The struggle between faith-healing and public health services may not be a mainstream topic, yet it continues to rage throughout our nation. Oregon has recently had a string of adolescent deaths tied to extreme Christian conservatism. The Christian Science Church has pushed law makers to allow parents to exempt their children from all medical treatment, replacing science with the prayers of the fervent. This has led to a moral and philosophical debate within not only Oregonian law, but also throughout our nation; what place does religion hold within our healthcare? It is a debate that is hardly new. Health and religion have historically been synonymous topics. Early Mediterranean and Mesopotamian societies worshiped gods such as Baal, Demeter, Isis, and Dionysius, who were all associated with fertility and health in some aspect. It was impossible to escape this symbiotic relationship between religion and vitality among many early civilizations and healthcare's origins may have been found within religious faith.

Countless modern lifestyle choices, as well as health practices, are rooted in religious beliefs. Jews don't eat pork because the Torah strictly forbids it (Leviticus 11:7), Muslims avoid alcohol because of the words of Muhammad found within the Qur'an (Surah 5:90), and according to the Bible, Christians are supposed to shun premarital sex (1st Corinthians 7:2). Contemporary epidemiologists and public health professionals are beginning to realize this connection between health and faith. The Journal of Religion and Health is a quarterly journal that is solely dedicated to research within this topic. Numerous studies and have been focused on this simple question: does religion affect health?

Increasing evidence is showing that physical, mental and emotional well being are attached to religion. Drs. Christopher G. Ellison and Linda K. George co-wrote a paper entitled, "Religious Involvement, Social Ties, and Social Support in a Southeastern Community." This study used scientific reasoning to identify empirical evidence regarding customary churchgoers compared with those that don't attend religious ceremonies regularly. Regular attendees of church reported, "…larger social networks, more contact with network members, more types of social support received, and more favorable perceptions of the quality of their social relationships than did their unchurched counterparts." Another similar study considered the effects of religion on, "health practices, social support, [and] psychosocial resources such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, and belief structures such as sense of coherence." The difficulty in isolating confounding statistics and creating a solid scientific experiment to measure the effects of religion on faith is obviously complicated at best. Therefore, continued study is important to help find empirical evidence of a shared relationship between spirituality and physical well-being.

Although it is difficult to pin-point pragmatic data regarding the effects of religion on health, the consensus of many professionals is that a relationship does exist. One study sums up this connection perfectly, "An important empirical question to pursue is whether positive emotions are among the active ingredients that account for the benefits that religious practices have for physical and mental health." The evidence is so palpable that medical schools around the country have begun requiring students to take courses in spirituality and health. Physicians have until recently separated the scientific world of medicine from the subjective realm of faith, yet more and more doctors are asking patients about their spiritual lives. Pioneering this frontier is the Seventh-day Adventist medical center located in Loma Linda, California. Doctors at this institution regularly ask patients if they would like to pray before surgeries and are very open about melding spiritual communication with medical aid. Seventh-day Adventists, a protestant denomination very mindful of dietary practices, abstain from pork, alcohol, smoking, and focus on healthy lifestyles as part of their Christian journey.

While the full effects of religion on health may not be understood, it is becoming increasingly evident that your sacred community can aid in much more than just an existential spiritual journey. Extremism on either side continues to be dangerous though, whether it's scientists denying someone's faith or zealots ignoring logic. Therefore, perhaps we should follow the advice of Siddhartha and continue down the Middle Path.

After living in France and traveling in South America, Europe, and the Middle East, Joshua Crouch graduated from La Sierra University with a B.A. in history and is now a graduate student at Loma Linda University's School of Public Health in Loma Linda, California.

Increasing evidence is showing that physical, mental and emotional wellbeing are attached to religion. Drs. Christopher G. Ellison and Linda K. George co-wrote a paper entitled, "Religious Involvement, Social Ties, and Social Support in a Southeastern Community."[1] This study used scientific reasoning to identify empirical evidence regarding customary churchgoers compared with those that don't attend religious ceremonies regularly. Regular attendees of church reported, "…larger social networks, more contact with network members, more types of social support received, and more favorable perceptions of the quality of their social relationships than did their unchurched counterparts."[2] Another similar study considered the effects of religion on, "health practices, social support, [and] psychosocial resources such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, and belief structures such as sense of coherence."[3] The difficulty in isolating confounding statistics and creating a solid scientific experiment to measure the effects of religion on faith is obviously complicated at best. Therefore, continued study is important to help find empirical evidence of a shared relationship between spirituality and physical well-being.


[1] Ellison, Christopher G., and Linda K. George. "Religious Involvement, Social Ties, and Social Support in a Southeastern Community."Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 33.1 (1994): 46-61. Print.

[3] George, Linda K., Christopher Ellison, and David Larson. "Explaining the Relationships between Religious Involvement and Health." Psychological Inquiry 13.3 (2002): 190-200. Print.

 
 

3 Comments

  1. Guest says:

    What, then, does this "Middle Path" look like? Also, there is certainly more to the Christian stance on premarital sex than the lone text the author cites in 1 Corinthians.

  2. Guest says:

    What, then, does this "Middle Path" look like? Also, there is certainly more to the Christian stance on premarital sex than the lone text the author cites in 1 Corinthians.

 
 
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