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.
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.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/boelaars/339862871/