Graphic: Percentage of Fewer Reported Mental Health Issues for Those Who Strongly Believe That:Source: Baylor University Department of Sociology

Although we’ve known each other for over 30 years, I can count on half-a-hand the number of times my best friend and I have discussed religion. Ask me to describe his interest in spiritual matters on a scale of 1 to 10 and I’d have to say I don’t really know.

Maybe the best word to describe him is “apatheist,” a term coined by blogger Hemant Mehta, better known as “The Friendly Atheist.”

Apatheists or “So Whats,” to borrow a phrase from USA Today religion writer, Cathy Lynn Grossman, aren’t necessarily people who don’t believe in God. They’re just not particularly interested in exploring the subject further.

Many reasons are given as to why, but the bottom line is that a lot folks are simply giving up on the search for ultimate meaning. Forty-four percent of those who participated in a recent Baylor University Religion Survey said they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom.” Nineteen percent said, “It’s useless to search for meaning.”

That's too bad, especially since there’s so much evidence to the contrary from people who have found that meaning and purpose and spiritual inspiration actually animates and empowers their life. But acknowledging this spiritual dimension does even more. It has a positive effect on health.

Just ask medical researcher, Gail Ironson.

Dr. Ironson conducted a study to determine the relationship between spiritual consciousness and the progression of AIDS. She looked at two key factors: viral load, which lets you know how much of the virus is in your body, and immune cells, which work to fend off the AIDS virus. Over a four-year period she noticed that those who were actively cultivating a spiritual outlook had a much lower viral load and maintained immune cells at a noticeably higher rate than those who consciously disavowed such activity.

As promising as this sounds, it may not be enough to get the spiritually apathetic to change course. For some, perhaps even most, it’s going to take a fundamentally different perspective on the underlying concepts of God and religion — a sort of cost-benefit analysis, if you will.

What might inspire such a shift in perspective depends, of course, on the individual involved. Regardless, it’s likely that more could be done on the part of those already engaged in spiritual pursuits in terms of sharing with others the benefits of their quest.

Not the least of which is better health.


Eric NelsonEric Nelson is the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. He also works as a Christian Science practitioner, helping those interested in relying solely on the power of prayer for healing.

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7Reflections

Reflections

the "science" of the power of positive thinking is dubious at best, for a good lay analysis see:
http://www.barbaraehrenreich.c...
 

Yes, there was a scientist who put the Bible to the test simply as a theory, from a scientific perspective and the results found that it worked. So it is scientifically proven that it works. Haha.

I appreciate the Baylor survey. The only way to broaden perspective and truly enrich conversations is to include the data and thoughts of those whose beliefs may differ from ours. The point of these blog posts and programs is NOT to disseminate information to be digested in totality but to encourage independent thought and meaningful dialog.
As always, On Being delivers.  Thank you!

Yet, if you review the content of the programmes, who it is that Ms. Tippett interviews, the blog content contributed by staff and guests and which guests are invited or approved, you will find that On Being (a show - initially named Speaking of Faith - broadcast over the public airwaves, financed by grants from Faith promoting organization) keeps the thoughts of those and individuals whose opinions run counter to it off the air and out of the website.

Individuals of great international (his Wikipedia entry appears in 59 languages) and intellectual stature (emeritus fellow of new College, Oxford, fellow of the Royal Society, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and former University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science) such as renowned British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins.  And, Sam Harris, American philosopher, neuroscientist, author of The End of Faith (33 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list) whose writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Times of London, Newsweek, Nature and The Boston Globe; who has given talks at Oxford University, Cambridge, Harvard, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, Tufts and TED.

These are just two; the late Christopher Hitchens would be another, of the learned gentlemen, against whom Ms. Tippett has issued a virtual fatwa of exclusion. Branding and arrogantly dismissing them with the epithets "polemicists and secular extremists".  Refusing to interview them, in spite of repeated requests by her audience.  Ms. Tippett's reason: "...for the same reason I never interviewed Jerry Falwell, which is that he had all the answers for himself and everyone else.  I'm not even saying that to pass judgment on what they have to say."

She equates Falwell: faith based ranter and spewer of biblical bigotry with Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins: exemplars of free thought, truth seeking and the secular humanist tradition.  She refuses to have them on her show and in the same breath claims not to be passing judgment on what they have to say.  This is the type of cognitive dissonance that informs Ms. Tippett's thought process and content of her program.  It does not occur to her that preventing their views from being heard -censorship- is the ultimate form of passing judgment.  She claims Harris et al. have all the answers for themselves and everyone else.  Why not let the listener be the judge of that?

I have no doubt that differences were noted between two populations in this study. However, I would suggest that variables really being studied would be more accurately described as hope/optimism versus fatalism/despair. The word "spiritual" used in conjunction with studies conducted by religious institutions typically implies a much more constricted belief system, than is necessary to make a difference in one's own health. Beyond that, when those who have very strong belief systems or describe themselves as deeply spiritual, don't survive, and everyone, regardless of the presence or absence of what would be described in studies such as this, is going to die eventually, how is that explained? Not enough faith/spirituallity, or not strong enough, or the wrong kind? Many will die peacefully, many will not, but their belief system will not keep them from their eventual death. To me, the ultimate, truest, purest belief in a power that has the ability and desire to protect one, and intervene for one's well-being, would be evidenced by total avoidance of any earthly medical intervention.

Just a point of clarification: the study referenced in the second part of my article – the one about AIDS – was not conducted by a religious institution but by a researcher at the University of Florida.

the science of positive thinking in healthcare is highly contested and people should really read
Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided.