The practise of religion influences health more than we realise. For instance, certain moral practices limit the spread of disease. Supportive community relationships promote healthy minds. Religious groups often provide medical services to their members and local communities. Indeed, the interaction between mind, body and the divine are thought by many to prompt recovery.
At the forefront of research in this area, Professor Harold Koenig demonstrates that people with high religious or spiritual leanings are less prone to depression, anxiety and suicide. They are less prone to crime and substance abuse. They enjoy more stable marriages and stronger social support. They suffer lower rates of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer and diabetes.
Koenig attributes these trends to 3 features:
- The meaning and purpose offered by religious faith
- The moral guidance and habits promoted by religion
- The positive social behaviours within religious community
However, there can be a range of negative impacts on health, especially when religion fans the flames of conflict. Even in more peaceful times, physical, sexual and emotional abuse diminishes the health and wellbeing of many vulnerable adherents. Relationships within religious communities can become toxic rather than supportive.
Harm can also come when religion comes into conflict with medical science. A resistance to vaccines is one example. Opposition to blood transfusion is another. Religious healers may discourage their followers from seeking medical help when they are convinced that the action of God will cure a malady.
We might ask the question: On balance, is religion generally good for people’s health? But this is not the key issue for you or I. Perhaps it is better to address this personally. Is your faith good for your health? Is it good for those who share it with you, and for others around you who do not? How could it be better?
To look more deeply into these issues, take a look at the following: