- providing a sense of comfort in times of trouble,
- providing access to a large network of potential support providers,
- discouraging behaviour which might lead to health problems (smoking, drinking, sleeping around, taking drugs etc. This could, depending on how you look at it, make religious people either happier or sadder),
- furnishing a cognitive framework through which people can better understand the meaning of pain, suffering and death (that's the whole set of theological explanations for why bad stuff happens, including but not limited to repeated singing of Blessed Be Your Name).
Theodicy is about answering the question, 'How can there be a good God when there is so much suffering in the world?' Musick wanted to find out the effect of different theological answers to this question on how satisfied people were with their lives. He did this by getting hold of information from a national social survey, and comparing people's answers to questions about their wellbeing to information about their denominational membership (different denominations tend to have different theologies about the problem of pain), ethnicity (more on that later), how often they went to church, and how much they saw the world in terms of good or evil.
Musick identified one key difference between different theodicies: whether they saw the world in as fundamentally good, or as fundamentally evil, life being seen in terms of a spiritual battle against evil forces. He came up with four hypotheses about the effects of these different sorts of theodicy:
"Theodicies that place more emphasis on sin and evil are associated with less life satisfaction." If you're constantly aware of the gap between the way the world is and the way God intended it to be, you're more likely to be dissatisfied, and feeling like you're constantly threatened by the forces of evil is probably not that cheering.
"The negative effects of holding a sin theodicy on life satisfaction are stronger among Whites than Blacks." This one's less obvious. In addition to demographic differences between black and white Christians (Black Christians tend to be more religiously involved and committed, to view the Church more as one of the key institutions in their lives, and to be more deprived, which leads them to rely more on the church for different kinds of support), Musick thinks that a strong sense of the fundamental goodness of the world in African American Christianity was key to black American Christians' survival of slavery, segregation, and the long and difficult process of emancipation, and that it continues to shape their worldview.
"The effects of holding such a sin theodicy vary by levels of interaction with fellow believers such that the negative effect is strongest amongst those who interact less frequently." It's like the difference between walking round the haunted house on your own or going round with a friend.
"The effects of holding a sin theodicy vary by levels of stress such that the negative effect is stronger among people experiencing stressful circumstances." Well, duh.
Photo credit: Celestial Photography on Flickr.