Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Was Sigmund Freud right about religion and faith?


In his book The Future of an Illusion (1927) the father of psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, argued that religion is a false belief system. He likened the various religions of the world to “childhood neuroses” and “wishful illusions” that can only lead to a “disavowal of reality.”

Like other atheists of his day, his words were particularly rancorous against the Christian faith. He believed human beings created the God-concept as a means of wish-fulfillment, nothing more.

Clearly for Freud, no real truth could be found in the Christian faith, nor in any other religion, for that matter. On the contrary, Freud believed that only science can lead us into reality.

These truth assertions, however, were never tested scientifically through rigorous experimentation and research. Therefore, they were faith-assertions and mere opinions, nothing more! And yet, they were almost blindly accepted on the basis of Freud’s reputation as a physician and theoretician.

But now, 85 years later, these claims have been tested! And Freud has been proven wrong in his own arena, the arena of science.

In the past 40 years, mountains of research have been published seeking to answer this one simple question: Does active adherence to the Christian faith provide any measurable results in terms of wellness – both physical and mental?

The Bible clearly indicates that adhering to its precepts and commands should indeed lead to significant patterns of mental wellness.

·         In the Old Testament, Psalm 16:11 is a case in point: “In your presence is fullness of joy at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

·         In the New Testament the fruit of the Spirit is a vibrant picture mental health: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

But does adhering to the Christian faith also produce clear patterns of physical wellness?

When Dr. Jeff Levin began to research this emerging field in 1982, he was surprised as he noticed a pattern: Frequency of attendance in weekly worship services was associated with diverse patterns of physical wellness, including better cardio-vascular functioning, lower blood pressure, faster wound healing and better recovery from surgery.  

One study even examined the relationship between church attendance and mortality rate. The study tracked over 21,000 people from the ages of 18-65 over a 9-year period. The found that non-attenders lived to an average of 55.3 years beyond the age of 20, but attenders lived for an average of 61.9 years after the age of 20. That’s nearly seven years longer!

One possible explanation for this was that religious people follow healthier habits. And yet, in one study, religious adherence had marked benefits, even if the person did not necessarily engage in healthy eating habits.

So radical were these emerging claims that researchers subjected them to very stringent testing protocols, and yet in each new study the pattern was clear: adhering to the precepts presented in the Bible was a predictor of overall wellness.

Today the most published researcher in this field is Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical School. He is professor of psychiatry & behavioral sciences and the director for the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. Other scholars in this field include the epidemiologist Jeff Levin and practicing physician Dr. Dale Matthews.

At Teleios we too have actively sought to add to this growing body of literature.  We are not only passionately convinced that the Bible is God’s Word – we believe that adhering to its precepts increases the health and vitality of the whole person. This is an exciting field because it leads us back to a statement that Jesus made on the night before he was crucified: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).  

For more information on specific Teleios’ research articles please check out our Publications.

Thank you,

W. Rodman MacIlvaine, III, D.Min
Director of Faith-Based Research, Teleios

W. Rodman MacIlvaine, III, DMin is on the adjunct faculties of both Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the founding senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Northeastern, Oklahoma – a church that has worked extensively to serve educational needs in the Spanish Speaking Caribbean. A Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Dr. MacIlvaine works with men and women in transition, especially those who are shifting into second careers. Dr. MacIlvaine specializes in apologetics from an historical and theological perspective. His emphasis is in showing how adhering to God’s word has generated many benefits to societies, cultures and individuals.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marriage- rich source of wellbeing!

Welcome back to the Teleios blog! We have been exploring together how the Bible improves our lives practically.

Most people would agree that few topics are as important to our lives as marriage. This long-standing institution has been under attack in our culture for the past few generations! Is marriage, as traditionally defined as a legal union between a man and a woman, worth preserving for society? Is there an advantage to this form of union to individuals’ mental and physical health, and to society in general?

To analyze this question we reviewed past studies in the medical literature which evaluated the benefits and disadvantages of legally binding, heterosexual marriage (Teleios, Inc. internal data). We went back as far as 1966!

