bookmark_borderMatthew Flannagan and Jason Thibodeau Discuss the Euthyphro Dilemma

On Saturday (9/22) I was privileged to join Matthew Flannagan for a dialogue about the Euthyphro dilemma. Cameron Bertuzzi of Capturing Christianity hosted the dialogue and livestreamed it from the Capturing Christianity YouTube channel. I did my best to explain why I think that there are some compelling Euthyphro-inspired objections to divine command theory, and Matthew offered powerful and thoughtful responses to these objections. In my humble opinion the conversation was thorough, thoughtful, and friendly. It is one of the most rewarding conversations I have had about the Euthyphro problem.
Many of the regular readers out The Secular Outpost will know that Matthew is an expert in the field of theistic ethics (you can watch one of his lectures about divine command theory and the Euthyphro problem here.)  He is the co-author, with Paul Copan, of Did God Really Command Genocide? He and I have had some exchanges about Euthyphro and divine command theory here at the Secular Outpost and also at his blog (see, e.g., here and here). I have always had a great deal of respect for the intellectual rigor he brings to any discussion. I learned a great deal from Matthew during this conversation (as well as in our previous exchanges) and I want to thank him for sharing his considerable knowledge and intellectual talents.
I also want to thank Cameron for hosting this discussion and for the work he does at Capturing Christianity, which brings together theists and non-thesists in friendly dialogue. He regularly hosts very good conversations about topics in the philosophy of religion, apologetics, and counter-apologetics.
You can watch the entire discussion below.
 

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 3: More Caveats and Qualifications

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II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

1. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness.

2. Religion is NOT the key to Virtue.

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MORE CAVEATS & QUALIFICATIONS ABOUT

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGION & HAPPINESS

5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.

Various reviews of empirical studies on the relationship between religion and happiness have concluded that the correlation of religion to happiness is a WEAK one:
 … In 1985, researchers analyzed 56 different effects to determine whether being religious is associated with greater well-being in adults. They found that endorsing a religion, led to a correlation of .16 with well-being. If you focused on religious activity, or how often someone prayed, attended a church/synagogue/mosque, or read scriptures, the correlation with happiness was nearly identical at .18. If you focused on the feeling of satisfaction derived from being religious or connected with a higher power, the correlation with happiness was only .13.
[…]
People who are physically attractive are intelligent—at a correlation of .14 (the same magnitude as the link between religion and happiness).
[…]
… the correlation between being religious and being happy is unimpressive. And in case you think I am cherry picking the data, a 2003 meta-analysis of 34 studies of religiosity and well-being, led to the same conclusion. Overall, the correlation between being a religious person and … high life satisfaction was only .12, and feeling that one reached self-actualization was only .24.  And using a 2011 study of 353,845 individuals from 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted by The Gallup Organization, researchers found that believing that religion was an important part of your life correlated a mere .06 with life satisfaction, … and .06 with positive feelings in daily life.  Again, unimpressive. 
(“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?” by Todd B. Kashdan Ph.D., Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
The correlation between religion and happiness thus appears to be a weak correlation, measuring somewhere between .06 and .18.  As pointed out above that is about the same as the correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent (correlation = .14).  Obviously, there is only a weak correlation between being physically attractive and being intelligent. There are plenty of physically attractive people who are not very intelligent, and there are plenty of people who are not physically attractive who are very intelligent.
Correlations that are less than .2 are generally considered to be weak, at least in relation to subjective phenomena like happiness and religiosity:
There is no rule for determining what size of correlation is considered strong, moderate or weak. The interpretation of the coefficient depends, in part, on the topic of study. When we are studying things that are difficult to measure, such as the contents of someone’s mental life, we should expect the correlation coefficients to be lower.
In these kinds of studies, we rarely see correlations above 0.6. For this kind of data, we generally consider correlations above 0.4 to be relatively strong; correlations between 0.2 and 0.4 are moderate, and those below 0.2 are considered weak.  (“An Introduction to Data Analysis & Presentation” by Prof. Timothy Shortell, Sociology, Brooklyn College. Emphasis added.)
A recent study of religion and happiness in Britain provides support for the view that “Religion Can Make You Happier”, as claimed in the title of a news article from The Telegraph:
According to figures published as part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) “well-being” research programme people, people who say they have no religious affiliation report lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction and self-worth than those who do.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest” By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor, The Telegraph)
However, the same article points out that an expert on the sociology of religion concluded that the role of religion in relation to happiness is a minor one, based on the recent study in Britain:
Prof Linda Woodhead, of Lancaster University, one of the UK’s leading experts on sociology of religion, said the figures suggest that if faith is a factor in happiness it is only a small factor.
“You might say if it is the ‘opium of the people’ they need to up the dose,” she said.
(“Religion Can Make You Happier, Official Figures Suggest Emphasis added.)
The study does show that average happiness scores are lower for non-religious people than for various groups of religious people.  Here is a graph that summarizes the differences in average happiness scores:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
If we take a closer look at the data from the recent British study, it becomes clear that religion, at best, plays only a minor role in relation to happiness. Happiness is rated on a scale from 0 to 10, so a more accurate graph, one that provides a view of the full range of possible happiness scores, looks like this:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Clearly, the differences in average happiness scores is SMALL.  No group has an average happiness score below 7.2 and no group has an average happiness score above 7.6.  All of the group average scores fell into that small range of four tenths of one point on a ten-point scale.
If non-religious people had an average happiness score of 4.7 and Christians had an average happiness score of 8.2. then that would be impressive, but the difference between average non-religious happiness scores and average Christian happiness scores is NOT a few points, but is only about two-tenths of a point.
This is about the same as the difference between average Jewish happiness and average Hindu happiness.  So, if two-tenths of a point is of great significance (it is not), then Muslims and Jews should seriously consider leaving their faith and becoming Hindus in order to gain greater happiness.  I don’t think any reasonable Muslim or Jew would give serious consideration to converting to Hinduism just because Hindus have an average happiness score that is two-tenths of a point higher than their religious group.  No reasonable Christian would seriously consider converting to Hinduism on the grounds that Hindus have an average happiness score that is one-tenth of a point higher than Christians.
Such small differences in average happiness scores are of little significance.  What is more significant is that all groups have such similar average happiness scores, that the range of differences in average happiness scores is less than half of one point.  This data actually shows that religion is relatively insignificant in relationship to happiness.  This data clearly shows us that religion is NOT the key to happiness; one’s religion or lack of religion is of little significance in terms of the level of happiness one will obtain.

