What are some ways religion can impact a life for the better or worse?
A great teacher once told me that Relgion is an expression of man's nature as a creature. In other words, when man encounters truths he can't explain, realities deeper than his own experience, and wonders beyond imagination, he naturally becomes religious. When man realizes that he is but a part of creation, and not the whole of creation, he becomes religious.
Religion deals in Faith, Belief, and Trust in some revealed truth, as opposed to a truth which is discovered by scientific experiment. Any endeavor of faith and belief should be a pursuit of truth.
If religion is then a pursuit of revealed truths, it should effect one's life entirely! Some people call this philosophy, but Religion differs in that the principles it uses to discover truth are not premises and conclusions solely, but Religion can also include the testimony of those who claim to have had unique experiences meant to enlighten the human mind about subjects which transcend the limits of human understanding.
Religion's effect on man does not come from the outside, but from the inside, from within each individuals personal convictions and beliefs. If you believe that the divine truth is that abortion is wrong, you personally have a duty to pursue the consequences of that truth. If you believe it a sacred truth that poverty can't be tolerated, and believe it strongly, than you should dedicate all your energies to help elimiate the causes of poverty.
Religion is a personal decision. It would not be correct to say that religion effects people because it makes them happy or sad. Religion effects people by influencing their decisions, motivations, and sense of personal value. How someone else reacts to your beliefs is not caused by religion. How you react to a neighbor's insults, though, may be the result of how firmly convinced you are of your own religious beliefs.
There are many ways in which religion can affect people’s lives. Some of these can be good while others can be bad.
Looking at the good, religion can give people a great deal of peace of mind. A person who has experienced religious conversion can feel much better about themselves than they did before. They can feel much less stress in their lives if they feel that God cares about them and has a plan for them. The time that they spend in prayer can actually be beneficial to their health by reducing stress. Religion can also give people a sense of purpose. It can affect them by making them want to dedicate their lives to accomplishing some sort of good in the world.
On the other hand, religion can also make people miserable. For example, imagine a person who has been brought up in a religious family but no longer wants to be a part of that religion. The person’s choice can lead to very painful splits between them and their family members. As another example, there are people who cannot live up to what they think are the demands of their religion. We see this among many conservative Christians who are gay. Their religious beliefs come into conflict with what they know about themselves. This causes tremendous amounts of pain and guilt.
Thus, religion can be very much of a two-edged sword.