How to stop Putin’s war in Ukraine

Russia’s barbaric and revolting attack on Ukraine can not only be stopped, but the steps that can be taken to end this bloody destruction of a sovereign nation will also create the means to keep it from ever happening again. Unfortunately, the United Nations, which was designed to prevent or stop this kind of aggression, cannot perform its intended role effectively since the offending state is one of the five permanent members on the UN Security Council with absolute veto power over any UN actions to counter the aggression.

So why not just amend the UN charter to eliminate Russia from the Security Council? Russia’s veto power would also be used to prevent this from happening. The reality is that the UN, with its current structure and charter, is unable to act in any substantive way to stop Putin’s war. What is needed now, to stop the genocide and war crimes being inflicted on innocent people of Ukraine, is a new organization with a new charter.

This new organization could be constructed in a way that would facilitate the coordinated and effective actions needed to end the kind of aggression we are witnessing on the part of Putin’s tyrannical regime in Russia. Such an organization could greatly accelerate the boycotts and sanctions now being put in place, that are needed to eliminate the income from the sale of fossil fuels that is essential to Russia’s war effort. Without this huge flow of money into Russia, it will run out of the resources essential to continuing its brutality within a few months.

A new organization to carry out these sanctions will be needed since some of the countries that will need to eliminate the use of Russia’s fossil fuels have economies that are very dependent on them. To mitigate this damage, the peaceful counties who oppose Russian aggression must develop an agreement to immediately share their hydrocarbon-based resources until the world-wide energy economy can be reformed in ways that will guarantee their long-term prosperity. If we want to stop this war, we must all agree to share in the hardship that will result from doing what is necessary to stop it.

What is needed, as quickly as possible, is to form a new world-wide organization, modeled after the UN, that does not give a small number of members absolute veto power over the actions that a majority of the members believe to be essential to world peace. Mirroring the original intent that resulted in the UN being formed, its goal will be to prevent any country from using destructive actions to destroy or subjugate the people of another sovereign state.

How could such a dramatic change be accomplished quickly? One way would be for the US Congress to take the lead in forming a new alliance that the world so desperately needs. The US could withdraw the funds we are currently providing to the UN and make this money available to start the new organization. This would, of course, eliminate the jobs and income of many of the selfless and highly skilled employees of the UN. But this effort would result in an effective and essential organization being formed with a new name, a new charter, and probably would be run by the same staff currently employed by the United Nations. This new alliance would not only be committed to world peace just like the UN, but it would have the ability to make sure it happens.

Without this this kind of cooperative action on the part of the vast majority of people on earth who cherish peace and love their homeland, it is very likely we will see more attacks by more powerful countries on the weaker, in wars that could last many years. How many innocent civilians do we need to watch being deprived of their homes or brutally slaughtered before we come together and act decisively?

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Scientific Support for New Testament Teachings 4:

                       “…and greater works than these shall he do…”

Before getting into the main topic of this presentation, I will briefly pull together the main points of the first three presentations.  I started with a survey of the extensive scientific research findings confirming that positive and uplifting religious teachings tends to heal those involved with them.  Further, as many of the world’s most widely accepted spiritual traditions state or imply, the human mind is being shown to be much more powerful than we usually assume, and this is also well demonstrated by scientific research.    Strong support for this conclusion can be found in the research findings concerning the placebo effect and investigations into the commonalities found when cases of spontaneous remission of incurable diseases are studied and compared.  Research into the enduring effects of trauma and adverse experiences that damage our health and future well-being provide further evidence of this latent power within human conscious expectations and beliefs.  Until recently, this innate power has been almost entirely ignored by modern medical science. The work summarized in the first three presentations of this series shows us that we need to expand our concepts of the genesis of human chronic illness and disease as well as our understanding of how they might be healed. 

In this presentation, I will present several ways of making use of the insights from the first three presentations to help heal both ourselves and others who we care about. The information I am about to present is very practical.  The techniques involved can be used to begin to heal much of the negative emotional baggage most of us have accumulated in our lives and begin to free ourselves of its consequences.  These healing strategies do not necessarily require the help of a professional, but they can provide a foundation for programs which the members of a medical office might use to do a more effective job of preventing and healing serious illness.

Before I begin this exploration, though, I want to share a little of the impact that writing these first three presentations have had on me, personally.  First and foremost, I believe I am now less judgmental of certain of my patients after having carefully considered the research I presented.  It is much clearer to me that people who are involved with self-destructive behaviors like drug abuse and alcoholism are often responding to emotional injuries that they usually do not understand, and which they do not have conscious control over.  I find that I am more compassionate toward them, and I am confident that I will be a more effective healer as a result.  I am also feeling more enthusiasm and more motivation for my work as a physician. 

I will be following a similar format to the previous presentations.  I will explore several healing techniques, provide a summary of the research that support their efficacy, and provide biblical quotations that pre-date and support what has been found, but not necessarily in that order.  The citations of supporting research at the end will allow you to verify what I am saying here and give direction for your own exploration of topics that you might find interesting.

The self-healing power of helping others

When we think of the value of helping others, we usually think of the benefits in two ways.  The most obvious is the help and healing we provide for others.  But many of us also view altruism as following what we believe to be the commandments of our Creator.  From the Gospels, Matthew chapter 25, this is explicitly stated:

“Then shall the King sat unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed if my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was hungered, and you gave me meat: I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came unto me.”

Matthew 25:34-35

In the parable, it is also clearly stated why we should take these actions.  Here, again, from Matthew 25:40:

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye havedone it unto the least of these my breathern, ye have done it into me.:

The scientific research, though, indicates that there is another important benefit: helping others is also healing for those who do the helping.  The research that evaluates the health impacts of volunteering for various altruistic efforts shows that it results in improved health and lower mortality for the volunteers.  This research shows us that one of the most important ways we can help ourselves is through using our resources and abilities to improve the lives of others.

Here is one way this insight might be utilized.  At this point in time in the United States, there are a large number of elderly individuals living alone.  They are frequently lonely, often with their children living in other states.  For them to retain their independence while their memory, endurance and other resources decline as they age, they need more and more help with meals, handling medications and managing their homes.  There is also a large, underutilized resource that could be better mobilized to meet this need since there are more and more people entering their retirement years in good health, many of whom feeling they lost their purpose in life when they retired.

While there are some programs like Meals on Wheels that address some of these needs and make use of some of these potential volunteers, this concept could be expanded to coordinate motivated volunteers to greatly expand the help that is available to keep the elderly living in their homes safely more comfortably, for a longer period of time.

Next, I will begin to address research that shows how we can help people with a history of emotional traumas, as discussed in the previous presentation of this series, to begin to reverse their residual, damaging impacts.

The healing power of self-expression and sharing

The topic I just addressed, the healing power of helping others, is a general effect, much like the healing power of attending religious services discussed in the first presentation of this series.  Now, though, I will begin to present more specific healing effects that address the emotional scars discussed in the last presentation.  This topic has two closely related aspects: the healing power of group therapy, and the healing power of disclosing personal stories of emotional trauma to others who are sympathetic and concerned.