6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.

,  a Research Associate in the Social Policy and Social Work Department at the University of York, points out that there are many different factors that influence how happy a person is likely to be:
Previous research suggests the “happy person” is young, healthy, well-educated, well-paid, optimistic and extroverted. The same research found the happiest people tend to be religious, married, with high self-esteem and job morale and modest aspirations. It seems your gender and level of intelligence don’t necessarily come into it.
[…]
Our study looks at a large number of different religious groups across 100 countries – from 1981 to 2014 – using data from the World Value Survey.
[…]
In our research, we found that many factors were positively associated with happiness and life satisfaction. These included being Protestant, female, married and younger (16 to 24 years old). The household’s financial situation also came into it, as did a person’s state of health and freedom of choice.
We discovered that national pride and trust were important in terms of happiness rankings, as was having friends, family and leisure time. Attending weekly religious practice was also discovered to be an important factor. On the other hand, being unemployed and on a low income was negatively associated with happiness and life satisfaction.
A closer look at the magnitude of the association between these factors and happiness and life satisfaction revealed that health, financial stability and freedom of choice, or control over one’s life were the most important factors.
(“Are religious people happier than non-religious people?The Conversation. Emphasis added.)
After looking at a variety of different factors, this broad international study concluded that the most important factors related to happiness are:

  • health
  • financial stability
  • freedom of choice or control over one’s life

