Friday, 25 January 2013

health and holiness and the daily mirror

Yesterday the Daily Mirror listed twenty five secrets of a long life. A few weeks before The +Daily Mirror ran a similar article on a longer life. Tucked away in the listing were references to faith. In the December article people were encouraged to " something" and in the January article they were encouraged to "go to church" in order to live a longer life. These items were not commented upon especially and seemed to sit uncomfortably alongside other advice to have regular sex and eat three walnuts a day.

The persistence of the spiritual and religious dimension in popular culture can be surprising and perhaps seen as evidence of a nostalgia for a simpler and more certain culture. But that view would ignore the evidence that faith does matter. The evidence for that comes in research time and time again that believing and attending a church does make a difference. Take this piece for example:

"Again, the health benefits of religion and spirituality do not stem solely from healthy lifestyles. Many researchers believe that certain beliefs, attitudes, and practices associated with being a spiritual person influence health. In a recent study of people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), those who had faith in God, compassion toward others, a sense of inner peace, and were religious had a better chance of surviving for a long time than those who did not live with such belief systems. Qualities like faith, hope, and forgiveness, and the use of social support and prayer seem to have a noticeable effect on health and healing". link

This type of research-based evidence underlines that we are spiritual beings and that to be fully human meas to be engaged spiritually with life, with others and with ourselves. We are more alive, more engaged, more healthy and better connected when we believe. That means that faith and spirituality confer an evolutionary advantage on believers.Emile Durkheim, to many the father of sociology, said that the person who has met their God does not just seem stronger or heathier, they are stronger and healthier. Faith has real effects in life.

The expression of faith in these terms marks out a pathway for faith development in the future. To some religious people it may seem to reduce religion to just another humanist philosophy. To more secular minds the research may seem to be less than scientific. Both parties are challenged by this type of research and the struggle to make sense of it will take our culture forward to a better synthesis about faith and well being. So don't expect the faith dimension to disappear from the listings for a long life in next years Daily Mirror feature.