Is Forgiveness a Public Health Issue?
Thursday August 16th 2018, 9:38 pm
Filed under: medicine and religion,public health,spirituality and mental health

By Tyler VanderWeele

It’s said that to err is human and to forgive is divine, but forgiveness may be a health-promoting behavior as well. Though often considered to be a very personal behavior, often linked with ethics or religion, a recent meta-analysis of 54 interventional studies on forgiveness suggests that this act has major health benefits as well. [4]

Forgiveness is sometimes defined as the victim’s choice reduce negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and replace these with positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors toward the offender.[1-3]  It should be noted that forgiveness is distinct from condoning, justifying, or sanctioning the behavior of the wrongdoer, and it is not appropriate in situations of ongoing, sustained violence or abuse.

One example of community forgiveness comes from a 2016 incident in which a young, intoxicated man vandalized a mosque in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He subsequently realized the cruelty of his impulsive act, apologizing to the mosque community and asking for their forgiveness, which they freely gave. [8]. The members of the mosque community did not justify or excuse his actions but they made clear that they forgave him for and did not want to ruin his life. One member of the mosque wrote on social media, “we forgave you from the first time you apologized, don’t let that mistake bring you down  […] we don’t hold grudges against anybody!” The mosque members even asked for a more lenient sentence for the offender; though the case was eventually treated as a felony courts. However, sustained by the forgiveness of the community he had wronged, the former vandal gained a deeper awareness of the effects of his actions on others and become determined to never again commit such a heinous act. [8] (more…)



Religious Communities, Health, and Well-Being
Wednesday March 28th 2018, 9:16 pm
Filed under: medicine and religion,pastoral care,public health

By Tyler VanderWeele

About a year ago I delivered an address at the US Air Force Chaplains Corps Summit on “Religious Communities, Health, and Well-Being.” I was asked to speak as a part of their “Faith Works” campaign that is intended to encourage, when appropriate, the airmen in their faith and to encourage greater freedom in talking about these matters, and to make clear the important role of chaplains in the Air Force and the Military. I talked about some of my own empirical research on how religious participation, and religious service attendance especially, has profound effects on improving health and well-being including the associations between religious service attendance and subsequent greater longevity, less depression, less suicide, less smoking, less substance abuse, better cancer and cardiovascular disease survival, less divorce, greater social support, greater meaning and purpose in life, greater life satisfaction, more charitable giving, more volunteering, and greater civic engagement.

Much of that address was just published a few days ago in the journal Military Medicine and is available here. I also talked about the implications of the research for policy, religious communities, medicine, media portrayals of religion, and individual decision-making. Due to journal space limitations, however, I was unable to include in the journal article my reflections on the mechanisms whereby religious participation seems to lead to health and well-being, though that too had been part of the address. (more…)



Author Interview: Law, Religion, and Health in the United States
Thursday March 08th 2018, 3:02 am
Filed under: author interviews,medicine and religion,public health

Professor Elizabeth Sepper is a scholar of religious liberty and health law at Washington University. In 2017, she participated in a conference organized by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. The conference was dedicated to considering complex legal and ethical issues that emerged in light of cases such as the 2014 Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court Case. Perspectives from attendees of the conference were gathered in the manuscript, Law, Religion, and Health in the United States, published by Cambridge University Press in summer of 2017.

Alexandra Nichipor of the Initiative on Health, Religion, and Spirituality was able to ask Professor Sepper some questions about her recent book.

Alexandra Nichipor: What made you decide to edit a volume around the topic of law, religion, and health?

Elizabeth Sepper: Law, religion, and health were in the air when we brought together the contributors to this volume. The Supreme Court had recently decided the landmark case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., recognizing a for-profit corporation’s right to exercise religion and granting it an accommodation from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover contraceptives in employee insurance plans. Related litigation against the contraceptive mandate was ongoing and had brought to the fore central, unresolved issues in law and religion doctrine that affect health.

At the same time, scientific advances increasingly were challenging religious doctrine. Advances in assisted reproductive technology and life-saving procedures muddy moral and legal questions about the beginning and end of human life. Evolving understanding of human psychology likewise led medical professionals to reject, for example, sexual orientation conversion therapy over objection from some religious believers. (more…)