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Religious Beliefs & Relationship to Health

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Is there any relationship between a religious belief, aka a belief in a god, and our physical/emotional health? The question will, most probably, be pooh-poohed by those who are admitted atheists, but there is value in it and researchers delved into the question.

Data of peer-reviewed journals between 1872 and 2010 was examined and the results of a meta analysis was both surprising and confirming:

"First, religion provides resources for coping with stress that may increase the frequency of positive emotions and reduce the likelihood that stress will result in emotional disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, suicide, and substance abuse. Religious coping resources include powerful cognitions (strongly held beliefs) that give meaning to difficult life circumstances and provide a sense of purpose. Religions provide an optimistic worldview that may involve the existence of a personal transcendental force (God, Allah, Jehovah, etc.) that loves and cares about humans and is responsive to their needs. These cognitions also give a subjective sense of control over events (i.e., if God is in control, can influence circumstances, and be influenced by prayer, then prayer by the individual may positively influence the situation). Religious beliefs provide satisfying answers to existential questions, such as “where did we come from,” “why are we here,” and “where are we going,” and the answers apply to both this life and the next life, thus reducing existential angst."

Should we scoff at those with religious beliefs? Obviously not. To do so would deny them the benefits they derive from their beliefs, but, of course, beliefs alone are not enough to provide us with relief from physical or emotional ills. Medical science plays a role and that can't be denied.

A friend is going to Israel and he offered to put a prayer into the Wailing Wall for another friend who has a serious health problem. The friend with the health problem was a bit sceptical because that person maintains no active affiliation with any organized religion. However, as another friend of theirs said, "It can't hurt."

No, it can't hurt and if it provides one moment of relief from pain or worry, isn't it worth it? Would you deny someone that because you don't believe? In this, we have no rights. Everyone is entitled to pray to whatever they deem is a higher power and no one has yet to prove there isn't one.

Do we need proof of everything? Personally, I don't think so and we do muddle along in our ignorance and the arrogance associated with it, beleving we "know" there is no higher power. What engenders that sentiment? I have no idea. Perhaps some need to believe there is nothing outside of what we see in our present condition. Okay, if that's what they need, so be it. But if others wish to pray and accumulate prayer lists to pray for those in some type of need, so be that, too. As long as no one forces their beliefs on you, shouldn't that be okay?

I don't believe you need to belong to an organized religion to pray, either. Prayers are whatever you want them to be. I don't believe that, if there is a God or a higher power, there's only one way to make that power notice your prayers. Of course, that's my personal opinion. As one woman said, who I quoted previously, "It can't hurt." Following the regime of a religion doesn't make it any better than just believing and praying as you wish, again my personal opinion.

Religious history is rife with stories attesting to the power and superiority of one religion over another. No one even knows who wrote all the portions of the current Bibles. Talk about Biblical persons? It's all oral history and we know how remarkably questionable that can be. Then, too, look at how much of religious history has either been destroyed, on purpose, or kept lock up in libraries and denied to us, on purpose.

All of it is full of politics, personal mischief, and power motivation. Should you care to know more about it, I would direct you to the writings of Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman. You can find them on Amazon.

So, back to the initial question of belief and physical/emotional illness or health. If it helps you, don't deny yourself. If you don't want to believe and you don't want to utilize prayer, that's fine, too. This is an equal opportunity moment.

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