Friday, February 16, 2007

god, faith, and health

I've been reading a book, God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection by Jeff Levin. This book is a little out of form for me, but I'm also reading Blind Faith: the Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine by Richard Sloan, so it's somewhat balanced out. There's Levin, the rabidly pro-religion guy, who will make sure just about any evidence supports his conclusion, and Sloan, the cynic, who will argue away just about any evidence that supports religion.

The former author is convinced that being religious and/or spiritual both prevents and heals infectious, chronic, and mental illnesses, and gives tiny summaries of any article he can find that supports this. Now, there is something to be said for the connection--people who go to church have extra social support, have weekly or daily moments in which to de-stress, are less likely to drink heavily, have risky sex, etc., and people who are spiritual may have a certain level of hope, etc. that helps them have a positive outlook on life. All that will certainly help your health.

But this book goes a little extreme, in my opinion, and let's say, fudges some of the studies' interpretations, leaves out crucial information about the validity of some studies, and is downright flabbergasting in some interpretations (manipulations) of study results.

Now one problem I have with Levin's writing is that he fudged over some results, and passes them off as conclusive. He'd write, for example, that studies have shown church attendance to lower your risk of high blood pressure, pancreatic cancer, herpes, and obesity, when really, the only studies that made those connections were entirely exploratory. Many of them were most likely random errors, and none of them could possibly show causality. If you're looking at enough behaviors and enough diseases, a few of them are bound to show a connection just by chance.

So I'd reading this book, feeling pretty shitty about it, because he's trumpeting how there's so much evidence that religion makes your life better, your mind and body healthier. And I'm thinking 1) the evidence isn't that great; and 2) what about me? The book almost completely ignores what happens to people like me. People for whom religion didn't work, for whom religion creates problems rather than reduces them. He comes close, with this quote:

"My own perspective is that worship should be an uplifting experience. ...One worship service or a single prayer or twenty minutes of quiet reflection may not leave our spirit soaring with the eagles, but God willing, it should not send us sinking any lower. If we find that how we worship is only making us more miserable, then it may be time to find a new way to pray" (p. 92).

That's his advice? Find a new way to pray? Take it from me and the rest of the DAMU: it's just not that simple.


Meg said...

Finding a new way to pray is certainly not simple, but I don't write it off so easily either. (Not that I've been able to do it so far). Other religions such as Buddhism, or even more mystical practices in Christianity, or Kabbalah, offer ways to "pray" that constitute deep spiritual practice that don't necessarily require even a belief in god (especiallly not the magic white dude in the sky). These are the deep practices that transform the practitioners, rather than simply translate life into something less scary but holds up no better than santa claus. I still have hope that there's something spiritual and worthwhile out there, and that there is good in community worship. I just don't see any possibility for that in Mormonism anymore.

emerging from the ashes said...

Amen, Meg. I think I'll eventually find a community that that fits me and my style, my beliefs. The closest I've come is UU; the only reasons I don't go now are 1) I'm busy, and 2)I still have an aversion to feeling obligated to go somewhere on Sundays.

I also like the idea of spiritualism sans God/gods. That non-supernatural awe in nature, appreciation of life, the cosmos, "the deep practices that transform the practitioners." I some level, I still "pray," but it is nothing like Mormon prayer, and I don't think anyone but me hears those prayers. And I'm fine with that.

I still enjoy worship, even ritual. But I felt Levin trivialized "finding a new way to pray" or worship. It's just not an easy thing to do.

Dale Fletcher said...

I am happy for you that you are reading this material.

Perhaps you'll consider taking a look at my web site: for more info on the connection between faith and health. It's written from a Christian faith perspective..... any feedback would be appreciated.

Blessings you you,