I saw this headline in my newsreader, and of course I was intrigued.

Spirituality protects against depression better than church attendance


Questions were clicking in my mind immediately, even as I clicked the link. How did they define spirituality for purposes of their research (the operational definition)? What religious groups were included, and did they differentiate among them in the results?

Then I read the EurekAlert article, and a completely different question came to mind: Who writes these headlines?

According to the article, there were three independent variables in the research: religious service attendance, “religious well-being, which refers to the quality of a person’s relationship with a higher power,” and existential well-being.

The group with higher levels of religious well-being were 1.5 times more likely to have had depression than those with lower levels of religious well-being. Maselko theorizes this is because people with depression tend to use religion as a coping mechanism. As a result, they’re more closely relating to God and praying more. Researchers also found that those who attended religious services were 30 percent less likely to have had depression in their lifetime, and those who had high levels of existential well-being were 70 percent less likely to have had depression than those who had low levels of existential well-being.


“Spirituality” was not one of the research variables. I’m guessing the headline writer was connecting it with the second variable, “religious well-being,” but that’s just a guess. The article certainly didn’t use that term for any of the variables. That’s strike one against the headline.

None of the variables was said to “protect against depression.” It’s not there in the article. Nowhere. That’s strike two.Umpire Signaling "Out"

And the one variable that was most closely correlated with depression was “religious well-being” (which I’m surmising was the headline writer’s “spirituality”). That’s strike three. If you’re going to draw a conclusion from a correlation (rather a risky practice, mind you), at least don’t draw a conclusion completely opposite to what the correlations show!

EurekAlert, you’re out!

So now the question is, what do the data show about depression and its correlates? It took some searching but I found the original source. I didn’t pay the $25 to read it, but there is of course an abstract, which begins,

The complex relationships between religiosity, spirituality and the risk of DSM-IV depression are not well understood.


It ends,

Given the complex interactions between religiosity and spirituality dimensions in relation to risk of major depression, the reliance on a single domain measure of religiosity or spirituality (e.g. religious service attendance) in research or clinical settings is discouraged.


Now, that’s believable.

But does it have any connection whatsoever with “spirituality protects against depression better than church attendance?”



From Thinking Christian

Original Article you can read here: Spirituality Protects Against Depression Better Than Church Attendance

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