The journal article presenting this study states that most of the factors that were examined had a small effect size on happiness and life satisfaction:
The most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction include state of health, household’s financial satisfaction, income ranking position, unemployment, freedom of choice, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female and weekly religious attendance (see Table 2). Nevertheless, when the Cohen’s rules of thumb (Cohen 1992; Wright 1992) was applied, most factors seem to have ‘‘small’’ effect size (r ≤ 0.10). Thus, the most significant factors driving happiness and life satisfaction were state of health, household’s financial satisfaction and freedom of choice.
(“Are Happiness and Life Satisfaction Different Across Religious groups? Exploring Determinants of Happiness and Life Satisfaction.” / Ngamaba, Kayonda Hubert; Soni, Debbie. In: Journal of Religion and Health, 07.08.2017, p. 1-22. Emphasis added.)
Only THREE of the many different potential factors related to happiness that were examined in this study had a positive correlation that was greater than .10.  NONE of the factors relating to religious belief or religious activity had a positive correlation greater than .10.
There were several other factors besides religion that also had a small positive correlation with happiness (e.g. income ranking position, national pride, trust, importance of friends, family, leisure, being a female).  Furthermore, the religious factor that did show a small correlation with happiness was weekly religious attendance, and we have previously noted that regular attendance at religious services effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion: involvement in religious services provides opportunities for making and maintaining friendships with other people who attend the same religious services:
“To me, the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons that makes people happier,” Lim [sociologist Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin–Madison] told TIME, “but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there.” 
(“Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” Time.com)
Clearly, it is NOT the case that “Religion is the key to happiness”, based on the results of this broad study that examined data from 100 different countries.

7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

We have seen so far that religion fails to correlate with happiness in several countries, that when religion does correlate with happiness the degree of correlation is usually small, that there are non-religious factors that are more important in relation to happiness, and that one of the most significant religious factors (i.e. regular attendance at religious services) effects happiness primarily because of the social aspect of religion.
One final issue with religion in terms of its correlation with happiness is that it also correlates with unhappiness, at least according to one recent study of data from 79 different countries:
This paper investigates the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction in 79 nations using World Values Survey data. Extant literature analyzes religiosity and life satisfaction at person level. But religiosity is an attribute of both, persons and societies. To solve methodological problems evident in previous work a random coefficient multilevel model is employed to account for the fact that individuals are nested within countries. This study shows that the relationship between religiosity and life satisfaction is bimodal. Religious people tend to be either very satisfied or dissatisfied with life. 
(“Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations” by  ,  Mental Health, Religion & Culture , Volume 13, 2010 – Issue 2. Quote from Abstract. Emphasis added.)

So, the claim that “Religion is the key to happiness” is mistaken not only because religion has only a weak correlation with happiness, but because it also correlates with unhappiness!  In other words, even if becoming religious brings with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier, it also appears to bring with it a small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier.  The small increase in the likelihood of becoming unhappier tends to counterbalance the advantage of the small increase in the likelihood of becoming happier.  Not only is the advantage of religion in relation to happiness relatively insignificant, but it also comes with a small disadvantage in relation to happiness.

bookmark_borderSkepticism about Religion – Part 2: Caveats and Qualifications

DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?

There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.