The power of group therapy is well documented and sometimes its effectiveness can be quite remarkable.  A good example was published in Lancet in 1989, titled: Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer.  In this randomized study, the treatment group participated in weekly supportive group therapy for a year.  Ten years after the study started, the mean survival time for the treatment group was over 36 months, compared to about 19 months for the control group.  Not only did the women in group therapy live longer, they also were more comfortable and had greater feelings of well-being than the women in the control group

Another example of the benefit of group therapy was a study by Dean Ornish MD, and others, titled: Intensive Lifestyle Changes for Reversal of Coronary Heart Disease, published in JAMA in 1998.  In this 5-year, randomized outcome study, the experimental group engaged in intensive life-style changes, including stress management and group psychosocial support for 5 years.  The experimental group showed continued regression of their coronary atherosclerosis while the standard-care control group, showed progression of disease in their arteries.

One of the most important aspects of group therapy is the ability for group members to express their feelings to other people who have experienced similar pain and discomfort.  We know that many traumatized individuals are ashamed of their experiences and suffer from a negative self-image as a result.  Beyond the healing value of group therapy, research has shown a second healing effect of sharing.   Even just writing about life traumas can begin a healing process.  If the experiences are then shared with others who are supportive and sympathetic, the improvement is further enhanced.

Research studies of the written or verbal disclosure of traumatic events have shown remarkably consistent benefits, particularly when those traumatic experiences were not previously disclosed.  These studies document improved mood, lowering of anxiety and greater feelings of well-being for months to years after their disclosure.  It is notable that after the disclosure of traumas, fibromyalgia pain, joint inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis, and air flow measurements in people with asthma have shown improvement compared to controls who are treated with the usual standard of care.  These studies have also demonstrated that the stronger the emotional expression and release during the disclosure, and the more supportive the audience during the process of sharing, the greater improvement that results.

An organized approach to utilizing the research findings might involve the following steps:

          1. Screen people that are suffering from psychological problems like anxiety and/or depression for a history of past traumas.

          2. Form a discussion and support group for those with significant traumas, led by a knowledgeable and compassionate leader to guide the process. 

          3. Use trauma journals for people to write about their experiences and to share with the group, to the degree that they are comfortable.

          4. Follow the health and emotional well-being of group members to document the benefit that thegroup involvement and sharing have provided.

While the healing power of helping others and of sharing one’s own life traumas and discomfort with others have been shown to be remarkably effective in their healing, we have only scratched the surface of the strategies that have been shown to be worthwhile.  Next, let’s consider a brief summary of mindfulness-based strategies that have been clearly healing for those that participate.

The healing power of mindfulness strategies

Meditation is a practice that most of us associate with Eastern religious practices like Hinduism and Buddhism.  However, there are a number of passages in the New Testament where Jesus is reported to have spent long periods of time, alone in prayer.  Here are a couple examples:

“And in the morning, rising a great while before day, he went out, and depaterted into a solitary place, and there he prayed.”

Mark 1:35

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prauyer to God.”

Luke 6:12

Periods of time in seclusion and focusing on a single topic, as described in these biblical passages, is, in its essence, what we call meditation.  There is an extensive body of scientific research demonstrating the healing power of meditation, and when the focus of meditation concerns spiritual topics which are already topics that are accepted by the person meditating, research shows that it is even more potent in its healing potential.

Jesus also gave us guidance to engage in a particular type of focus that is remarkably like what has been called mindfulness meditation:

“Take therefore no thought of tomorrow: for the morrow shall take thought of the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Matthew 6:34

There are now many different kinds of what are often called “mindfulness-based interventions” that show the healing effects of various types of mindfulness meditation through randomized, controlled trials.  In these mindfulness approaches, the participants are given strategies to focus completely on the here and now, avoiding thoughts about the past and the future.  While the techniques did evolve out of Eastern religious practices, they do not require any commitment or belief in these spiritual doctrines to be of healing and preventive value.

Numerous scientific studies conclusively demonstrate that these types of practices reverse chronic emotional discomfort.  Recall that in earlier presentations it was shown that these emotional scars lead to a cascade of damaging consequences.  Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve depression, anxiety, feelings of stress, and chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.  These practices, once learned, can be used at home without professional support, and research studies demonstrate that the longer the practices are continued the more beneficial they are.

Recall also, from the previous discussions, that chronic emotional discomfort is associated with the likelihood of engaging in destructive addictive habits.  Since mindfulness interventions improve emotional discomfort, and emotional discomfort increases the likelihood of addictions, it would be expected that mindfulness techniques should also help eliminate these addictions.  This is exactly what the research shows for alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and illicit drug addictions.

Taking this analysis even further, since it was shown that chronic emotional discomfort also leads to chronic physical disease, it would also be reasonable to expect that mindfulness techniques, if used long enough, would tend to reverse these otherwise relentlessly progressive disorders.  This is also what numerous research reports have shown.  Mindfulness techniques can improve or eliminate hypertension, diabetes, immune disorders, and blood lipid disorders, to name a few.  In many situations, medications can be avoided, decreased, or eliminated altogether.

For physicians and other medical professionals, developing a mindfulness-based program for patients as a complementary strategy for the usual care they provide is completely in line with their purpose.  Group treatments involving mindfulness interventions will also facilitate the healing effects of altruism that naturally arise between group members.  Furthermore, the healing benefits of disclosure, as discussed earlier, may also be easily incorporated within the group treatment program.  The benefits of all these strategies would be additive, promising significant improvements in the health and well-being of those involved.

In the next section of this presentation, I will discuss healing strategies that were completely unavailable back when the New Testament Gospels originated.  I will discuss some of the healing benefits that can be derived from the sophisticated use of electricity and magnetism, all well documented in high quality scientific research studies.

The healing power of modern technology

We are already familiar with many of the powerful technological methods of healing in use today.  MRI scans, genetic profiles, potent antibiotics, robotic surgical repairs, and numerous other ways to investigate and treat existing illnesses and disabilities are common knowledge.  But while these inventions are incredibly effective for acute illnesses and injuries, they are usually much less effective in their ability to reverse chronic, debilitating disease.  There are new healing technologies now emerging, though, that can prevent or reverse chronic disease.

One of the most promising is heart rate variability biofeedback.  It is based on the beat-to-beat changes in heart rate which can be easily measured and analyzed and compared to the presence or absence of disease.  We are most familiar with this kind of measurement as part of the output of an electrocardiogram.  In the usual EKG, though, only the average heart rate is reported, and it does not report much information about beat-to-beat changes in heart rate.  But, if you do longer measurements of the heart conduction patterns, and then do careful statistical analysis of the instantaneous beat-to-beat changes in heart rate that can be accumulated, you can then develop indices of heart rate variability (HRV) that are remarkably powerful in predicting the presence of disease as well as the likelihood that disease will develop in the future.

From investigations of the usefulness of these HRV measurements, we now know that a decrease in HRV is associated with many diseases.  We also know that HRV tends to decline with age, and the more chronic diseases a given individual is suffering from, the lower his HRV will be.  Furthermore, the lower the HRV, the higher the risk of chronic diseases developing in the future.  This technology is giving us a window to view the factors that are causing chronic disease and is beginning to guide us toward ways of intervening and stopping the disease process in its earliest stages, long before devastating illness results.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the main determinant of HRV.  When we are threatened or stressed in some fashion, one component of the ANS, called the sympathetic pathways, accelerates our heart, and prepares our body’s organ systems to vigorously defend ourselves and continue do so despite any injuries we might suffer.  In contrast, the parasympathetic pathways within the ANS slow the heart and facilitate rest as well as the long-term repair of any damage to the body.  HRV is a product of the functioning of the ANS subsystems and gives us indicators of how well they are functioning. 