The analysis showed overwhelming benefits of traditional marriage on general wellbeing and specific parameters that might affect wellbeing, including physical and mental health, sexual satisfaction, family income, and children’s outcomes. Of the 42 articles evaluated, only 3 did not describe any marriage benefits.  Even more, the stronger the relationship commitment, the greater trend of enhanced wellbeing. Never married, widowed and divorced individuals suffered the lowest wellbeing.

Interestingly, individuals in a committed relationship, even unmarried, generally had improved elements of wellbeing compared to those uncommitted.  But marriage relationships, which typically demonstrate the strongest legal and outward social commitment to a relationship, generally had the highest wellbeing of all relationships. Further, some evidence in diseased and depressed individuals indicated that the better quality of the marriage relationship, the better the wellbeing-related outcome.

How to explain these results? We speculated on several reasons.
  • First, a committed partner helping with income, household tasks, and raising children can lessen the burden compared to a single parent.
  • Second, socialization with a marriage partner provides a potential source of personal enrichment, encouragement and empathy.
  • Third, the more committed the relationship, the greater confidence spouses can have in each other thus conserving time, money and emotion required to correct problems in their relationship.
  • Fourth, marriage partners can help maintain good health by encouraging each other to keep medical appointments, take medicines and develop a healthy lifestyle.
  •  Last, the marriage commitment may facilitate sexual satisfaction by building confidence that no competing love interest is diverting the attention of their spouse.

Why would a committed marital relationship have a positive impact on children and the community?  Again we speculated.
  • First, the ability of a couple to help each other provides sufficient time and money resources to better raise children and serve the community.
  • Second, satisfied couples who are not dealing with internal problems can more easily look outwards to helping their children and community.
  • Last, committed couples who agree together how to raise their children can provide a more consistent, productive, secure and supportive home environment.

Our review suggested that traditional marriage generally provides numerous benefits to the relationship partners through enhanced measures of mental and physical wellbeing, and benefits to their children compared to other heterosexual partnership arrangements or single status.

Should the US government institute policies that encourage traditional marriage as a method to enhance societal wellbeing and economic success?

Thank you for taking time to visit my blog. I look forward to seeing you again next week. 

Visit the news bar at www.teleiosresearch.com for a downloadable infographic of this study.


WC Stewart, MD

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Christian principles enhance wellbeing in people suffering illness

Greetings again and welcome back to my blog! We have been exploring the exciting topic of how Biblical truth enhances personal wellbeing. Last week we discussed, based on a prospective study performed by Teleios, that when patients with glaucoma adhere to Christian principles they have greater wellbeing and easier acceptance of their disease.1

As helpful as prospective studies are, we are fortunate that many past medical investigators already have performed a lot of work showing that Christian principles enhance wellbeing in people suffering illness. We recently compiled this information in a review (Stewart WC, Adams MP, Stewart JA, Nelson LA. Review of clinical medicine and religious practice. J Relig Health 2013;52:91-106). The vast majority of the research was performed in historically Christian countries.

Our review found that religious faith is important to many patients, particularly those with a serious disease, and that patients depend on it as a positive coping mechanism. Further, many patients react positively to a physician’s spiritual interaction with them, especially with greater severity of their health problems.

Importantly, religious practices, including prayer, generally provide positive results in the patient’s life and treatment, as determined by factors such as a patient’s: knowledge about their disease, adherence to treatment, disease coping, quality of life, and overall health outcomes.

Although not completely understood, we speculate that these benefits might have resulted from religion’s general encouragement to maintain a positive attitude and be respectful of medical personnel, as well as providing a comforting hope for a potential cure and/or their eternal future.  Further, perhaps, the structure of the religious practice provided the patient with the discipline to learn about their disease and adhere to treatment. In addition, our review noted that the more a patient practiced the positive aspects of their religion, the greater the benefits on how they coped with their disease and treatment.

Our review suggested that patients commonly practice religion and interact with God about their disease state. This spiritual interaction may benefit a patient by providing comfort, increasing knowledge about their disease, greater treatment adherence, and quality of life.

Many research avenues remain open regarding religion and disease, including better controlled studies relating the impact of religion on a patient’s quality of life and disease.