Let’s compare the top ten MOST religious states in the USA with the ten LEAST religious states in terms of happiness.
If religion is the key to happiness, then we would expect the states with the MOST religious populations to have the happiest populations as well, and we would expect the states with the LEAST religious populations to have the least happiest populations.  A perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness would be if the number one most religious state also had the number one spot in happiness, and if the second most religious state was number two in terms of happiness, and so on.  A perfect correlation would also mean that the LEAST religious state in the country would have the least happiest population, and the second LEAST religious state would have the second least happiest population, and so on.
There is NOT a perfect positive correlation between religion and happiness.  In fact, the most religious states tend to be states with lower than average happiness, and the least religious states tend to be states with above average happiness.  In terms of states, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
Of the top ten most religious states in the USA (based on Pew Research Center data from 2014), seven out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness(based on Gallup data from 2014), and only one out of ten is in the top twenty for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that West Virginia is one of the top ten most religious states, and it also has the LEAST happy population in the USA (it ranks dead last).
On the other hand, of the ten least religious states in the USA, six out of ten are among the top twenty states in terms of happiness, and only one out of ten are in the bottom twenty states for happiness:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Note that two of the ten least religious states (Alaska and Hawaii) are the two states with the happiest populations in the USA (ranking number 1 and number 2, respectively).
This same negative correlation also appears to hold between different countries.  Many of the countries with the happiest populations are very secular countries that are among the LEAST religious countries in the world.  And many of the most religious countries have populations that are among the LEAST happiest in the world:
Religiosity levels are the lowest (generally less than 30 percent of the population) in prosperous, socialist democracies such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. Yet, according to the annual UN-commissioned World Happiness Reports, these nations are also consistently among the happiest in the world. What’s more, in places like Senegal and Bangladesh — countries with the most self-reported religious people (around 98 percent) but where daily survival is a struggle — life-satisfaction scores are near the bottom of the scale.  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
Correlation does not show causation, so this data does not prove that religion causes unhappiness or a reduction in happiness.  I suspect that bad circumstances cause unhappiness, and that unhappiness tends to foster religion. Poverty, unemployment, crime, poor medical care, disease, natural disasters, and corrupt or ineffective governments cause fear, anxiety, and unhappiness, and (I suspect) that the suffering and unhappiness caused by such conditions helps to promote religion:
In a 2011 paper that analyzed self-reports from hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, researchers found that the connection between religious faith and happiness was strongest among people living in difficult conditions—fear, poverty, hunger.
Think of it as scientific proof of the old saying that there are no atheists in the foxhole. When life is hard, the communal support of a religious community—and, presumably, the hope for something better to come in an entirely different world—is especially valuable, maybe even impossible to give up. That may be one reason religious community was so important to slave populations throughout history, from the ancient Israelites under the pharaoh’s boot in Egypt to African Americans trapped in the antebellum South. It may also be why even now in the U.S., states with lower life expectancies and higher poverty rates have the largest proportion of religious people. A rich man may find it harder to get into heaven than a camel does passing through the eye of a needle, but he may not think he needs to count on heaven in the first place. 
You don’t need to be a Marxist to believe that materialism matters to happiness and that people who live in a safe and wealthy country are on the whole going to be happier than those who do not. (If religion provides a kind of existential security in poor countries, the welfare state may do the same in rich ones.) … (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness)
On the other hand, the negative correlation between religion and happiness that we find in geographically organized data COULD be because religion plays a significant causal role in producing conditions that lead to unhappiness or below-average happiness:
As always when it comes to correlation, it’s also possible that some of the causality goes in the opposite direction: “You could maybe argue that the heavily religious countries are less likely to produce the progressive social policies that foster widespread happiness in the long run,” suggests Caulfield. [Timothy Caulfield, “a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a professor at the University of Alberta”].  (Samantha Rideout,  “Does religion really make you happier?” from UCOBSERVER.org)
When we divide the world up by states or nations, the LEAST religious states or nations tend to have the happiest populations, and the MOST religious states or nations tend to have less happier populations.  This geographic organization of data on religion and happiness indicates that religion is NOT the key to happiness, and it also casts doubt on the claim that religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people.
 

2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.

Some studies find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, while other studies FAIL to find such a correlation.  One reason for such conflicting results is that “happiness” is a complex abstract concept, and there are different ways of understanding and of measuring happiness:
… The majority of studies report a positive association between measures of religion and happiness; however, contradictory findings are common. This is exemplified in the literature that has systematically employed the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity alongside two different measures of happiness among a variety of samples.  Two opposing conclusions have found consistent support. Research with the Oxford Happiness Inventory has consistently found religiosity to be associated with happiness, while research employing the Depression–Happiness Scale has consistently found no association.  (“Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns” by Christopher Alan Lewis & Sharon Mary Cruise, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Volume 9, 2006 – Issue 3,  Pages 213-225. Emphasis added. )
Religion correlates with happiness only when specific measures of happiness are used, particularly the Oxford Happiness Inventory.  When other measures of happiness are used, the positive correlation between religion and happiness may disappear.
 

3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.