Research into the function of these neural systems is also showing that overwhelming trauma or prolonged uncomfortable experiences decrease heart rate variability.  If lowered HRV continues without being relieved or reversed in some way, chronic diseases begin to develop, the aging process accelerates, and our quality of life and well-being steadily decline.  The effectiveness of our immune system is also compromised, our susceptibility to acute disease increases, and our ability to repair injuries is impaired.  We are also finding that impaired heart rate variability is associated with specific changes in the structure of the human brain that mirror the defective functions of the damaged ANS.

Studies that measure HRV and compare the results to the presence of disease find that both psychological and physical illnesses are associated with decreases in measures of HRV.  A low HRV is also predictive of disease developing in the future.  The psychological diseases shown to be associated with decreases in HRV include anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, drug addictions, and many others.  Physical diseases include hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, chronic pain syndromes, arthritis, chronic immune disorders, to name just some of the important associations that have been found.

While emotional traumas and chronic distress cause a decline in HRV, and HRV usually stays impaired or gets worse over time, the process can be reversed.  Positive emotional states like joy, laughter and loving emotional relationships improve HRV.  In the past, we were not aware of these connections between our emotions and subsequent physical damage and disease, so we did not know how important our feelings of well-being or distress were to our health.  Now, however, we can use measurements like HRV to develop techniques to reverse the damage.  We can even measure our moment-to-moment changes in HRV with relatively inexpensive devices to monitor the state of our ANS and HRV.  This is a form of biofeedback and the processes being developed are usually called heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVBF).

HRVBF research has shown that these techniques result in improvements in feelings of well-being, less anxiety, better sleep, less fatigue, and less pain.  Along with these improvements in our mental state, we find lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, lower levels of cortisol in our bloodstream, and lower cravings for addictive substances like drugs, nicotine, and alcohol.  Memory, ability to concentrate and reaction times also improve.

There is no reason why the group therapy and mindfulness-based interventions, discussed earlier in this presentation, could not be combined with HRVBF to form a treatment program that would provide significant benefits for those involved.  The research would indicate that people involved in this kind of program would feel better, and the longer they participated, the better they would feel.  Their health indicators would also improve, and it is likely that any existing diseases would be better controlled with less medications.  All these factors could be followed to demonstrate and prove the practical benefits of such a strategy.  As you might expect, this technique can be readily combined with other healing strategies, like group therapy and mindfulness-based interventions, discussed previously.

Conclusion

To end this presentation, I will provide a summary of the main points of the four presentations so far:

  • It is the state of our consciousness (our thoughts, feelings, and intents), that is the most important determinant of our future emotional and physical health.
  • Traumatic and distressing experiences create a hidden emotional injury that manifests as chronic emotional discomfort, physical disease, disability, and a shortened life span.
  • Indicators that this emotional injury is present can be measured by using surveys to disclose ongoing emotional discomfort, HRV indices, and even brain scans to disclose brain changes typical of this injury.
  • This chronic emotional damage can be reversed, and efforts to reverse it will improve our lives tremendously.

After presenting these techniques in some detail, I feel I need to share my belief that we do not actually need any of this technology to provide us with longer and more satisfying lives, but the technology makes it easier.  Since we have learned to believe so strongly in technological answers to our problems, devices like HRVBF can help us to eliminate any the misconception we might have about the power of our mind, making this healing potential much more accessible.  We have just scratched the surface of this power.  I will go further and deeper in a fifth presentation if enough people find what I have been saying so far to be useful.

As always, I have included references at the end of this presentation that support what I am saying.  The references are readily available on the internet and will provide a good starting point for anyone who wants to explore my conclusions in depth.

                                                                        References

Research reports showing better health and lower mortality in those who volunteer in helping others:

1. Harris AHS, Thoresen CE,  Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people:  Analysis of the Longitudinal Study on Aging.   J Health Psychol 2005; 10:739-752


2. Oman D, Thoresen CE, et al.  Volunteerism and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly.  J Health Psychol 1999; 4:301-316


3. Luoh M-C, Herzog AR,  Individual consequences of volunteer and paid work in old age: health and mortality.  J Health Soc Behav 2002; 43:490-509

Here are the two research reports about group therapy mentioned in this presentation, one concerning cancer and another coronary heart disease:

4. Spiegel D, Bloom JR, et al.  Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients withMetastatic breast cancer.  Lancet 1989; 334: 888-891

 5. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, et al.  Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease.   JAMA 1998; 280:2001-2007

These reports are just a few of the many research studies demonstrating the healing effect of disclosing traumas:

 6.   Smyth JM,  Written emotional expression: effect sizes, outcome types, and moderating Variables.  J Consult Clin Psychol 1998; 66:174-184

 7.   Radcliffe AM, Lumley MA, et al.  Written emotional disclosure: testing whether social disclosurmatters.  J Soc Clin Psychol; 2010; 26:362-384

8.   Smyth JM, Stone AA, et al,   Effects of writing about stressful experiences on symptom reduction in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis.  JAMA 1999; 281:1304-1309

There are a huge number of research reports documenting the healing effects of engaging in mindfulness-based programs.  I will list a few of the best, here:

9.     Fjorback LO, Arendt M, et al.  Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy – a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.  Acta Psychia Scand 2011: 124;102-119

10.  Gotink RA, Chu P, et al.   Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: an overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs.  PLoS ONE 2015: 10;1-17

11.  Li W, Howard MO, et al.  Mindfulness treatment for substance abuse: a systematic reviewAnd meta-analysis.  J Sub Abuse Treat 2017: 75;62-96

12.  Alamout MM, Rahmania  M, et al.  Effectiveness of mindfulness based cognitive therapy on weight loss, improvement of hypertension and attentional bias to eating cues in overweightpeople.   Int J Nurs Sci 2020: 7;35-40

13.   Grossman P, Tiefenthaler-Gilmer U, et al.  Mindfulness training as an intervention for fibromyalgia: evidence of postintervention and 3-year follow-up in well-being.  Psychother Psychosom 2007: 76;226-233

14.   Carlson LE, Speca M, et al.  One year pre-post intervention follow-up of psychological, immune, endocrine and blood pressure outcomes of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in breast and prostate cancer patients.  Brain Behav Immun 2007: 21;1038-1049

15.  Hughes JW, Fresco DM, et al.  Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension.  Psychosom Med 2013: 75;721-728

16.  Kian AA, Vahdani B, et al.  The impact of Mindfulness-based stress reduction on Emotional wellbeing and glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.  J Diab Res 2018; 2018:1-6

For those who might be concerned about the compatibility of Christian worship and mindfulness-based interventions, here are a couple references concerning this issue:

17.  Hathaway W, Tan E,  Religiously oriented mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.  J  Clin Psyc 2009: 85;158-171

18.  Pearce MJ, Koenig HG, et al.  Religiously integrated cognitive behavioral therapy: a new method of treatment for major depression in patients with chronic medical illness. Psycotherapy 2015: 52;56-66

Here is a meta-analysis from 2013 demonstrating the effectiveness of HRVBF in a large number of both psychological and physical illnesses:

19. Gervitz R,  The promise of heart rate variability biofeedback: evidence-based applications.  Biofeedback 2013: 41;110-120

Here are good examples of research studies showing the effectiveness of HRVBF in treating anxiety, depression, and alcoholism:

20. Goessl VC, Curtiss JE, et al.  The effect of heart rate variability biofeedback training on stres and anxiety: a meta-analysis.  Psych Med 2017: 47;2578-2586

