According to a study published Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine, religious anxiety may hasten death among ill patients. Of 596 elderly hospitalized patients surveyed in 1996, those who said they "wondered whether God had abandoned me," "questioned God's love for me," or "decided the devil made this happen" were more likely than people who didn't share those thoughts to be dead two years later.

This study stands apart from most faith-health research in the past several years, which has suggested that religion affects health positively. Speculation on why this happens (better lifestyle choices? stronger support communities? prayer?) continues to spawn studies, but the concept is hardly earth-shattering. The physical benefits of Christianity have been attracting attention—and converts—since the days of the early church.

Rodney Stark, professor of sociology and comparative religion at the University of Washington, explored this phenomenon in CH issue 57: Converting the Empire. The following excerpts from his article, "Live Longer, Healthier, & Better," illustrate his conclusions:

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Christians in the ancient world had longer life expectancies than did their pagan neighbors. Modern demographers regard life expectancy as the best indicator of quality of life, so in all likelihood, Christians simply lived better lives than just about everyone else.

In fact, many pagans were attracted to the Christian faith because the church produced tangible (not only "spiritual") blessings for its adherents.

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