By Carolyn Rodgers, PhD, MCHES
Many people have argued the role of religion and spirituality in health. For a while, some researchers felt religion had no place in health and that it was a sign of mental illness (Schneiderman, 2001). Recently, researchers have revisited the impact of religion and spirituality on health through surveys and community forums. The role of spiritual belief or religion was polled through many communities, identifying personal beliefs and the importance of religion in health. For example, Koenig, cited in Schneiderman, identified in a 1996 report that 90% of Americans pray daily, and most use prayer as a coping mechanism. If people are identifying prayer as a coping mechanism mostly for health related problems, then how could religion not be important or relevant to health?
Apparently, religion and spirituality are important and have been measured by the responses from surveys, such as the Ellison Spiritual Well-Being Scale. This scale is used for personal and congregational spiritual well-being to measure religious, spiritual and existential well-being. One article entitled Health Programs in Faith-Based Organizations: Are they effective, identified various programs that offer religious and spiritually based health programs through FBO’s (Faith Based Organizations), and surveyed results from literature reviews of programs that were identified as effective. Of these programs, most reported reducing weight and increased knowledge about health related problems (Dehaven, et al, 2004). If these programs revealed these positive results, why is physical health often a topic left out of religion?
Unfortunately, the researchers and some religious and spiritual leaders appear to be in agreement with excluding physical health from religion and spirituality. Today, some spiritual and religious leaders appear only to be interested in the spiritual man or woman, and not the physical, leaving physical appearance and physical health aside. Most are so busy with Kingdom work they hardly have time to keep up their physical and nutritional health, so think of how difficult it is to assist others with theirs. The Bible speaks about health often and how it should increase our quality of life. In (3 John 1:2) “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” In reading the Bible, I found out some healthy eating habits too. Did you know that the first diet in the Bible is one that most vegetarians practice and probably do not know it? Found in GENESIS 1:29 “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat”.
After having attended several churches, and sitting through several sermons by various ministers, I noticed that the “seed” is often discussed not in the context of the fruit or food in which we eat for physical nourishment, but in the context of mental and spiritual nourishment. For instance, how many of you have noticed a large amount of overweight or unhealthy religious and spiritual leaders? Although some people choose not to talk about this, it is a reality and is often a topic most religious and spiritual leaders dodge. Unfortunately, spiritual and religious leaders are into motivating and building soldiers for the Kingdom of Heaven, thus, when discussing a person’s weight or health-related problem the potential to hurt one’s feelings become a reality. However, a soldier is supposed to be mentally and physically fit so they can withstand the enemy’s traps.
So what kind of army are religious and spiritual leaders attempting to build if physical and mental health is not a priority? Most spiritual leaders talk about enduring pain but often have trouble describing the journey after having never completed or attempted a physical race. If health programs offered at religious institutions using spiritual wellness to incorporate physical wellness succeed, then why are there still lots of religious and spiritual institutions not incorporating this?
Well, we have to realize that some faith-based organizations do not have the time nor space to incorporate such programs. In addition, some faith-based organizations do not have the staff or resources to incorporate such programs. However, after learning about the positive connection between religion, spirituality and health, we still face the dilemma of educating our family and friends of these benefits.
This brings me back to my original question of, what is the relationship between religion, spirituality and health? The relationship is if you want to reach your highest potential then religion, spirituality and health should work in concert with each other. Because, without spiritual knowledge, one might lack perseverance, yet without the physical fitness, how can one endure life, but without health how long can a person live. So what is the relationship between religion, spirituality and health? Everything.
Schneiderman, N., Speers, M.A., Silva, J.M., Tomes, H., Gentry, J.H. (Eds.). (2001). Integrating behavioral and social sciences with public health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
DeHaven, M., Hunter, I.B., Wilder, L., Walton, J.W., Berry, J., (2004). Health Programs in Faith-Based Organizations: Are They Effective? American Journal of Public Health, 94, 1030-1036.