Practicing your religion is healthy for both body and your soul | Rabbi Allen S. Maller | With Introduction by Michael Clark, PhD


Here’s a new article by Rabbi Allen S. Maller. Ironically, I read this excellent piece while sitting in Church (photo right). I had been suffering from a body/soul ailment of some mysterious type. Sometimes I’m not sure if my discomfort is based on physical, psychological, spiritual or some combination of those three factors. Yesterday was one of those days. And I went to Mass because, as this article suggests, it makes me feel better. For me it’s not so much about social bonding or the love of icons and statues but more about the Holy Spirit reaching into me while identifying and cleansing whatever is making me feel poorly. But as I say, the ailment could be exacerbated – and alleviated – by additional factors. Rarely does a single factor act alone in terms of how we feel. – MC

Practicing your religion is healthy for both body and your soul

Women praying The Holy Rosary after Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Toronto 15/01/2020

The rise in the number of Atheists in Europe and North America since the year 2,000 will soon spread to the Near East and North Africa. In Great Britten a new study shows that Atheists already outnumber Christians; and even in the much more religious than Europe United States, the number of Atheists and unaffiliated has more than doubled in the last 15 years.

So it is not surprising that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented a steep rise in suicides in the United States between 1994 and 2014. Suicide rates climbed among both men and women; and in all age groups between 10 and 74. Although women remain much less likely than men to commit suicide, the CDC found that the gap is closing. Among women between 45 and 64 — the ages at which women are most likely to kill themselves — the rate of suicide in 2014 jumped 80% over 1999’s rates.

Yet there is a major exception to the steep rise in suicides for women. Compared with women who never participated in religious services, women who attended any religious service once a week or more; were five times less likely to commit suicide between 1996 and 2010, said a study published June 29, 2016 by the Journal of the American Medical Association: Psychiatry.

In a study population made up of nurses, most of whom identified themselves as either Catholic or Protestant, the suicide rate observed was about half that for U.S. women as a whole.

Protestant women who worshiped weekly at church were far less likely to take their own lives than women who seldom or never attended services. And Roman Catholic and Jewish women were even less likely to die by their own hand than Protestant women.

The suicide-prevention effect of religion was clearly not a simple matter of group identity: Self-identified Catholics who never attended mass committed suicide nearly as often as did women of any religion who were not active worshipers.

Instead, the researchers suggested that attendance at religious services is “a form of meaningful social participation” that buffers women against loneliness and isolation — both factors that are strongly implicated in depression and suicide.

Loneliness and isolation are often the result of excessive desires for independence and freedom. “Religion and spirituality may be an under-appreciated resource that psychiatrists could explore with their patients,” wrote a team of researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele of Harvard’s School of Public Health.

The lengthy duration of the current study — women were asked about their religious attendance every two years starting in 1996 and then followed until 2010 — “suggests a causal relationship between religious practice and a significantly lower risk of suicide, especially among Catholics,” said Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California in Irvine, who was not involved with the new research.

“Religious convictions and practices can help people foster a sense of hope, even in the midst of major crises or adversities,” said Kheriaty. “Religious faith can help people find a sense of meaning and purpose even in suffering,” he added. Weekly worship in a local community promotes interdependence between God and each human, one human with another.

Actually, there have been dozens of scientific studies in North America, Europe and Israel that have found many positive connections between religious observance, especially weekly attendance at communal worship services, and better mental and physical health.

Those who know the Qur’an know this to be correct because the Qur’an states: “Those who believe (Muslims), those who advocate Judaism, Christians, Sabeans, whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day, and does good righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, they will not fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:62)

For example, Spirituality and the practice of religion may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research presented more than ten years ago at the American Academy of Neurology 57th Annual Meeting April 9 – 16, 2005.

The study assessed 68 people aged 49 to 94 who met criteria for probable Alzheimer’s disease. Religiosity and spirituality were measured with the Duke University Religion Index and the Overall Self-Ranking subscale from the NIH. “We learned that patients with higher levels of spirituality or higher levels of religiosity may have a significantly slower progression of cognitive decline,” said study author Dr. Yakir Kaufman, director of neurology services at Herzog Memorial Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel.

“Spirituality and religiosity have [often] been linked to better health outcomes,” said Kaufman. “Our research addressed the question whether this link is also relevant in Alzheimer’s disease.” Spirituality and private religious practices accounted for 20 percent of the total variance.

Self-control will be the single biggest factor influencing life expectancy in the 21st century. With self-control most people will have a good chance to live into their 90’s and early 100’s. However, indulgent pleasure-seeking will still cut people’s lives short. Almost all religions have always taught this. Weekly communal prayer, fasting and ritual dietary restrictions are the most widespread example of the discipline of spiritual self-control.

The diminution of the external factors causing death will soon make clear to everyone the importance of spiritual factors like self-control in increasing one’s life span.

The major factor that raised average life expectancy in the 19th century was the sharp decline in infant mortality. Prior to the 19th century, the infant mortality rate averaged 30-40%. Today even in Sub-Saharan Africa the infant mortality rate is 5-8%. While this is very high by our standards (more than half of all women in these countries have lost a baby), advances in nutrition and public hygiene in the 19th century were largely responsible for the fact that in the western world today less than 1% of babies die before their first birthday.

In the 20th century, the rise in average life expectancy has been due to the decline in deaths from external killers like smallpox, pneumonia and polio largely due to immunization and anti-biotics. In the 21st century, religious self-restraint and self-discipline will be the single largest factor influencing good health.

All this was foreseen 26 centuries ago by Prophet Isaiah when he predicted that, “No child shall ever again die as an infant, and no old man shall fail to live out his life. Everyone shall live to a hundred before dying. Whoever falls short of a hundred shall be thought of as cursed.” (Isaiah 65:20).

Now that most of the external killers have been diluted or eliminated, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy will be up to each one of us. Indeed, if we faithfully exercise self-control and live right, many of us will have a good chance to reach our full potential of 120 (Geneses 6:3).

The gap between the life span of religious people and atheists will provide clear evidence that: “surely their reward is with their Lord, they will not fear, nor will they grieve.”

Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is http://www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 400+ articles in some two dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: “Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms’ and “Which Religion Is Right For You? A 21st Century Kuzari”.

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