Thursday, January 3, 2008

It ain't necessarily helpful

Porgy and Bess
Religious beliefs, if not being true, should at least help in coping with disease and disasters, but a new study sheds doubt on this pragmatic approach.

Christian religious functioning and trauma outcomes have been assessed in more than three hundred church-going trauma survivors in Minnesota. Looking at the outcomes, I hear the sound of Ira Gershwin's great skeptic sermon song of Sportin' Life: "It ain't necessarily so ..."

Only a part of the observant Christians have profited from their faith. Others have found it a source of distress, and still others have abandoned it. When it comes to coping, religion seems to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it may be a source of spiritual support which is positively related to successive coping or "posttraumatic growth". On the other hand, it may be a source of religious strain which is related to worse posttraumatic symptoms. When seen in terms of a therapy, religion has many unwanted side effects and should not be recommended to everybody.

"Why must this happen to me?"

I think that questions of this kind may be the main source of religious distress. Looking for reasons coming from God is not a very good idea. There are two religious concepts to deal with this question: Disease may be a "punishment" for being bad or an "exam" that must be passed to reach a superior state of spiritual maturation. With "punishment", the patient has already lost, and in the "exam" he may fail. Both concepts are a source of distress. If a religious person is successful in coping, then possibly in spite of religion and not because of it.

Non-religious coping

One positive aspect in religious coping is the idea of accepting the fate and not trying to change things that cannot be changed. But religion is not a prerequisite of this view, nor do I think that it is relevant. What really counts is the ability of looking at the half full and not at the half empty glass.

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