Research has shown that those who doubt or have no relationship with God are more likely to suffer from mental stress and anxiety.
According to the Christian Post (CP), researchers from Union University and Westmont College concluded in their paper "Attachment to God and Psychological Distress: Evidence of a Curvilinear Relationship," which was published last month in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, that "anxiety or a lack of certainty about one's relationship with the divine represents a threat to one's psychological well-being."
More than 1,600 Americans who believe in God participated in the Baylor Religion Survey in 2010, which yielded nationwide data for the research. Although the survey was not confined to Christians alone, the majority of those who took part in it were believers.
Even though previous research has shown that religious practices like prayer and religious participation are "pretty protective of people's mental health," W. Matthew Henderson, an assistant professor of sociology at Union University in Tennessee, says little is known about how "people's specific religious beliefs" impact mental health.
"We thought that was a pretty glaring weakness because belief is such an important part of religious practice," he told CP. "And we were especially interested in beliefs about God."
As a result, the researchers used a concept known as Attachment Theory to investigate how people's individual thoughts about God and their connection with the supernatural affect their mental health.
In Attachment Theory, bonding between children and their caregivers is examined as a major driver of human behavior and as a foundation for future interpersonal connections. According to the researchers, young children participate in proximity-seeking behavior, getting near to their main caregivers in order to feel emotionally reassured, supported, and protected.
The researchers noted that caregivers provide newborns with a "secure base" from which they may "explore the world." This "internal working model" is said to be made up of a mix of neurological, biochemical, emotional, and social cues that come together to set the stage for future connections in a child's life.
"Attachment to God summarily is a way to measure people's dispositions like emotional dispositions towards God. So if you feel like God is consistent and responsive, usually we call that a secure attachment to God. If you feel like God is aloof and distant and you can't really rely on Him, that is an avoidant attachment style. And if you're just not really sure, that's kind of an anxious attachment," Henderson said.
"The highest levels of psychological distress were people who were kind of in the middle there, and that's where you get this kind of curvilinear hump."
Based on prior study on the devotion of people to God, Henderson stated, "That's not really what would be expected based on previous attachment to God research. The highest levels of psychological distress were people who were kind of in the middle there, and that's where you get this kind of curvilinear hump."
A functioning church might help ease some of the sorrow felt by those who are unsure about their relationship with God, he added.
According to the researcher, the outcomes of the study demonstrate the intricacy of religious belief and its influence on mental health.
"What I first encountered looking at the research was that you had to believe that God was a certain way [for it to] correlate to good mental health, that there was this way to believe in God that was healthier than others," Henderson said. "And I just don't think we're necessarily seeing that. You can believe a lot of different things about God, and it can correlate to pretty good mental health."