21. Karavidas MK, Lehrer PM, Preliminary results of an open label study of heart rate variability biofeedback for treatment of major depression.  Appl Psychophys Biofeedback 2007: 32;19-30

22. Penzlin AI, Siepmann T,  Heart rate variability biofeedback in patients with alcohol dependence.   A randomized controlled study.  Neuropsych Dis Treatment 2015: 11;2619-2627

Here are studies of the use of HRVBF in treating hypertension and dementia following a stroke:

23. McCraty R, Atkinson M, et al.  Impact of a workplace stress reduction program on blood pressure and emotional health in hypertensive employees.  J Alt Comp Med 2003: 9:355-369

24. Chang W, Lee J,  Effects of heart rate variability biofeedback in patients with acute ischemic stroke: a randomized controlled trial.  Bio Res Nurs 2019: 22;34-44

This is an excellent study using HRVBF to counteract the stress of being a correctional officer in a prison.  It showed that HRVBF in conjunction with stress management training lowered blood sugar, lowered blood pressure, decreased cholesterol levels, decreased anger, decreased stress, and improved fatigue:

25. McCraty R, Atkinson M et al.  New hope for correctional officers: An innovative program for reducing stress and health risks.  Appl Psychophys Biofeedback 2009: 34;251-272

Here is a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies that show that impaired HRV is associated with characteristic changes in the brain:

26. Thayer JF, Ahs F, et al.  A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: implications for heart rate variability as a marker for stress and health.  Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2012: 36;747-756

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Scientific Support for New Testament Teachings 3: “Power against unclean spirits”

First, I will very briefly summarize the high points of the first two presentations to set the stage for this one.  In the first one, I reviewed scientific research that indicated that what we believe about the world and what we occupy our minds with impacts our health.   Scientific studies were reviewed that demonstrated that being involved with the New Testament teachings in our lives is healing.  In the second presentation, what Jesus declared about the power of the human mind was examined.  Research demonstrating the power of the placebo effect and what has been called “spontaneous remission of incurable diseases” confirms his statements.

Embedded within the details of the first two presentations, though, is an important theme that points the way towards a deeper understanding of the nature and causes of human illness and disease.  Instead of the causes and risk factors for each disease being specific to that disease, we are finding that trauma and unpleasant experiences increase the likelihood that many different diseases might develop, or causes them to get worse, in a very general fashion.  Instead of each disease only responding to medications and other physical interventions specific to that disease, we are finding that being involved with uplifting and positive ideas in our lives tends to prevent or heal all disease, also in a very general fashion.

As we follow this theme further, and as we include more insights from the New Testament Gospels that are supported by extensive scientific research in our exploration, we will expand our understanding of human disease.  We will uncover the origins of most mental and physical illness, and we will discover how our misunderstanding of the true nature of chronic diseases has impeded our ability to both prevent them and heal them.  Research has also shown that the use of these insights promotes longer and happier lives.

Let us now look at some important New Testament passages pointing towards the true causes of illness.

What are “unclean spirits”?

First, consider what everyone believed about the nature of disease when Jesus was teaching two thousand years ago. Obviously, there was no knowledge of things like microbes, genes, and human anatomy that we take for granted today.  Lacking these modern insights, illness was assumed to be the result of the actions of evil spirits, sometimes called Satan or devils.  Those with disease were believed to be possessed by these spirits, and if their disease was cured, it was concluded that the spiritual possession was “cast out.”   Lacking our modern knowledge, these concepts were natural inferences that were quite compelling.

To fully comprehend what Jesus was teaching about illness and its cure, we should keep in mind that he had to use concepts and language that the people he was addressing could relate to, and he could only reach them through the terminology of their beliefs.  Because disease was believed to be the result of evil spirits, it was taught in these terms.  To further complicate things, virtually all his teachings involved spiritual concepts that the people of his time had no words to clearly describe, therefore his teachings almost always involved metaphors. Consider also that Jesus did not write anything as he was teaching.  Since what we have available to us in the Gospels is only what his disciples remembered of his teachings, their recollections were likely to have been further distorted by their ideas about what caused disease.

To better clarify what I am saying here, I will provide a few passages from the Gospels that illustrate these insights along with commentary that describes our modern understanding of what the Gospel writers were describing.

This first passage, from Matthew 17:14-18, describes a boy who probably had a seizure disorder, and Jesus’ cure was described as the rebuking of the devil that possessed him:

“And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to sating, Lord, have mercy on my son; for he is a lunatic, and sore vexed; for oftimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? Bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil: and he departed from him: and the child was cured in that very hour.”

We now know many of the causes of seizures and how to control or cure them, but none of our treatments involve the casting out of devils.  This is not to say that Jesus did not cure this boy as described, only that the ancient description of what happened was, of necessity, distorted and misleading, if taken literally.

Another example is found in Luke 13:11-16, where we are told that Jesus cured a woman of a prolonged infirmity which had her bowed forward so she could not stand upright.  This was likely arthritis or osteoporosis, but Jesus was quoted as saying Satan had bound her for eighteen years and that he had then loosed Satan’s binding.  In Matthew 12:22, a man blind and unable to speak was brought to Jesus.  The man was described as being possessed with a devil, and Jesus cured him also.

In further passages we are told that all of the diseases that Jesus cured were from the same source.  In Matthew 8:16, it was reported how a number of people seeking healing were brought to Jesus and they were all described as being possessed by devils.  This illustrates clearly that in Jesus’ time, illness was attributed to possession by devils:

“When the even was come, they brought hime many that were possesed by devils; and he cast out the spirits with his word, and he healed all that were sick.”

In Matthew 10:1, the writer of this Gospel also describes the power that Jesus gave to his disciples to heal as being the power to cast out evil spirits.

“And when he called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of illness.”

For people in ancient times to conclude that the cause of human illness was due to the action of “unclean spirits” was not completely unreasonable.  Since the Gospel teachings were addressing a cause of disease that was invisible, it was natural to assume it was spiritual.  It also seemed to be a single, powerful force with evil intent, since it produced so many different deadly diseases, and it appeared to act as if it was possessing the individual and continuously damaging the unfortunate person possessed by it.  In the language of this metaphor of being possessed by evil spirits, there might have been ways to free the diseased person from their possession.   The result would then seem like the “casting out” of the “unclean spirit.”

Next, I will describe the high points of a newly developing field of research that started with a seminal study of what has been called “adverse childhood experiences” and how they might impact human health and disease later in life.   This research is pointing the way towards a deeper understanding of chronic illness that is remarkably similar to the ancient image of being possessed by “unclean spirits.”

The ACE Study story

In the mid 1980’s, Vincent Felitti MD, was helping patients in an obesity treatment program for the Kaiser Permanente HMO in California.  He made two important observations of the people he was treating.  First, he noted that some of the most successful patients dropped out of the program, rejecting the strategies that had been effective, and regaining the weight they lost.  He also noticed how many of his obese adult patients had reported being abused as children, reporting these experiences much more often than his normal weight patients.  To explore the implications of his observations, he interviewed 286 of his patients in depth and confirmed his suspicion that overeating was often a partial solution to emotional problems that started with being traumatized as children.

Then, in 1990, he presented a report on these observations at an obesity conference.  After his presentation, Robert Anda MD, who had been researching the connection between depression and heart disease, suggested that they collaborate with their research.  Dr. Anda proposed a formal study of Kaiser Permanente patients that would broaden the approach to looking at the relationship of childhood trauma to the emergence of emotional and physical health problems later in life.

The research team developed a 10-question survey to measure adverse childhood experiences, calling it the “ACE questionnaire”.   They then enrolled 9,508 Kaiser Permanente patients in their research project who had well documented medical histories.  This rich source of personal historical information allowed them to easily compare the survey results with each research subject’s medical histories as adults.  They found that not only where trauma exposures a lot more common than expected, the relationship with illness later in life was much more powerful than they would have imagined.  These findings were ground-breaking.  Prior to this study, early-life traumas were not considered as potential causes for adult disease.

But are the dramatic results of this study reliable?  Yes.  They have been replicated in hundreds of subsequent studies, including surveys in other countries and racial groups.  Subsequently, more focused research has not only further confirmed the initial reports, it has also greatly expanded our understanding of the various factors involved.  As I proceed in this analysis of some of the root causes of human disease, I will abstract pertinent findings and conclusions from this large body of research to provide a sound introduction to help understand what it is all telling us.  As in my previous presentations, some of the most important research studies I am drawing from will be cited in the references at the end.

As a first step in this exploration, I will examine the findings of how childhood traumas become sources of continuous emotional discomfort and distress later in life.  This will then give us the foundation for understanding other important health consequences that appear to also result from early-life physical and emotional injury.

Adverse childhood experiences and chronic emotional discomfort

Before looking at the relationships the Adverse Childhood Experience Study found, it may be helpful to consider the categories of distress the ACE questionnaire used.  All types of abuse were addressed: physical, emotional, and sexual, as well as neglect on the part of caregivers.  Dysfunction within the household, such as drug abuse, mental illness, alcoholism, being witness to violence, and family members being in jail, were also part of the survey.  All of these were considered to be adverse experiences for those children exposed to them and were quantified in the survey.

It may also be helpful if I describe what I am calling chronic emotional discomfort.  I am including signs or symptoms of either emotional discomfort or distress that appear to become part of the personality structure of the individual with the traumatic experiences.  These would include traits like chronic anxiety, long lasting or frequent episodes of depression, chronic insomnia, low self-esteem, and a lack of self-confidence.  These types of long-lasting discomfort or dysfunction would also include frequent complaints of physical symptoms when no physical causes can be found to explain them.

Research studies have shown that there is clearly something about early life distress and trauma that is carried forward into later life and disrupts the comfort and peace of mind of those who have endured these experiences.  The original ACE study used 8 different categories of adverse experiences and found that they were additive in their impact on later life emotional states.  The additive nature of these different   kinds of trauma produced a sort of “dose-response” relationship between the total number of different kinds of traumatic experiences and the risk of developing various kinds of chronic emotional discomfort.

While the total number of early life trauma experiences show the same relationship with all of the different kinds of later emotional symptoms, I will focus here on depression as an example.  As the number of ACE’s reported from the survey increased for study subjects, the likelihood of developing depression later in life increased in a graded fashion.  For example, for those with no history of abuse or distress reported in the ACE questionnaire, the risk of depression later in life was 14%.  For those with 4 or more categories of adverse experience reported, the risk of depression increased to 50.7%.  This amounts to a 260% increase in the risk of depression for those with 4 or more ACE’s reported compared to those with none.   (See Table 4 in the appendix for more details.)   Other research studies have confirmed these findings and have shown that all kinds of chronic discomfort are strongly associated with adverse experiences in childhood.

Since the consequences of early life trauma are found decades later in adult life, they have an enduring, negative impact.  Other studies that have specifically examined the effects of early life trauma on adult mental health have found that maturation and time do not reduce the effects.  For many of those who have been traumatized, these effects persist across the lifespan.  What is it about the experiences of trauma or prolonged emotional distress that is so likely to become embedded in the emotional make-up of the traumatized individual throughout the rest of his or her life?  We can look to brain imaging studies of people with a history of ACE’s for a clue.  While I will not get into the details at this point, brain imaging studies show specific changes in the structure and function of the traumatized individual’s brain that are clearly associated with these detrimental experiences.  (See reference 4 for more details.)  Whatever it is that is happening, it tends to become recorded within the neuronal structure of the brain.

I can tell you from what I find in treating people with these emotional problems in my medical practice that standard treatments rarely, if ever, cure the problems.  For example, even when anti-depressant medications are effective in completely resolving an episode of depression, more episodes of depression are quite common.  In some cases, anti-depressant medications need to be continued long-term, since stopping them results in a rapid return of depression.  Another example is the treatment of anxiety.  Anti-anxiety medications are usually needed on a chronic basis, and when therapy and counseling are effective, they are also usually needed in the long-term.   Low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and frequent somatic complaints are even less likely to respond to our standard medical or psychological treatments.  All of these kinds of emotional problems seem to become permanent personality traits.

Does this mean that there is nothing that can be done to negate the consequences of these experiences?  The answer is clearly no, but since we have not been aware of the importance of these factors in the past, this has greatly impeded our ability to develop effective treatments.  I will address this vitally important question in detail in a later presentation, but for now I will continue the description of the consequences that are initiated by adverse experiences.

In the next step in my description of an ongoing chain of consequences from adverse experiences, I will describe what the ACE study showed us about how adverse they are often associated with self-destructive habits.

Adverse childhood experiences and detrimental lifestyle choices

How often does the advice of health care workers, friends, and family members result in people stopping the abuse of alcohol, quitting smoking, or avoiding the use of illicit drugs?  Clearly, advice is nearly useless and even the threat of going to jail or developing diseases like lung cancer are rarely enough to stop some of these self-damaging habits.  Why are they so resistant?  The ACE study and similar research reports may be starting to provide answers.

Just like what was found with the risk of emotional problems dramatically increasing with a history of childhood traumas and other detrimental experiences, poor life-style decisions are also strongly associated with these adverse experiences earlier in one’s life.  The number of ACE’s reported in the survey were strongly associated with cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, the use of illicit drugs, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and sexual promiscuity.  What has been found with all of these detrimental habits is the same kind of dose-response relationship as was found with chronic emotional discomfort.   As the number of ACE’s increase, the likelihood of someone acquiring these detrimental habits also increases.  (See tables 4 and 5 in the appendix for more details from the original ACE study)

If we select the alcoholism as an example, those with no ACE exposures were found to have a 2.9% risk of being an alcoholic when they were surveyed as an adult.  In contrast, for those with 4 or more ACE’s reported, there was a 16.1% risk.  This means that someone with 4 or more ACE’s is 455% more likely to become an alcoholic than someone with no ACE’s.  Just as we found for the chronic emotional discomfort that was associated with adverse earlier experiences, all the different kinds of detrimental lifestyle choices increased with the total ACE burden. 

Are the different kinds of chronic emotional discomfort and the habitual, detrimental habits connected in some way?  If you ask people who overeat or who drink alcohol excessively or use drugs, they usually are quite clear in telling you that they feel better while engaging in these self-destructive behaviors.  They also report that the even though the benefits are temporary, they still continue their self-destructive behaviors because of the compelling emotional reward they provide.  It appears that many poor lifestyle choices are a kind of self-treatment for chronic emotional discomfort.   This is probably why they are so difficult to eliminate.  In giving advice, we are not addressing the reason the habits develop in the first place, and advice by itself does not help to eliminate the need.

There is yet another important dimension to the problems we are describing here.  These are not just individual issues; they are multi-generational.  People addicted to drugs or alcohol, those with mental illnesses and those who are chronically angry and abusive as a result of their early life experiences, have children who they then expose to similar distress.  If we learn to understand what is going on here and begin to use effective treatments to eliminate the root causes, we will not only be helping our patients, we will also be helping their children and their children’s children.

In the next section of this presentation, I will leave the topics of emotions and behavior and begin to address what the ACE study is telling us that will expand our understanding of the causes of physical disease processes.  Physical illnesses are the next step in the chain of consequences that follow adverse experiences. 

Adverse childhood experiences and serious physical illnesses

When I first read the results of the original ACE research report, it was the association between childhood trauma and adult physical disease that really surprised me.   In the past, when medical scientists considered the risk factors for physical illness, traumatic early life experiences were not something that was considered to be pertinent to explaining why diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes develop.  A careful review of the research studies that followed the original ACE study report, though, clearly confirms the ACE study findings.  We now know that emotional trauma is a potent risk factor for physical illness.

For example, In the original Ace study, 3.7% of adults with no history of childhood trauma were diagnosed with ischemic heart disease.  But of the adults with 4 or more categories of trauma in childhood, 5.6% had ischemic heart disease.  This means that this disease was much more likely to develop in those who were traumatized as children.  If you look at the prevalence of cancer, and you compare those with no trauma history to those with over 4 categories, there is almost twice as many who develop cancer.  Diabetes, stroke, COPD, and liver disease also showed a potent dose -response pattern between the number of trauma categories found in the survey and the risk of these diseases. (See table 7 in the appendix for more details)

These results are telling us that emotional trauma in childhood, as measured in the ACE study survey, confers risk that adds to that of the traditional risk factors that medical researchers have focused on in the past.  Even when statistical techniques are employed to control for these traditional risk factors, childhood traumas remain as potent factors helping to further explain who will eventually develop these chronic diseases.

Another way to confirm these surprising findings is to look at the lifespan of the people with emotional traumas in their childhood, compare their accumulated trauma burden to their risk of early death.  When people from the original study were followed over the next ten years, the lifespan of those with no traumas was 79.1 years.  In contrast, those who had reported six or more trauma categories in their childhood, on average, lived only 60.6 years.  Incredibly, those with no trauma exposure reported on the ACE survey lived almost 20 years longer than people with a heavy trauma burden from their early life.  This is exactly what we would expect if early life traumas are dramatically increasing the likelihood of serious medical illnesses.

Up until this point in this presentation, I have focused primarily on the findings of the original ACE study.  It would be a mistake, though, to conclude that the ACE questionnaire captures all of the important traumas and distress that produce chronic illness.  Next, I will discuss how these important findings can be expanded to give us an even more accurate understanding of the ways that painful emotional experiences increase the risk that serious physical diseases will develop.

It is not just ACE’s

There are two important ways that we need to expand our understanding of emotional traumas and disease beyond what the ACE study findings have shown us. 

First, it is not just childhood.  It is clear from the existing research literature that emotional trauma at any point in life has a negative impact on our future emotional and physical health and this impact is clearly additive and cumulative.  For instance, studies of soldiers who were surveyed for childhood traumas prior to wartime tours of duty found that those with prior trauma histories were much more likely to develop depression and PTSD after returning to civilian life.  Further confirmation is from research studies that have looked at the brain structure changes associated with trauma.   They show that the typical changes that follow trauma in childhood also begin to develop following similar traumas later in life.

Second, long-term damage is not limited to the kinds of distress surveyed in the original ACE questionnaire.    For example, studies of children who have been bullied show the same kinds of brain changes and the same kinds increased risks of emotional and physical diseases as those found in the original ACE study.  Wartime traumas, the loss of loved ones, and being exposed to pervasive social prejudice are also potent risk factors for later emotional and physical illness as well as a higher risk of early death.

We can summarize these research findings by concluding that all kinds of traumatic experience, at any time in life, have these negative consequences.  The more intensely distressing and the longer they are continued, the more damage that is done.  This is comparatively new information that has not yet changed how the medical profession deals with chronic disease.  In the next section, I will endeavor to briefly compare what most physicians and medical scientists still believe about the nature of human disease to what this new data is telling us.  We need an updated understanding.

Understanding chronic human disease 2.0

We know that the human body is an amazingly complex organic machine.  For several centuries now, we have been accumulating ever greater detail about its structure, metabolic processes, and genetic inheritance.  But along with this dramatic increase In our understanding of the mechanics of how the human body operates, we have concluded that its diseases must be the result of, and completely explained by, the physical disruption of the body’s structural components and organs.  With this focus on the mechanics, we have lost track of the incredibly important impact of the human mind and emotions on our health.  The placebo effect and the “spontaneous remission” of incurable disease, discussed in an earlier presentation, are clear examples of this power of the human mind.  In this presentation, the evidence of the chronic damage that emotional trauma creates within our brain and body are further indications of this power.

Along with this modern medical focus on the physical disruptions of the human body as the cause of disease, we have catalogued thousands of named diseases.  As we have analyzed these physical determinants of each disease, we have also concluded that each has a unique set of causative factors.  In contrast to this modern analysis, in the first presentation of this series, research was presented that demonstrates how religious beliefs and practices tend to heal all disease.  While a different set of physical risk factors is associated with each disease process, comforting religious beliefs tend to heal all of these different kinds of diseases in a very general manner.  To this understanding we now add that emotional traumas also produce a general tendency in the opposite direction: toward the development of all different kinds of emotional and physical discomfort and disease.

As another consequence of our modern, predominantly physical explanation for why disease develops, there is a large explanatory gap in our ability to predict who will develop chronic disease later in life.  The traditionally described physical factors explain less than half of the risk.  This large gap in our ability to predict and prevent chronic disease exists because we have not adequately appreciated the true power of the human mind and emotions to either produce damage or promote healing.  This has been a major impediment to our efforts to prevent chronic diseases and to slow the aging process

From the results of the research presented here, we have seen that emotionally distressful experiences change the structure of the brain and the metabolic function of the body on a long-term basis.  We often experience this damage as anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and other forms of chronic discomfort or even distress.  We have also seen evidence that many of our damaging lifestyle choices are ways to self-manage this chronic emotional discomfort.  Eventually, the toxic effects of these emotional states and their metabolic derangements cause the body to breakdown and malfunction, resulting in chronic disease.

I have argued in this discussion that the concept of disease as it was described in the New Testament Gospels points us toward insights that modern science has largely ignored, and that important passages in the Gospels anticipated modern research findings concerning the power of our mind and emotions in promoting either health or disease.  To me, it seems clear that what was described in ancient times as “unclean spirits” was the invisible emotional damage and brain structural changes that produce disease.  In ancient times, lacking our modern understanding of the human brain and its control of metabolic processes, these effects seemed spiritual and driven by some sort of evil power.  The natural conclusion from this ancient model of disease was that the ill person was possessed by this evil power and needed the unclean spirit to be “cast out.”  As I have argued earlier, what was being taught by Jesus has the power to heal, even if the ancient understanding of the true cause of disease has resulted in our modern misinterpretation of his true meaning. 

This leads to the key question that has motivated me to present this research and the expanded understanding of the causes of human disease that it supports:  Can we reverse the damage once it has been acquired, preventing  its destructive effects?

Can chronic emotional discomfort and its subsequent physical illnesses be eliminated?

Even though research reports like those based on the ACE questionnaire seem to indicate that adverse experiences and their undesirable consequences usually stay with us for the remainder of our lives, this does not necessarily mean there is nothing we can do about them.  One indication is that not everyone who is exposed to childhood trauma suffers the long-term effects.  There are circumstances that are somehow protective, even though exactly what they are remains to be better understood.  Yet another indication is that being involved with uplifting and inspiring theological teachings leads to long term improvements in our health and well-being.  A third indication is that there is now a large research literature that is documenting treatment techniques which help to reverse chronic emotional discomforts such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fatigue.  While it has not yet been widely accepted and included in modern medical care, treatments that result in long lasting improvement in our emotional state are being shown to also improve our health, prevent disability, and extend our lives.

In the next presentation, I will begin summarizing what we already know about what can be done to better prevent and treat some of the deadliest chronic diseases that often disable us and shorten our lives.  You may be surprised by how much has been learned, and by how little it is being put into practice.  I will subtitle this presentation:  “…and greater works than these shall he do…”

This research promises a lot of benefits both for those we might want to help, and for us, personally, as we work to help others.  Psychological benefits include greater peace of mind, increased energy and enthusiasm, increased self-confidence, and better sleep.  Physical benefits include lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, improved immune function, better memory, and prevention or healing of disease in general.

                                                  References

This is the original “adverse childhood experiences” research report:

  1.  Felitti VJ, Anda RF, et al.  Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to   many of the leading causes of death in adults.  Am J Prev Med 1998; 14:245-258

Here are a couple large surveys that confirmed the original ACE report in other populations:

  •  Bellis MA, Hughes K, et al.  Measuring mortality and the burden of adult disease associated with adverse childhood experiences in England: a national survey.  J Public Health 2015; 37:445-454
  • Llabre MM, Schneiderman N, et al.  Childhood trauma and adult risk factors and disease in Hispanics/Latinos in the US: results from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) Sociocultural Ancillary Study.  Psychosom Med 2017; 79:172-180

This research report, published in 2006, includes an excellent survey of what was known about the effect of traumatic experiences on changes in brain structure.  In 2006 it was already conclusively demonstrated that traumatic experience is associated with long term detrimental changes in brain structure and function:

  •  Anda RF, Felitti VJ, et al.  The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood: a convergence of evidence from neurobiology and epidemiology.  Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2006; 256:174-186

This research study used a different survey to measure childhood sources of distress than was used in the ACE study, included a different population, and confirmed the dramatic psychological problems that were found in the ACE study:

  •  McCauley J, Kern DE, et al.   Clinical characteristics of women with a history of childhood abuse: unhealed wounds.  JAMA 1997;  277:1362-1368

This research report uses the same database as the original ACE study, but goes into much more detail about the increased risk of ischemic heart disease and mortality form adverse early life experiences:

  •  Dong M, Wayne GH, et al.  Insights into causal pathways for ischemic heart disease: Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.  Circulation 2004; 110:1761-1766

The ACE questionnaire covered many of the most common causes of early life trauma but not all.  This report adds the damage caused by being bullied as one example of other traumas that impact health and well-being in adults:

  •  Copeland WE, Wolke D, et al. Adult psychiatric and suicide outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence.  JAMA Psychiatry 2013; 70:419-426

Appendix

The following tables (4, 5 & 7) are from the original ACE study report, cited as reference 1, above:

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Scientific Support for New Testament Teachings 2:

“If ye have the faith as a grain of mustard seed”

This is the second of a series of presentations discussing the remarkable support that modern science provides for the teachings of the New Testament. It is written to stand alone fairly well, but if you have not yet read the first, it would be best it would be best if you did so before proceeding.

To begin, I will review some important conclusions from my first presentation in this series.  First, I demonstrated how sophisticated scientific research methods can be used to test the truth of certain spiritual ideas.  Then, I also showed how the teachings about “The Good News” of the New Testament manuscripts, taken together as a large group of healing insights, have been scientifically verified in their healing power for those who have incorporated these teachings into their lives.  Finally, I explained that while other sacred scriptures and faith traditions also have healing power, I have found the Christian scriptures to be the most comprehensive in their exposition of spiritual healing.  Therefore, for the remainder of my presentations, I will be concentrating on the Christian scriptures as a guide to the exploration of the pertinent scientific research that supports them.

Next, let us look at some of the content of the Gospels where Jesus taught about the power of the human mind.  In many passages, in all four of the Gospels, we are told he travelled around the cities and villages of his land healing every disease he encountered among the people in the area.  We are also told that when he sent his disciples out to do the same, they also were able to heal people’s diseases.

But Jesus did not stop there, he proclaimed this healing power is available for everyone:

               “…He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these    shall he do…”      (John 14:12)

  

In the next passage, Jesus reaffirms our potential power, and offers some guidance about how we can access it.  The quote follows the description of a man’s son who was suffering from what was most likely a seizure disorder.  Jesus’ disciples had tried to heal the man’s son and failed.  They then asked Jesus why they had failed, and he replied:

               “And Jesus said unto them, because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as great as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder   place: and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”    (Matthew 17:14-20)

           

Further, Jesus explains that it is not just the faith of those who would heal others that is important, the faith of those who wish to be healed also plays a major role.  We see this when a blind man called out from the crowd to be healed by Jesus:

               “And Jesus answered and said unto him, what whilt thou that I should do unto thee?  The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I may receive my sight.  And Jesus said unto him, go thy way, thy faith has made thee whole.  And immediately he received his sight.”    (Mark 10:46-52)

           

Note that Jesus did not explain that the healing was due to his own power.  He could have said something like: “Because you asked me, I am going to heal you.”  Instead, he clearly tells us that it was the blind man’s own faith that healed his blindness.

Can our faith in our own healing bring it about, as the Gospels clearly tell us? I will begin my exploration of the scientific literature that bears on this topic by presenting a well-documented and verified case study that demonstrates the power of one man’s mind in changing the course of a deadly illness.     

The story of “Krebiozen”

In 1957, this story about a terminally ill patient (given the pseudonym Mr. Wright) was published in the Journal of Protective Techniques.  Mr. Wright was in the last stage of a rapidly progressive lymphoma.  He had tumor growths as big as an orange on his neck, in his armpits, and on his groin.  He was so weak he was bedridden and gasping for air.  All conventional treatments had failed to control the cancer, and his physician, Phillip West MD, had told him he had only a few weeks to live. 

Of course, Mr. Wright was desperate, and when he heard of a new treatment his hospital was helping to evaluate through an experimental drug trial, he asked to be enrolled.  However, he failed to qualify since he lacked one of the requirements of the study design: he was not expected to live another 3 months.  He was so persistent, though, that he was able to convince Dr. West to obtain some of the treatment drug, called Krebiozen (a compound extracted from the blood of horses), to be injected into him even though he had not been accepted into the trial.

Three days later, the tumors had shrunk to less than one half their previous size, and he was able to walk around the hospital ward without assistance.  He was in such good spirits that he was joking with the hospital staff.  Then, two weeks after he was given his first dose of Krebiozen, he was discharged to home as a “miraculous cure.”

The story does not end here, however.   Two months after this cure, Mr. Wright read news reports that Krebiozen was found to be a complete failure in the formal experimental trials.  He relapsed; the tumors returned.  Dr. West concluded that his remission had been a placebo response, and since his patient was terminally ill again, there was little to lose if he lied to Mr. Wright about the Krebiozen he had been given.  Dr. West told him that he had been mistakenly given a “weak batch” of Krebiozen, and he had obtained a “new, super-refined, double strength version.”  But, in fact, he was injected with distilled water instead of krebiozen.