There are different ways of understanding and measuring religion and religiousness.  Sometimes surveys ask about religious beliefs (“Do you believe that God exists?”), and sometimes they ask about religious identification:
Most U.S. adults identify with a particular religious denomination or group. They describe themselves as Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim– to name just a few of the hundreds of identities or affiliations that people give in surveys.  (“The Religious Typology“Pew Research Center)
Surveys also ask people about their religious practices, such as how often they pray, how often they read or study scripture, how often they attend religious services, and surveys ask people about how they feel about religion (“How important is religion in your daily life?”), and about their religious experiences (“Do you feel close to God when you pray?”).
So, religion and religiousness can be evaluated on the basis of different sorts of considerations: religious identification, religious beliefs, religious activities, religious experiences, and attitudes about religion, to name some commonly used considerations.  Whether a study shows a positive correlation between religion/religiousness and happiness depends on how religion/religiousness is measured or evaluated.
Regular attendance at religious services tends to have a positive correlation with happiness, but religious beliefs often FAIL to have a positive correlation with happiness.  For example, Chaeyoon Lim, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his colleague, Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, published a study about religion and happiness in American Sociological Review (December 7, 2010) that found that attendance at religious services had a significant correlation with happiness, but that other aspects of religiousness did NOT have such a correlation:
The surveys showed that across all creeds, religious people were more satisfied than non-religious people. According to the data, about 28 percent of people who attended a religious service weekly were “extremely satisfied” with their lives, compared with 19.6 percent of people who never attended services.
But the satisfaction couldn’t be attributed to factors like individual prayer, strength of belief, or subjective feelings of God’s love or presence. Instead, satisfaction was tied to the number of close friends people said they had in their religious congregation. People with more than 10 friends in their congregation were almost twice as satisfied with life as people with no friends in their congregation. (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
The specific data concerning friendships in congregations points to a causal explanation:
“We show that [life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect of religion,” Lim told LiveScience. “We found that people are more satisfied with their lives when they go to church, because they build a social network within their congregation.” (“Why Religion Makes People Happier” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science. Emphasis added.)
Having more close friends has an obvious relevance to happiness, so whenever “religiousness” is measured in terms of attendance at religious services (as opposed to religious beliefs or religious experiences) the correlation of religion with happiness could be explained in purely natural and ordinary terms, as the result of the social aspects of religious practices.

4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.

In well-off countries and in secular countries religion does NOT have a significant positive correlation with happiness:
In well-off but secular countries such as France and the Netherlands, both the religious and the nonreligious report about the same level of happiness and social support. In fact, Gallup data shows that some of the happiest nations in the world—Nordic countries such as Denmark and Sweden, which perennially score high on well-being—are comparatively abundant in atheists. Being completely unreligious—and presumably not worrying much about any kind of afterlife—didn’t seem to stop them from enjoying this life. (Bryan Walsh, “Does Spirituality Make You Happy?” in the Time Guide to Happiness. Emphasis added.)
Religious people tend to feel better about themselves and their lives, but a new study finds that this benefit may only hold in places where everyone else is religious, too.
According to the new study of almost 200,000 people in 11 European countries, people who are religious have higher self-esteem and better psychological adjustment than the non-religious only in countries where belief in religion is common. In more secular societies, the religious and the non-religious are equally well-off
[…]
Using information from 187,957 daters, the researchers compared each individual’s spirituality and happiness against the backdrop of religiosity in each person’s country. (Data on countrywide religiosity came from eDarling and from the Gallup World Poll.) They found that religion did indeed contribute to happiness, but only in cultures where religion is celebrated.  ( “Why Religion Makes Only Some of Us HappyLive Science. Emphasis added. )
In countries that have good living conditions, non-religious people tend to be about as happy as religious people:
Nations and states with more difficult life conditions (e.g., widespread hunger and low life expectancy) were much more likely to be highly religious. In these nations, religiosity was associated with greater social support, respect, purpose or meaning, and all three types of SWB. In societies with more favorable circumstances, religiosity is less prevalent and religious and nonreligious individuals experience similar levels of SWB [Subjective Well Being, i.e. happiness]. There was also a person–culture fit effect such that religious people had higher SWB in religious nations but not in nonreligious nations. Thus, it appears that the benefits of religion for social relationships and SWB depend on the characteristics of the society.  (“The Religion Paradox: If religion makes people happy, why are so many dropping out?” authors: Diener, E., Tay, L., & Myers, D. G. (2011). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1278-1290. Quotation is from an Abstract. Emphasis added)

… Ed Diener and his colleagues dissected a Gallup World Poll of 455,104 individuals from 154 nations. What they found was that in healthy nations (where basic needs are being met, when people feel safe walking home alone at night, etc.), there was no advantage to being religious — both religious and non-religious people reported feeling respected and socially supported, and as a result both reported being happy. But in unhealthy nations, religion offered an advantage, in terms of an uptick in well-being.  (“Does Being Religious Make us Happy?Psychology Today. Emphasis added.)
But if religion/religiousness does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness in several countries, then that is strong evidence that religion by itself is NOT the cause of the happiness that correlates with religion in other countries, otherwise the correlation would be consistent across all countries. In any case, religion by itself cannot be “the key to happiness” for people in general because there are many countries where being religious does NOT make a significant difference in how happy a person will be.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderA Case for Atheism: Skepticism about Religion – Part 1