Would you expect the same benefits across all religions?  Between those who take their Christian faith seriously versus those who participate in Christianity on a cultural basis only?

Thank you again for visiting. Please ask questions or comment. I look forward to seeing you next week.

The review discussed in this blog is available on our website www.TeleiosResearch.com...please visit!
  1. Stewart WC, Sharpe ED, Kristoffersen CJ, Nelson LA, Stewart JA. Association of strength of religious adherence to attitudes regarding glaucoma or ocular hypertension. Ophthalmic Res 2011:45:53-6.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can adherence to Christian principles help suffering patients?

Hello again, welcome back! We have been exploring the exciting topic of Scripture and how adherence to the Christian principles of daily living (prayer, praise, fellowship, receiving Biblical teaching and service) enhance a person's wellbeing (Acts 2:42,47).

In prior blogs we have reported our findings in the general healthy population, but can the medically ill also improve their wellbeing through Christian living? Can the same Biblical principles apply in individuals suffering the emotional distress of sickness?

We recently examined this question in a cross-sectional survey of patients with open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension (Stewart WC, Sharpe ED, Kristoffersen CJ, Nelson LA, Stewart JA. Association of strength of religious adherence to attitudes regarding glaucoma or ocular hypertension. Ophthalmic Res 2011:45:53-6). We evaluated self-reported religious adherence to specific basic activities and knowledge of faith and personal comfort. This specific analysis was limited to self-professed Christians.

The survey included 248 patients from one clinical practice in Charleston, SC and showed that those who were adherent to activities intended to create religious maturity (drawing encouragement from other church members, reading Scripture or encouraging others to have faith), and had at least a basic knowledge about their faith, demonstrated greater comfort related to their illness and treatment. Specifically, comfort was manifested as: a positive attitude towards their disease, a better ability to cope with their symptoms, a belief that God was concerned about their diagnosis and helped with their treatment. 

When the findings were further analyzed by assessing those subjects who were most 'adherent', compared to those who were least adherent, an even greater separation between groups was observed with respect to comfort. This finding may indicate that the more serious a person is about the practice of their religion, the greater sense of wellbeing they may derive from it. 

This study suggested that Christian practice may assist patients in better coping with their disease and that it may possibly increase the quality of their life. This study included patients with a chronic ocular disease. Would the same principles also apply in patients with acute or systemic disease?

Thanks for visiting. I hope you will return next week for further discussion about the practical use of the Bible in daily life.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Serving Others

Serving others actually may benefit our own wellbeing!

Today let’s examine ways in which the Bible helps us with our daily life and wellbeing. Last week we explored how adherence to basic Christian principles of daily living such as prayer, praise, fellowship, receiving Biblical teaching and outreach (Acts 2:42-47) can be a tool we use to enhance personal wellbeing.

Now let’s focus on one aspect of these principles, personal service. Teleios recently evaluated the effect of personal service on wellbeing at Grace Community Church (MacIlvaine WR, Nelson LA, Stewart JA, Stewart WC. Association of strength of community service to personal wellbeing. Community Ment Health J 2014;50:577-582). We surveyed 309 adults in two services on one Sunday.

The survey showed that individuals who routinely participated in a community or church-based service program, compared to those who did not, had better wellbeing scores in contentment, peace, joy, purpose and community acceptance. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that? Additionally, people who served had a better global wellbeing score (average of seven questions together) than those who did not serve.

Interestingly, the study showed the benefit of service might occur with as little as just one hour a week helping others! The benefit was even greater when people served up to 6 hours per week. In addition, the perceived benefit of the service did not depend on the type of service, whether in the church or in non-church sponsored community service.

That leads us to ask why personal service would help wellbeing. We don’t know this answer for certain but there are several potentials:
v  Serving others provides us with a sense of purpose.
v  Serving provides a comfort that our lives are useful.
v  When we serve we realize we are being obedient and living consistently with God's desires.
v  Serving takes our eyes off ourselves so we don’t focus just on our problems, but also on assisting others.

This raises the question; do all types of community service impact wellbeing equally? In other words, does spiritual service have as much impact as service that is purely social?

Thanks for visiting. I look forward to seeing you again next week.