Correlation, of course, does not necessarily mean causation, so Hungerman and Giles acknowledge they need to continue their research before it is ready for publication. Yet, they added that they "know of no other large coincidental changes of this kind.” Their initial findings also fit with J.D. Vance's observations in his book, Hillbilly Elegy, on the positive role that religion can play in peoples' lives. In it he laments the decline in church attendance rates among his "hillbilly" peers and notes that communities of faith offered something desperately needed for people like him, growing up in Appalachia:
For alcoholics, it gave them a community of support and a sense that they weren’t fighting addiction alone. For expectant mothers, it offered a free home with job training and parenting classes. When someone needed a job, church friends could either provide one or make introductions. When [my] Dad faced financial troubles, his church banded together and purchased a used car for the family. In the broken world I saw around me — and for the people struggling in that world — religion offered tangible assistance to keep the faithful on track. (pp. 93-94)
That there is positive relationship between religion and health and subjective well-being is well-established in the available research. It has been documented by thousands of studies (that is not a misprint), dating back to the 19th century, that have appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the American Journal of Psychiatry, the American Journal of Epidemiology, and so on (for details, see Jeffrey S. Levine. 2016. "'For They Knew Not What It Was": Rethinking the Tacit Narrative History of Religion and Health Research." Journal of Religion and Health 56:28-46.) Thus, the findings of Hungerman and Giles should not come as a surprise. I suspect, though, that for many, especially those who have a mad-on with religion, they do. As I tell my students, however: just because you want something to be true, doesn't mean that it is.