Everyone seems fired up about the ABC’s Q&A program this week. There was a face-off between outspoken proponent of atheism/theism, Professor Richard Dawkins and Australia’s most senior Catholic Church man, the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell. Questions and answers focussed around whether or not God exists and how our belief systems affect our lives.
The community continues to hotly comment on their answers via radio and social media, but one of the questions that both of them barely thought worth considering, was probably the one that could have broken through the stereotypical answers and turned the debate around ….. away from personalities to broad agreement on positive health outcomes that can help everyone.
An audience member asked, “Research has proven that people who believe in God have a better chance of surviving terminal illnesses, such as cancer, as well as living longer when they go to church. Do you think that believing in God is beneficial for our wellbeing ….?” She was referring to quite a large body of clinical research in this field (although it could be argued that it’s not so much whether people go to church but more about their thinking about the divine, whether at church or not, that has health implications).
One such Australian study by VicHealth found that “Despite some shortcomings in the literature reviewed, it has been possible to conclude that individuals of faith who experience religious freedom have the potential to experience a range of positive health effects that may be associated with their religion/belief.”
Your spirituality or religious experiences will be unique. From personal experience I’ve discovered that an interest in and dedication to spiritual life-principles has brought about changes in my thinking that have changed my life-experience, time and time again. I’ve found that prayer, studying inspirational literature and talks with friends and family, both at church and out, change limited, ego-centric thinking to thoughtful, considerate and progressive thinking. And along with the changes in thinking … have been healings of depression and illness, without medicine or therapy.
If Dawkins and Pell had all the facts, there’s no way that they’d consider these by-products of spirituality insignificant …… reduced incidence of depression and a quicker recovery from it, a reduction in substance abuse, improved palliative care outcomes, reduced mortality and greater longevity, reduced incidence of heart disease and hypertension, and reduced incidence and longer survival with cancer (Craig Hassed MD, The role of spirituality in medicine, 2008).
Those working in the health industry are aware of these and other research findings, and now medical practitioners actively encourage discussion about and advocate the importance of spirituality in patients’ lives.
It’s clear that spirituality and religion relate to our mind, or consciousness. Along with others interested in spirituality and the mind/body connection, I am seeing big changes on the health horizon guided by the important role the mind plays. Research into the placebo effect, as Dawkins mentioned, is leading scientists to ask, “What determines health … mind or matter?”
The mind is no longer seen as a marginal influence but as the determiner of the body’s health. We are at a cross-roads. In time, will consciousness no longer be seen as servant, but master?
It is an eye-opener to watch scientists, researchers, journalists, religious and atheist, and the rest of us connect the dots to what determines health. Will mind-science be the next breakthrough in the field of health?