There is extensive evidence that Christians live longer and remain healthier than other people, according to a new report.
An “overwhelming majority” of scientific studies highlight positive health benefits from practicing the Christian faith, says the Christian Medical Fellowship, which has looked at 1,200 studies and 400 reviews.
The new report by Dr. Alex Bunn and Dr. David Randall, titled “Health Benefits of Christian Faith,” says the benefits include protection from illness, coping with illness and faster recovery from it.
It also issues a challenge to those who want to stop Christian medics and health professionals from talking to patients about faith.
“Patients do not simply present biological problems to be solved,” the report says. “Rather, effective medical interventions should address all the dimensions of our humanity.
“It is clear that most patients value and seek this form of holistic care.”
The Christian faith is shown to increase life expectancy: in one study of 21,204 adults, those who attended church regularly had a life expectancy up to 14 years longer than those who did not.
Income and education had “surprisingly little impact.” The researchers attributed the benefit to “more protective relationships, including marriage, and to healthier behaviours.”
There is also a correlation between religious involvement and improved mental health, the report notes.
In just four out of 86 studies, mental health was worse among the religious, “typically where there was harsh, judgmental and authoritarian leadership.”
But the rest indicate that practicing a faith is linked to a range of positive health benefits, including:
· Increased well-being, happiness and life satisfaction.
· Hope and optimism.
· Purpose and meaning in life.
· Higher self-esteem.
· Better adaptation to bereavement.
· Greater social support and less loneliness.
· Lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression.
The report says there are a number of explanations as to why faith might benefit health.
For example, our answers to worldview or existential questions shape our experience of life and “can have a substantial impact on physical health.”
One large study showed that hopelessness is a powerful risk factor for heart attack and cancer.
Religious involvement is associated with a reduction in risky health behaviors – problem drinking, smoking, permissive sexual behavior and so on – but enhanced social relationships.
Despite these benefits, the Christian Medical Fellowship said it is not advocating that doctors should prescribe faith.
“Christians would want to follow and commend the example of Jesus, who was strikingly non-coercive in his interactions with suffering human beings,” the report says.
Moreover, Christians should not promote health benefits as the primary reason for coming to faith in Christ. “Jesus came into the world to work a far deeper transformation in human lives than simply curing disease.”
Nevertheless, doctors should be able to consider their patients’ spiritual care in diagnosis and treatment.
Secular medical training tends to exclude some of patients’ deepest concerns, but a sensitive doctor will consider how a patient’s “existing spiritual views may impact on their current illness and hopes for recovery,” the report says.
“In contrast to the popular myth that Christian faith is bad for health, on balance, and despite its limitations, the published research suggests that faith is associated with longer life and a wide range of health benefits,” Bunn and Randall conclude.
“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.”
The Christian Medical Fellowship is an interdenominational organization with more than 4,500 British doctor members in all branches of medicine and 1,000 student members.
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.