Well yes, religion (all religions) is a coping mechanism at least if we define coping mechanism as a tool to help us overcome the stress, trauma, and other disappointments of life. [Though I categorically reject the idea that says, “religion is a crutch for weak minded people who need strength in numbers” -Jesse Ventura]. But, there are healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Healthy coping mechanisms lead to an individual’s growth and development and allow the person to become better through the difficulties of life. Unhealthy coping mechanisms, ultimately, destroy a person. Eating a pint of ice cream every time I’m sad or drinking a glass of wine as my only outlet for stress relief these are negative coping mechanisms which if repeated and instilled will ultimately lead to an inability to deal with problems and physical ailments.
So, a better question would be is religion a healthy coping mechanism? At the very least, all major religions teach practitioners to reflect on their own motives and to practice meditation (I am only familiar with Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, & Sikhism). Both of these practices are healthy coping devices, that is if one reflects on one’s own motives in life that individual is more likely to identify positive and negative character traits. Understanding one’s motivations can help a person remain calm in a stressful situation as well as heal after negative experiences. Meditation has been shown to lower stress levels and if practiced regularly can help a person gain self control in very stressful times. So, at the most basic level all of the major religions I know have this area where they offer healthy coping mechanisms. It would be out of my comfort zone to discuss the psychological studies I have read which talk about this connection (meaning I have read some research in the area, but I am not nearly proficient in the field). Layman articles are available through a quick internet search.
Beyond this somewhat general statement about all religions, one belief structure is ultimately true. Now, if the cosmos was in fact created by God (see What makes one religion the right one?) then one of these religions is not simply a coping mechanism, but the right way to orient one’s life. This means that it is not so much a coping mechanism as normal life and all other coping mechanisms are inferior. For instance, if Christianity is true (I maintain this) then Christian meditation is a normal human practice; Buddhist mediation might be healthy, but it will always be slightly inferior because it does not connect to the ultimate source of human health. If I understand that Christianity is true then what are termed spiritual disciplines (or practices) such as prayer, meditation, giving, worship, Scripture reading, etc. are not simply healthy coping mechanisms- they are necessary for living a healthy life. If I am right that Christianity offers a correct worldview then if practiced Christianity offers me a chance to become fully human as God intended me to be, meaning I am going beyond coping with life to healing and transforming myself and others.
Caveat, practicing a religion, even if true, does not guarantee health (mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual); rather, all religions will say they are a path to health that some find easily, and others struggle with. These coping mechanisms are helpful and do lead to health , however, people are different and each person will have unique struggles in implementing spiritual disciplines. A person’s individual makeup: physical, emotional, psychological, & spiritual along with all of the baggage of life will impact a person’s road to health. This does not mean that each person gets to choose their own religion or anything of the sort, it means that some will have larger hills to climb with more obstacles in the way. I would encourage people to find a spiritual guide who is proficient in these practices to help in beginning this journey.
For further study: Richard J Foster Celebration of Discipline & Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home
Dan Allender The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life
Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God
Henri J. M. Nouwen The Wounded Healer
Gary R. Collins Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide
Leighton Ford The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things
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