For the individual, one of the main positive effects of religion is a sense of purpose, meaning, and justice in life. This often takes the form of belief in an afterlife, in which all the wrongs committed on earth will be judged and put right. However, even religions which do not feature an afterlife teach that there is a god watching over the earth, preventing it from descending into chaos. Religious people therefore have a source of comfort which is of a different kind that others find. The idea of an afterlife increases this comfort, mitigating or even removing the fear of death. The atheist writer Sam Harris has observed that, if a child dies, no humanist secular system can replace the certainty in the parents' minds that the child is in heaven with Jesus as a source of solace in their grief.
For a society, religion can increase order and cohesion, giving people shared goals and values. Although there is no necessary link between religion and morality, people who believe that god is watching them and will judge them after death may be more inclined to refrain from antisocial behavior in situations when they could not be punished for it under the law. Even the least religious societies, from the Soviet Union to North Korea, have used the methods and trappings of organized religion to instill political doctrine in their citizens and motivate them to observe the law.
Religion can be controversial, for sure, and there have been quite a few negative events done in the name of religion. However, at its heart, religion is intended for good. Religions are meant to be guiding posts for human morality and an opportunity for people to either commune with a higher power or center their life to make the world a better place.
Religion’s first intention is typically to give a purpose to humans. In a sometimes senseless world, this is vital, as it guides them and gives them something towards which to work. Beyond that, religion is used to teach morality. When used properly, religion combats evil and despair in the world by providing morally upright leaders and teachers. There are numerous other benefits to religion, such as community, shared values, encouraging positivity, and even simple enjoyment.
While much evil has been done in the name of religion, religion has made many positive contributions to society.
First, religious institutions have done a staggering amount of charitable work. Giving to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam, for example, and is integral to the Christian message, as it is to all the major world religions. Religious institutions are responsible for establishing hospitals, schools, orphanages, prison visitation, and soup kitchens. Before the growth of the modern welfare state, churches provided most of these humanitarian services to the poor, who otherwise would have been without a place to turn. Even today, it is religious groups who often spearhead and are at the front lines of programs to help those in need, opening homeless shelters and food banks to fill gaps in the social welfare state.
Second, religious groups have often peacefully advocated for social justice in ways that have brought needed change and protected the rights of the most vulnerable. It is difficult to fight convictions which are not motivated by personal need or greed, but by deeply held beliefs that it is wrong to treat any person in a way you would not want to be treated.
Third, even people who have not personally held deep religious beliefs, such as philosopher Thomas Hobbes, have seen the value of religion as a glue holding society together and a teacher of the positive moral and ethical values undergirding a stable culture.
Fourth, on an individual level, where much of religion has been pushed in the modern age, religious belief can have positive transformative effects on a person, leading to a richer, fuller, and more giving life. It can add vitally important meaning and purpose beyond simply fulfilling one's own physical needs and cravings. Further, some individuals, such as Francis of Assisi, have had a lasting impact on society centuries after their deaths because of the effects of their religious conversion. Such people may have given up their wealth and worldly power to follow God but have become extraordinary role models who remain deeply inspiring to others.
Religion may have several positive effects. One effect is that religious beliefs may serve as a moral compass for a person. Religious teachings help people make decisions that differentiate right from wrong. The ideas expressed in the Ten Commandments would be an example of this.
Religious beliefs may help a person navigate difficult times when sad or tragic events occur. Many times people have stated that their faith has helped them navigate troubling times.
Religion may also provide structure in a person’s life. Some religions require daily prayer that must occur within a given time frame. Observing a day of rest, called the Sabbath, may allow a person to spend more time with family and friends, as well as participate in some form of religious study. Observing a day of rest may also help a person recharge for the upcoming week.
Being involved with religion and religious observance may allow a person to access community resources to help them if they need some kind of assistance. This could include help dealing with poverty, mental illness, or homelessness.
There are several positive effects of religion and religious observance.