Leap of Faith
April 27, 2005 11:02 AM   Subscribe

"And the University of Chicago cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee." The Templeton Foundation recently gave U of C researchers a $1.8 million grant to study connections between religious beliefs and health. Those researchers have already done studies that suggest that religious faith helps reduce depression. It's not exactly faith healing, but some people aren't quite ready to shout "Amen!".
posted by goatdog (21 comments total)

 
i keep seeing posts (and FOX News reports) about this mysterious "some people". some people think the phrase is obvious, while some people are consistently surpised at what some people say.
posted by quonsar at 11:07 AM on April 27, 2005


Dammit, the "some people" link was good when I posted it. It was to a Chicago Sun-Times article that basically offered a concise summary of the longer "shout Amen" link. Richard Sloan was quoted saying the studies "contain significant methodological flaws that render their conclusions suspect."
posted by goatdog at 11:12 AM on April 27, 2005


shout AMEN! it worked for me..
posted by Jikido at 11:31 AM on April 27, 2005


"Miracles, for me, are changes in the social world, not the physical world. I don't believe God entered daily life in the 1st Century and turned physics upside down, and then stopped. In fact, I'd find it incredible and obscene to say that now and then God does intervene to do this or that little thing."
-- J. D. Crossan

Getting back to the twin roles of Jesus in the first century, it seems no accident that in most cases Jesus healed people who were socially, religiously and politically on the edge. His healings were a challenge to the powers of that day to show compassion. They challenged the Greek philosophical belief in the survival of the fittest. They often included affirming or re-visioning the social status of those healed. They were an integral part of the revolution which Jesus launched to transform the exclusive and patriarchal power elite system of the day. They were part of his non-violent and radically inclusive mission to unite people of all conditions.
-- Jesus the Alchemist: The Politics of Healing, by Ian Lawton

(...) argues Billy Graham: “Jesus performed these miracles to prove his divinity, and so I accept them, and I accept them by faith. I can’t prove everything scientifically. But when I do accept the Scriptures by faith, it has an impact in my own personal life, and I can apply the principles Jesus taught to everyday life. So to me the miracles of Christ are essential. They are not essential to salvation but to one’s Christian living.”
posted by matteo at 11:35 AM on April 27, 2005


Wow... that was a great opening hook, goatdog.
posted by sbutler at 12:01 PM on April 27, 2005


'Course it helps to reduce depression. If I believed I had an imaginary all powerful friend who would eventually punish everyone who did evil against me and reward me for eternity for my goodness, I'd be a might more relaxed and happy too.

Hey Matt, if I pray to you everyday this week and sing songs praising your majesty and benignity to a worthless wretch like meeee, could you mark all of my Ask Mefi answers as "best answers" and delete Steve_at_Linnwood's posts? Thanks, and Blessed be Your Name, Forever and Ever, Amen.
posted by orthogonality at 12:12 PM on April 27, 2005


Matteo, the links mostly aren't about documenting miracles but the more mundane study of whether religious beliefs and practices are related to better health (which could be true even if the beliefs themselves are false).

I like Christian Smith's take on this:
on every measure of life outcome—relationship with family, doing well at school, avoiding risk behaviors, everything—highly religious teens are doing much better than non-religious kids...The question is, what is the interest of the Christian church? Is it to make kids wear their seat belts more often? Is that their goal? Or is there some higher commitment—to understanding the world, to practicing a way of life, Jesus' way, whether or not it makes you happier and healthier and gives you a longer life.
posted by straight at 12:17 PM on April 27, 2005


As for the stuff about prayer and healing and miracles, all the studies that claim to document a relationship between prayer and better health outcomes are hopelessly flawed because I regularly pray for control groups.
posted by straight at 12:19 PM on April 27, 2005


I'm all for whatever works for the individual. If someone is healthier due to their belief in gods or a talking teakettle -- and be the root cause actual omnipotent intervention or mere psychosomatic relief -- good on them.

In the long run, it doesn't matter how one becomes healthy and happy, so long as it doesn't harm others.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:23 PM on April 27, 2005


If you believed a million dollars was going to appear magically in your sock drawer next week, that might work too.
posted by davebush at 12:27 PM on April 27, 2005


Silly liberals. We only started needing antibiotics and vaccines and therapy after God died. Really. The 15th century was an Eden compared to today.
posted by felix betachat at 12:27 PM on April 27, 2005


orthogonality writes " 'Course it helps to reduce depression. If I believed I had an imaginary all powerful friend who would eventually punish everyone who did evil against me and reward me for eternity for my goodness, I'd be a might more relaxed and happy too."

Damn, I was gonna take it all serious and shit, but then you typed that and I had to just agree.

But seriously, the depression news isn't really. Everything we know about depression suggests that it's primarily demoralization. If something helps to keep your morale up, like religion, then you're bound to be less depressed.

