Friday, January 25, 2008

notes on religion and health

I was updating my list of "Further Reading" books, and realized a couple books I had on there previously were dropped when I switched from the old blogger. (Some of my blogroll was also lost; my apologies if your blog is not on my list--just let me know!)

The two books I recognized as lost were God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, by Jeffrey Levin, and Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Medicine and Religion, by Richard P. Sloan. I read them both for a class I took, and looking through my classwork, I found some of my notes about the books.

Koenig [who he is, I can't for the life of me remember] argues that health benefits might only come to those who are intrinsically religious; this leads me to wonder about all those people who are extrinsically religious, but belong to religions that do not let them admit that. Are they not only getting no benefits, but are they also harmed by religion? Even Levin acknowledges that such people exist in his comment about “the exceptions, such as people whose emotional well-being is harmed by religion” (Levin, p. 8). It is easy for Levin to say, “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). However, for people in conservative religions especially, Levin has a frustratingly simple view of people’s ability to switch religions or styles of worship. If religion is paid better attention to in public health and medical practice, it should be to find those people for whom religion causes negative health outcomes, particularly with regards to mental health. Much more research needs to be done to even tease out these effects and to determine how widespread they are. Unfortunately, at this stage most studies on religion and health are financially supported by religious funders; it is in their interest to ignore religion and negative health outcomes.

The application of findings of religious studies to medical or public health practice should only be done only with great caution. The studies are indeterminate enough that medicine cannot go beyond saying religiousness/spirituality may have benefits for prevention of chronic disease in general, particularly with regards to providing social support, reducing rates of high-risk behaviors, and providing time to relieve stress. But this ignores the cases in religious communities where social support morphs to coercive demands for social conformity; where youth are ignorant about how to protect themselves from STDs because of demands for absolute abstinence; and where participation causes stress. These cannot be simply ignored.

If findings were to be used in practice, it would best be secularized first. For example, doctors and public health interventions could recommend people find social groups, reduce risk-behaviors, and take time out of each day to relieve stress. The recommendation could then list possible forms of social groups, with church groups as one example of many, and possible forms of stress-relief, such as yoga, breathing, prayer, meditation, etc. Religion should not be ignored, but it also should not be trumpeted as a panacea, especially given that membership in a religious community stems from many reasons, not limited to an actual desire to be a member.


Coach Fletch said...

I appreciated your post and that you took time to reflect on your class and what Koenig and Levin wrote about. FYI.... here is a site for Koenig to remind you who he is:

And you may find my site interesting in that I write and speak about the relationship between faith and health.

Have an awesome day!

Coach Fletch

Mai said...

Don't forget Science and Health with a Key To the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Hehehehehe...

I think you'll enjoy the post I just published on sometimes - 2 about a letter FROM God. I actually thought of you (and little fta) as I wrote it, the post, not the letter...

Mai said...

Why again make me do this twice to subscribe?

(chandelle) said...

very interesting, something i'll have to think about. have you read about that recent study in which people who were told they were being prayed about after surgery actually had a harder recovery? it was speculated that in being told they were being prayed about they wondered if things were worse than they were being told. :)

by the way, my blog is now "swinging on the spiral" and the address is - not "our organic life." thanks for the link!

from the ashes said...

chandelle- Yep, we read that study in class, too. I think the speculation is just an attempt to cover their butts, or, maybe cognitive dissonance. I think the study findings were probably a fluke, honestly. I can't imagine people being worse bc they were prayed for anymore than I can imagine people getting better. I can accept that some people do better if they know they are being prayed for by loved ones--the optimism ,the support, the placebo.

mai- What a story. I've heard of kids getting letters like that from Santa Claus, but from God? Hmm.