For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It

He [Michael McCullough] and a fellow psychologist at the University of Miami, Brian Willoughby, have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control.

This sounded to me uncomfortably similar to the conclusion of the nuns who taught me in grade school, but Dr. McCullough has not evangelical motives. He confesses to not being much of a devotee himself. “When it comes to religion,” he said, “professionally, I’m a fan, but personally, I don’t get down on the field much.”

His professional interest arose from a desire to understand why religion evolved and why it seems to help so many people. Researchers around the world have repeatedly found that devoutly religious people tend to do better in school, live longer, have more satisfying marriages and be generally happier.

What I think makes the article particularly powerful is that both the author and the researcher that was interviewed are not religious themselves, removing any possibility that someone could criticize the study on the basis of the researcher’s “religious leanings” and “religious bias”.

Of course, we should pray that the researcher and author experience a conversion!

It shouldn’t matter if the author is religious or not though! Good science is replicable and transparent. Anyone can see the procedures, critique them, repeat the process, because you are dealing with data, statistics, MRI scans, and not theories, subjectivity, or feelings. If one is worried about a subjective study design, one can simply as for a peer criticism. The difference between math and classics.

So it doesn’t matter if a person is religious or not to do math - the math can be doublechecked for accuracy and bias and statistics such as these are simply math - but it does matter if a person is religious or not to do classics - subtle bias can creep in unheard of whether one likes it or not.

True. My comment specifically referred to anyone who might decry the study as an unacceptable “promotion of religion”; the fact that the researcher and author of the article do not practice religion (while spiritually bad) silences any complaints that the study is “flawed” because of “personal religious bias”.

Ahh, yes! Thank you for bringing this up to me and reminding me of this fact.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit