Sat | Dec 10, 2016

The impact of religion on health

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Pastor Milton Gregory
File Opthalmologist and president of the Caribbean Medical Mission, Dr Winston Scott, fits glasses for this youngster during a health fair at the St Mary's Anglican Church in Negril.
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It is an established fact that throughout the history of civilisation, religion has played an essential role in defining societies. Religion has influenced a lot of what we do, such as how to dress, act, and treat others. However, the most prominent is that a belief or faith in a spiritual or divine power can add meaning and significance to many people's lives.

Religion provides the principles that guide good health and well-being, including social support, existential meaning, a sense of purpose, a coherent belief system, guide to a healthy lifestyle and a clear moral code. While it is no panacea for all health issues, it goes a far way in improving health.

Evidence of this can be seen in the early Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek civilisations cum Jewish, Christian, Rastafarian , and Islamic societies. The ancient healing practices of the religious leaders are depicted in their hieroglyphics, pictographs and cuneiform writings. In our modern society, the Bible demonstrates health practices of the Jews and early Christians which are still relevant today. Among the health measures discussed therein are: public health sanitation (Deuteronomy 23:13; Numbers 5:1-3) , personal hygiene (Leviticus 15:4-7), sexual behaviour (Exodus 20:14; Romans 1:27), dietary measures (Leviticus 7:23; 3:17: Leviticus 11:4-7, 10-28; Gen. 1:28,29 Proverbs 25:16,27), use of alcohol (1Corinthians10:31;Proverbs 20:3) social reforms (Mal. 6:8, Matt. 7:12), stress management (Mark 6:31, Luke12:22-30), and others.

Many of the diseases in our world can be prevented by following the Bible's teachings. Health is our most precious temporal possession, which we have as a gift from our Creator. We can violate the laws of health and suffer the consequences. Or, we can develop a relationship with Him in which we live in conformity to His laws. If we follow His plan, He offers us special blessings.

It is true that there is a complex nature of the relationship between religion, health and well-being, which lies behind a continuing debate among researchers about religion's health effects. Some are sceptical and argue that the association is not conclusive. Nevertheless, recent research within the field of mind, body medicine has re-examined the relationship between the individual's psychological and spiritual perspective and their physical health and found that there is indeed a strong correlation.

Herbert Agar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, opines: "The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear".

With the advent of modern medicine, religion continues to play her part in society. Many of the discoveries and inventions that have helped to prolong life and prevent diseases were done by religious people, for example, Louis Pasteur, William Williams Keen, Ronald Ross , Alexis Carrel, Charles Glover Barkla, and John Boyd Orr.

In addition, hospitals and clinics have been established by various religious bodies, for instance, here in Jamaica we have Andrews Memorial and Nutthall hospitals.

These facilities have greatly enhanced the government's health care institutions by providing quality patient care to thousands of Jamaicans. Moreover, religious bodies have used their worship centres to operate free satellite clinics for the communities. On many occasions missionaries from overseas join with their local partners to provide these services. According to the Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, these medical missions to Jamaica, in 2012, saved the Jamaican Government approximately US$393,000, specifically as it related to their contribution of pharmaceuticals, supplies and equipment to the public health sector.

It is also a known fact that many worship centres operate as a centre for health and healing. This calls for an established health ministries' department which is operated by health professionals and other interested members at each location. On worship days time is allotted for health education and promotion. Furthermore, some locations train members as medical missionaries with basic skills in nutrition, hygiene, first aid and how to prevent and care for individuals with lifestyle diseases.

These and other programmes and activities are made possible by religious organisations because our constitution has made provision for religious freedom. It would be a great loss to this country's health and well-being if we were not privy to religious freedom.

n Pastor Milton Gregory is the executive secretary and health ministries director of Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.