Thursday, September 22, 2011

God, Faith, and Health

God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection by Jeff Levin, Ph.D.
Prayer helps healing... blah blah blah... people who go to church more are healthier... blah blah... religious people have more life satisfaction... blah blah blah... This is a basic summary of God, Faith, and Health by Jeff Levin, Ph.D. Don't get me wrong, I find the epidemiology of religion, "the scientific study of how characteristics and expressions of religious faith and practice serve to prevent morbidity and mortality and to promote health and well-being" (Levin), topic quite fascinating. When I saw this book, I was quite excited but then as I read it I became disappointed. The presentation of the information and all of the data and research was quite overwhelming and often redundant. Over and over again, through several studies quoted, Levin indicates that yes, it is quite clear that religion, faith, prayer, and meditative practices do inspire optimism, ease anxiety, promote healthy behaviours, as well as other findings as evident through scientific research. So I decided to stop reading this book by page 128 (I think I gave it the "good old college try") and fast-forwarded to the stories that started the remaining chapters. (But maybe another reason why I grew impatient with this book and stopped reading it was due to the fact that I am presently ill, dealing with a mysterious flu-ish type sickness. I have been home sick for two days. My appetite is absent. On the first day, all I did was feel extremely weak and achy and sleep constantly. Today, I woke up with cold sweats and it's stomach pains and a 'zombie like' feeling.) God, Faith, and Health reads more like a doctoral dissertation than an inspirational book to lift your spirits when you're feeling like crap. Each chapter started off with stories, testimonies if you will, of how people, including the author a reformed Jew, transformed their lives and health through joining faith-based communities, prayer, and religious observance. I get that part and it has been important for me as well. I appreciate the fact that various faiths (Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Muslims, etc.) and ethnicities (African Americans, Mexican Americans, etc.) were researched for rates of cancer, healing, recovery, happiness, and other factors. Also, I liked that the book is organized around easy-to-follow seven principles on which he discovers:
1. Religious affiliation and membership benefit health by promoting healthy behaviour and lifestyles.
2. Regular religious fellowship benefits health by offering support that buffers the effects of stress and isolation.
3. Participation in worship and prayer benefits health through the physiological effects of positive emotions.
4. Religious beliefs benefit health by their similarity to health-promoting beliefs and personality styles.
5. Simple faith benefits health by leading to thoughts of hope, optimism, and positive expectation.
6. Mystical experiences benefit health by activating a healing bioenergy or life force or altered state of consciousness.
7. Absent prayer for others is capable of healing by paranormal means or by divine intervention.

However, I felt that this book was a little too "research-y" for my taste and needed more real life stories to keep me hooked. It seemed like Levin was writing this book mostly to refute all the skeptics, his doubting professors, and a harsh scientific community by saying "kiss my tukas, I've got proof". (Tukas is a Yiddish-slang word for butt or rear-end.) I hope Dr. Levin will come back with part 2 to this book with all of the personal stories of healing that he came across during his research. Now that's a fascinating book! (Apparently, he does have other books which I'm hoping to check out.)

Coming up next: "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" by Lance Armstrong

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