II. There are good reasons to be SKEPTICAL about religion and religious beliefs.

A. Religion is NOT the key to Happiness and Virtue.

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RELIGION AND HAPPINESS
Religion or religious belief is often thought to be the key to happiness, and religion is often promoted as being the key to happiness.
On the Christian website ExploreGod.com there is an article called “The Secret to Happiness” by Ben Sharp.  In it, Sharp promotes Christianity as the key to happiness:
It’s in Jesus Christ, God’s son, that real happiness—happiness that transcends this world’s definition—is found. Jesus’ perfect life, the death he suffered on the cross, and his resurrection provide true hope—both for this life and the one to come.
The forgiveness he provides for our failures and transgressions gives us a deep and lasting peace, contentment, and happiness.
Other religions are also sold on the basis of the religion being the key to happiness.  For example, on the Muslim website IqraSense.com we find the offer of a free book called The Key to Happiness This book promotes Islam as the key to happiness: 
Chapter Two: Benefits of the Islamic Way of Life
The Islamic way of life is indeed one that will achieve for its followers true happiness, on the condition that one follows its commandments and refrains from its prohibitions. …
Chapter Three: How to Attain True Happiness
True happiness is attained through a number of key fundamental beliefs… Whoever believes in Allah and in His Oneness will be guided to the path of happiness. His heart will be content, and he will live in a state of pure tranquility. …
Newspapers and magazines often put forward the idea that religion tends to make people happy:
Religion is a sure route to true happiness”  – editorial from The Washington Post
Religion can make you happier, official figures suggest” – article from The Telegraph
But there are good reasons to doubt that religion is actually the key to happiness.   If it is not actually the case that religion is the key to happiness, then a widely-held belief about religion is false, and a widely used reason in support of religion is mistaken.  It is possible, of course, that a religion is completely true (or mostly true) even if that religion is NOT the key to happiness.  So, showing that a religion is not the key to happiness does not disprove that religion, and showing that religion in general is not the key to happiness does not show that all religions are foolish or mistaken.
However, if religion is not the key to happiness, then that is a GOOD REASON to be skeptical about religion and religious belief, because (a) this shows that a widely-held belief about religion that is often asserted by religious leaders is mistaken, and (b) it seems likely that if a religion was completely true (or mostly true), it would be the key to happiness.  Although it is possible for a religion to be completely true (or mostly true) but fail to be the key to happiness, it seems more likely that a true (or mostly true) religion would be the key to happiness.  So, to the extent that a religion is NOT the key to happiness, we should at least be SKEPTICAL about the idea that the religion is completely or mostly true.  If religion in general is disconnected from happiness, that doesn’t prove that religion is foolish or a delusion, but it does give one a reason to doubt the truth and wisdom of religion.
Some Obvious Facts:

  • Some atheists are very happy people.
  • Some people who believe in God are very unhappy people.
  • Some people who are not religious are very happy people.
  • Some people who are religious are very unhappy people.

From these obvious facts, we may conclude that (a) being religious is NOT a requirement for being happy, and that (b) being religious does NOT guarantee that one will be happy.  In short, there is NOT a simple and direct relationship between religion and happiness.  However, even if religion is not required for happiness and does not guarantee happiness, it could still be the case that religion HELPS people to be happy, or to be more happy than they would otherwise be.
 
DOES RELIGION HAVE A POSITIVE CORRELATION WITH HAPPINESS?
There are many empirical studies that appear to show that religion has a positive correlation with happiness.  However, there are a number of important caveats and qualifications that need to be taken into consideration here:

  1. Viewed in geographic terms, religion has a NEGATIVE correlation with happiness.
  2. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures happiness.
  3. Whether religion correlates with happiness depends on how one measures religion/religiousness.
  4. In several countries religion does NOT have a positive correlation with happiness.
  5. When a study does find a positive correlation between religion and happiness, it is usually a weak correlation.
  6. There are a number of other factors that have a significantly stronger positive correlation with happiness.
  7. The correlation between religion and happiness appears to be bi-modal: religious people tend towards both greater happiness and also greater unhappiness compared to non-religious people.

To be continued…