Friday, October 19, 2012

A life-threatening disease does not make one religious

Religion has often been described as 'food for the soul' or 'opium for the masses', catering to a human need for an explanation of the unknown and a sense of consolation for difficult issues such as death. Scientifically speaking, discussions have revolved around the 'use' of religion for human well-being. For example, religion could help one get through a tough situation in life, such as a severely life-impeding disease. Scientists set out to uncover whether the onset of a life-threatening disease turns people religious, but found that this was not the case, indicating that atheists find their own ways for consolation or support.

In a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen, a team of sociologists set out to interview young patients that had recently been diagnosed with either leukaemia or lymphoma, a condition that can be fatal. All the people enrolled in the study were under the age of 40 and were interviewed between the first and sixth month after their diagnosis, and a follow-up interview was carried out between month twelve and eighteen.

According to the scientists conducting the interviews, patients do think about the consequences of their disease: it means they start thinking more about life and 'existential' issues, but their faith, or lack of it, does not change. On the other hand, a cancer diagnosis did not turn religious people away from their faith. The scientists claim it shows religion is being 'consumed' to fulfil a certain desire, but that it does not function for those who have strayed from belief in concepts that lack any form of evidence.

The findings are remarkable, because one would expect that people in a dire situation would be inclined to turn to a supernatural being that can soothe the pain. This, however, does not appear to be the case, although perhaps more of such patients need to be interviewed to draw a definite conclusion. However, it seems that people without supernatural beliefs appear capable of dealing with life's troubles without turning to concepts of religion, that have been designed to soothe the human mind.

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