness instead.  All Christians should eagerly await the publication of his book.  For in it, the blind spot of the entire secularist world view will be exposed. JG

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