Scientific Studies Link Faith and Cures

Results Baffle Researchers

TEL AVIV, Israel, JAN. 12, 2002 ( Does God answer our prayers? At some stage all of us have prayed for the speedy recovery of a sick friend or relative. Now a study published by the British Medical Journal in its Dec. 22 issue shows that prayer indeed has a positive effect.

Professor Leonard Leibovici of the Rabin Medical Center designed an experiment to measure the effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer on patients with bloodstream infection.

According to Leibovici, the principal novelty of this study is that it shows the positive effects of prayer even when the intervention is performed four to 10 years after the infection. In fact, all of the 3,393 patients involved in the study were treated during the period from 1990-96.

Not until July 2000 were the patients divided randomly between a control group and an intervention group. A remote, retroactive intercessory prayer was said for the well-being and full recovery of the intervention group.

Three factors were compared: the number of deaths in hospital; length of stay in hospital from the day of the first positive blood culture to discharge or death; and duration of fever.

The result was that mortality was 28.1% in the intervention group and 30.2% in the control group. Moreover the length of stay in hospital and the duration of fever were significantly shorter in the intervention group than in the control group. No patients were lost to follow up. The groups were similar with regard to the main risk factors for death.

Professor Leibovici noted that “no mechanism known today can account for the effects of remote, retroactive intercessory prayer said for a group of patients with a bloodstream infection.”

Faith fills a need

A Columbia University study, meanwhile, showed that being a religious person can also help avoid problems with alcohol and drugs. According to an Associated Press report Nov. 14, the study, by the university´s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found a greater tendency to shun drugs and alcohol both among people who attend worship regularly and among those who personally consider religious belief important — whether or not they are regular worshippers.

Center vice president Susan Foster, who directed the study, said the report shows clear correlations but does not say faith is the direct or only reason people avoid alcohol and drug abuse. “We need a lot more research to understand the causes,” she said.

The study showed that adults who never attended religious services were more than five times likelier to have used illicit drugs other than marijuana, and nearly seven times likelier to have engaged in binge drinking, compared with those who worship weekly. Among teens, those who never attended worship were twice as likely to drink and smoke as those who were regular worshippers.

The study speculated that religion might have a positive impact by specific teaching against using drugs and alcohol, by providing a “sense of acceptance and belonging” or by providing faith that “fills a need that makes substance use unnecessary or provides hope for the future.”

Going regularly to church can also help teen-agers to have more confidence in themselves, according to a study presented at the last annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The Washington Times reported on Sept. 3 that the survey found adolescents not involved in religious activities are prone to feel like they don´t have much to be proud of and are more likely to believe they are “no good at all.” But their religiously active counterparts are more likely to view themselves positively and tend to be confident about their abilities.

The study was based on responses collected from 1,261 eighth-graders by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center.

Faith-based programs for prisoners have also been shown to have a positive effect. Some prisons in England have Christian wings operated by the Kainos Community. Kainos, a Greek word meaning new beginnings, is a charity that specializes in rehabilitation programs based on Christian principles.

The program is credited with reducing recidivism from the national average of more than 60% to around 20%, the Telegraph newspaper reported Nov. 1.

The same article, however, reported that the Prison Service has decided to shut the Kainos wings at four jails. Although the Kainos wings are now funded by the charity, it was envisaged that if they proved a success the Prison Service would share the cost, estimated at an additional £60,000 ($86,000) to the public purse for each wing.

But in a letter to governors, Ken Sutton, the director of resettlement at the Prison Service, said: “It would not be appropriate to provide public money at either local or central level, to support this or other religiously based intervention.”

Ian Aldred, chairman of Kainos Community, said the organization was “baffled” by the government´s decision, especially given Tony Blair´s enthusiasm for faith-based community initiatives. He said: “We are extremely disappointed in view of the positive work and contribution we have made over the last five years which is supported by research.”

Yet, the closure is being reconsidered, the Telegraph reported Dec. 26. The programs might be able to continue, so long as public money is not used.

In the meantime, no one is suggesting that religion should be reduced to an instrument of social policy. Nevertheless, these studies show that religion is intimately linked to lives, in ways that science can´t always explain.

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