A recent article in Time discusses several studies about the correlation between faith and health. Does church attendance contribute to a healthier, longer life? Is Mormon culture more or less health-promoting than other faiths?A few things noted in various studies in the article:
- Intercessory prayer for the sick only has a health benefit when the sick person knows about it. Does prayer for the sick make them healthy? If so, how does it work? It is simply placebo effect (sounds a lot like being healed according to your faith) or is there more to it?
- Prayer and meditation actually change the brain’s development; those who frequently pray have much more developed frontal lobes. Maybe we could replace TR questions with a simple brain scan. I kid.
- Those who do not attend church have twice the risk of dying in the next 8 years as those who attend church weekly. Risk levels vary based on church attendance. (1992, Univ. of TX study). Conclusion: Go to church or die.
- Those who attend church live 2-3 years longer than those who do not. (Univ. of Pittsburgh Medical Center).
So, why all these health benefits?
- Community centers. Social benefits of church attendance or being in an extended family of believers. Some congregations deliberately work together to promote health or weight loss.
- Friendships. Individual relationships can provide the extra support needed to relieve stress, to feel understood, and to care for each other when ill.
- Physical sensations associated with houses of worship. As a hospital can contribute to wellness (or illness if dirty or depressing), so can houses of worship transport one’s body by creating feelings of comfort and health.
- Belief that the body is a temple. When you believe that your body is sacred or divine, you are not only more likely to take care of it, but you create health through your emotional state.
- Prayer’s impact on the brain. Prayer and meditation can literally transport the body and create health.
So, while every church has health benefits, what are the unique components to Mormonism that lead to a healthier life?
- Focus on Families. Healthy family relationships that are supportive and free from abuse are probably the number one prolonger of life.
- Visiting/home teaching. The sense that someone knows and cares that you exist is a powerful force for those who might otherwise succumb to despair or feel they are alone in illness. Friendship is one of the great health benefits of religion. Plus, you may get a rush of endorphins when your VTers just can’t get to you in the month, feeling like you have extra time in your schedule.
- Fasting. Many religions and spiritual disciplines prize fasting for its health benefits in clearing the body of toxins. Mormon fasting also has the benefit of altruism; those fasting feel good about donating the cost of the skipped meals to the poor.
- Lay clergy & participation expectations. The more engaged you are in your religion, the more likely you are to reap health benefits from fellowship, service, and a sense of purpose or meaning.
- Prayer. Prayer can literally help your body heal in transcending the temporal concerns that might plague you. Deepest prayer accesses parts of the brain not normally used.
- Priesthood blessings. Rituals associated with healing allow faith to release the benefits to the body, much like a placebo effect. The better the ritual, the more convincing environment for faith (think suspension of disbelief).
- Temple attendance. Boring? Mystical? Transcendent? If for no other reason, the temple provides a health benefit through silent meditation (anything above a stage whisper is gauche) and complete isolation from outside distractions such as blackberries and whining kids.
- Tithing & church welfare. Especially in trying economic times, it’s a comfort to know that there is a fallback with church welfare for those full tithe payers.
- Word of Wisdom. If for no other reason than eschewing alcohol and tobacco, the WoW would have health benefits for those who might otherwise O.D. on harmful substances. In times of stress or illness, though, eliminating coffee and tea and eating meat sparingly can have additional health benefits.
What are the components to Mormonism that could lead to reduced health? Are any of these unique to Mormonism?
- Stress. This varies from person to person, but there seems to be a correlation between high levels of belief, perfectionism (expecations of perfection from oneself and others), and responsibility (aka stewardship). If we could just get rid of that pesky middle one, all would be well. IOW, “be ye therefore perfect” could land you six feet under.
- Two words: Funeral potatoes. It’s hard to imagine a more cholesterol laden food. Oh, wait. Honey butter. Possibly fry sauce. So-called Mormon foods are neither good for the body, nor for the belly. If you want to develop a hefty pair of Relief Society arms, go to a ward potluck.
- Repression. Repressing one’s feelings can lead to depression, ulcers, and can weaken the immune system and make one more prone to all kinds of illness. Those who feel they have to put on a mask to fit in to Mormon culture are going to be less healthy, first emotionally, then physically. There has to be room in the culture for a diverse array of people to feel comfortable being their authentic selves. We literally kill people when we don’t accept them for who they are. And last I checked, “Thou shalt not kill” was still one of the top ten no-nos.
So, is Mormonism more or less healthy than other faiths or about the same? Are there times when someone should leave the church for health reasons? How can we make church healthier for all? Discuss.