‘In contrast to the popular myth that Christian faith is bad for health … published research suggests that faith is associated with longer life and a wide range of health benefits. In particular, faith is associated with improved mental health. At the very least, the burden of proof is on those who claim that faith is bad for health and that all forms of spiritual care should be excluded from modern medicine.’
That is the key conclusion and challenge of a four-page report from the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), which was formed in 1949 and has over 4,000 UK doctors and 900 UK medical students as members. Health Benefits of Christian Faith by Alex Bunn and David Randall (CMF Files, No. 44) was published at Easter and can be downloaded from:
The paper does not present any new empirical data to substantiate its thesis but rather summarizes existing research, especially drawing upon the large-scale synthesis of research findings about physical and mental health outcomes attributable to religion which are presented in Harold Koenig, Michael McCullough and David Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2001).
Bunn and Randall make no attempt to separate out UK-based and overseas research, and the literature in this field is undoubtedly disproportionately American. National differences in religiosity may, therefore, need to be factored in. However, the authors do discuss definitional issues, the problem of proving causality, and the controversies surrounding ‘prescribing faith’ as a medical ‘treatment’.
As will be seen from our recent coverage of the National Secular Society’s survey of hospital chaplaincy – http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=905 – the links between faith and health outcomes are, indeed, a matter for vigorous debate.
Although some Christians have been quick to seize upon the evidential value of CMF’s report (the front page of the current issue of the Baptist Times, for example, is headlined ‘How to live long and die happier’), it is unlikely that much time will pass before the contrary view is set out.
Also relevant is a book by Andrew Sims, Is Faith Delusion? Why Religion is Good for Your Health (Continuum, 2009), which examines and explains the connection and the division between Christian faith and psychiatry. Sims was Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leeds for more than twenty years.