Of course I'm always depressed as shit, but that may be because I'm a realist.
posted by OmieWise at 12:31 PM on April 27, 2005


I'll agree with five fresh fish on this one. Although I'm not sure if it's worth $1.8 MILLION, this study doesn't bother me the way that, say, the prayer-and-healing studies do because they're about personal beliefs and habits, not about the supposed effect of something supernatural that can't be proven scientifically.

My one problem is the way the article about the faith-and-depression study seemed to downplay previous studies that studied religious HABITS, not just religious faith. I think that trying to study those separately and out-of-context isn't quite accurate. Say someone believes in God wholeheartedly but also is engaged deeply in a church community, has extensive personal support from that community, and receives a sense of doing worthwhile work--damn skippy that's going to reduce depression, but how much of that can be attributed directly to God? Similarly, if someone who believes in God but is embroiled in a schism in their church community suffers from depression, are you going to blame God or the social circumstances? Can't be quantified. If they're trying to study faith in a vacuum, that's going to be a huge problem.

(Then again, maybe they ARE studying "faith in a vacuum" and that's an even bigger problem. )
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:39 PM on April 27, 2005


So the U of Chicago is looking into faith healing? Next thing you know, the Mises Institute will be snakehandling and casting out demons.
posted by gimonca at 12:40 PM on April 27, 2005


Dear God, are you a placebo?
Great post!

posted by dfowler at 12:52 PM on April 27, 2005


On a less snarky note, the Templeton Foundation, the people behind this....well, it's hard to tell browsing through their site exactly where they stand on certain issues. Which may mean that they're researching a variety of possibilities (I'd call that good), or that they're doctrinaire and bullheaded and hiding it (I'd call that bad). I'm not finding any explicit evidence for the latter, so I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.
posted by gimonca at 12:53 PM on April 27, 2005


Looks like the god of the gaps explanation applies to "miracles" as well.

It used to be prayer, the shaman, mediation, etc was the only option for healing an illness. Medical science moved in and the faith healer took a back seat. Studies debunked all sorts of religious healing and now the "religion is real" crowd is backed up into the "but umm it might help with umm depression?!?" corner. Not exactly a cure for cancer anymore is it?

I'm sure the results, whichever way they come out, will not disturb the faith of anyone in the Templeton Foundation. But if they can get a positive result be it from psychological/social factors or poor methodolgy then it will be trumped as a full-blown miracle or some kind of divine intervention.
posted by skallas at 2:32 PM on April 27, 2005


Personally, I am much happier now I've stopped believing in free will. Man, that shibboleth was some kind of monkey on my back! Thank the universe as it is that my neural alteration over time led me to adopt mechanism as a basic premise.
posted by Sparx at 3:07 PM on April 27, 2005


ey Matt, if I pray to you everyday this week and sing songs praising your majesty and benignity to a worthless wretch like meeee, could you mark all of my Ask Mefi answers as "best answers" and delete Steve_at_Linnwood's posts? Thanks, and Blessed be Your Name, Forever and Ever, Amen.

Christ, you're like Dr. Orpheus! I will not be your arch-nemesis...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:41 PM on April 27, 2005


Matt is there anyway you can ban orthogonality? I thought he would of flamed out by now but somehow he has avoided it?

Also PEAK OIL...
posted by Dreamghost at 3:46 PM on April 27, 2005


OmieWise writes " Damn, I was gonna take it all serious and shit, but then you typed that and I had to just agree."

Damn it, I was being serious! Gah! I get taken seriously when I'm being sarcastic and I get winked at when I'm serious! When I'm being sarcastic, I end the post with "STFU lib'ruls".

Seriously, I agree with you that a belief in an inerrant Judge who settles all accounts has to be a stress and depression reliever. I mean, most of our angst comes from "trespasses against us" -- it would be great if a "vengeance were the Lord's" and He'd punish transgressors and reward me.

But I'm a materialist and I don't believe.

Ok, so you're a therapist, tell me: how can atheists get these benefits of religious faith? Should we meet each sunday and read inspirational passages from Richard Dawkins? (No, really, I've considered something like that, and seriously, I want your feedback.)


Dreamghost writes "Matt is there anyway you can ban orthogonality?"

Until Matt gets around to declaring me an "enemy of the people" or a "corrupter of youth", if I'm so outrageous it should be easy for you to write comments refuting mine.

(And just in case someone thinks I'm a hypocrite, let me be clear: I don't actually advocate deleting Steve_at_Linnwood's comments, or anyone's, that was what I thought to be an obvious joke. I think I've pretty consistently made clear that I think the best antidote for incorrect speech is more speech.)
posted by orthogonality at 9:48 PM on April 27, 2005


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