In response to this second treatment, his tumors once again shrank away to nothing, and Mr. Wright was again discharged to home in good health.  Several months later, though, more news reports about the Krebiozen trials appeared.  It was disclosed that the trials had been an elaborate hoax and the drug’s manufacturers had been indicted for fraud.  Mr. Wright’s tumors returned, and he died within a week.

The “mere placebo”

It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic case report demonstrating what medical scientists call the placebo effect, than the one I just described.  But, despite cases like this that show such potent responses to inactive drugs or treatments, physicians and medical researchers often describe such healing responses as “merely the effect of a placebo.”  Labeling them in this fashion implies that improvements due to the placebo effect are somehow less than real.   This attitude is easily understandable.  We know that the results of any experimental trial can be misleading since research subjects almost always want the results to be successful and researchers themselves usually prefer to show their theories to be correct through the successful outcomes of their experiments.  While using placebos to minimize these potential biases is an effective and important way to control for them, the extensive use placebos, almost exclusively for this purpose, tends to distract us from appreciating their most important action.

To start a deeper exploration of the nature of the placebo effect, let us consider a surgical procedure that was originally developed to relieve the disabling angina of patients with advanced coronary heart disease.  In 1960, an article was published in the American Journal of Cardiology about a surgical procedure to block off arteries in the chest wall of angina patients that was believed to improve the blood flow to their heart.  Subjects were randomized to either undergo arterial ligation or to a placebo sham surgery that did not change any arteries.  At the end of the study, it was shown that patients that had their arteries tied off had dramatic improvement in both their angina and their exercise tolerance, and greatly decreased their use of nitroglycerin for chest pain.  This improvement lasted for months.  But it was the response to the sham surgery that was most notable in this trial.  Instead of providing little or no benefit, it resulted in an improvement that was as dramatic as that of the active experimental surgery.  This was a clear demonstration of the placebo effect: completely ineffective surgery resulted in dramatic improvement in a serious medical condition.

In research studies designed to explore the mechanism of action of placebos, their beneficial effects have been shown to be separate and independent of any physical action due to the drug or treatment being studied.  This has been clearly demonstrated in studies that employed the hidden infusion of pain-relieving medications and then compared their effectiveness to infusions of the same medications whose purpose was clearly explained to the patient as it was being infused.  As expected, the hidden infusions did show active pain-relief actions.  Openly described infusions, though, were considerably more powerful than those that were hidden.  This shows that the active drug and the patient’s beliefs about how the drug should help them have different mechanisms of action, and these add to each other in relieving pain.  Even though there is no actual placebo being administered in this kind of trial, it confirms and the power of the placebo effect itself and clarifies for us that its action is completely a response to an individual’s awareness and belief about how they are being treated.

Similar research designs that utilize intravenous pain-relieving drugs after surgical procedures demonstrate that the information given to patients about their treatment strongly affects how well that treatment works.  For example, in one study, the patients were all given continuous infusions of inactive saline solution to which they could add boluses of pain-relieving narcotics often enough to comfortably control their post-operative pain.  The subjects were then randomly assigned to three different groups, with the only difference being what each group was told about the contents of their continuous intravenous infusions.  The patients in the first group were told nothing about their infusion.  The second group was falsely informed that they may or may not receive extra, continuous pain relief from an extra ingredient in their saline infusion and, as part of the study design, this information would be unavailable to them.   The third group was falsely told that their baseline infusion would always include a powerful pain-relieving medication.  The effects of their beliefs about their continuous infusions were indirectly measured by how much bolus narcotic was needed to control their pain.  Subjects told nothing about their continuous saline infusions needed the most bolus medication to adequately control their pain.  Those told they may or may not be getting continuous medication needed less.  The group of subjects that were deceived by being told that their infusion was a powerful pain reliever needed the least extra bolus medication for comfortable pain control.  These kinds of studies show us that the stronger our beliefs, the stronger the impacts they will have on our bodies and further confirm that our expectations have effects that are independent of the physical actions of pain-relieving medications.

These research studies clearly demonstrate that it is not the placebo that matters, it is our expectations and beliefs concerning the medication, procedure or course of action that provides the treatment benefits.  Once this is clearly understood, it becomes clear that every aspect of a person’s involvement with a health care facility and its staff impacts how effective they will be.  The reputation of the physicians and staff, how respectfully and courteously they are treated by everyone involved in their care, and even the appearance of the facility makes a difference in their treatment outcome.

Other research extends this understanding by demonstrating that the beliefs a study subject holds about the possible benefits of a given treatment results in changes in the structure and metabolic pathways of their body.  Clear examples are research designs that use brain imaging to follow the changes in the human brain in response to either antidepressant drugs or identical looking placebos that have been randomly assigned to be given to depressed subjects.  In these studies, multiple images are done and the changes in the level of the subjects’ depression are compared to any changes in brain function and structure that may occur as the studies progress.  In these studies, quite remarkable associations are found.  If the subject’s depression is not improved by either the active drug or placebo, no changes in structure or function of the brain are observed.  In contrast, when either the active antidepressant or the placebo was found to be effective in relieving the depression, changes in both brain structure and function were found to be associated with this improvement.  What was most remarkable, though, was that the pattern of changes in the brain were different for active drug when compared to the changes found to be due to the placebo!

From these kinds of studies, we see that what research scientists often dismiss as just a nuisance that complicates drug development trials is quite remarkable in its own right: the ideas and beliefs we hold to be true about various drugs and other treatments physically change our body’s structure and function, even when the physical intervention itself has no direct metabolic effect of its own.  The weight of the evidence even suggests that our beliefs and expectations about our medical treatments are often even more potent than the physically active treatments.  For example, comprehensive reviews of research studies involving anti-depressant medications show that about 75% of their action is due to the placebo response and only about 25% is due to the active drug being tested. 

In contrast to the healing power discussed in the studies above, the power of our beliefs can also have negative effects (often called nocebo effects), as conclusively demonstrated by other well-designed research studies.  For example, it has been shown that the expectation of possible side effects of a drug increases the number and intensity of unpleasant or harmful results.  The more you warn about side effects, the more they appear. 

All the research involving placebos, taken together, gives strong scientific support for statements like those in the New Testament when the blind man was told after receiving his sight: “Thy faith has made thee whole.”   Our mind is quite powerful in both its positive and its negative effects on our bodies and our health.   It seems clear to me that what is called faith in this quotation is what I have called beliefs and expectations in my discussion of the placebo effect research.

Next, I will turn to another area of scientific research that further supports this biblical teaching: the unexpected reversal of terminal illness.  I will also introduce it with another well-documented and quite dramatic case history.

Anita Moorjani’s story

For four years, Anita was unsuccessfully treated for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Finally, toward the end, she was admitted to the hospital in a last-ditch attempt to prolong her life.  IV fluids were started, a feeding tube was placed, and her chemotherapy was put on hold due to her severely emaciated condition.  As her condition further deteriorated, and at the point when she lapsed into a coma, she had large tumors all over her body, she had huge open wounds in her skin eroded through by the cancer, and her weight was down to about 85 pounds from muscle wasting.  Then, on the evening of February 2, 2006, her physicians told her family that her major organs had shut down and not only would she never come back out of her coma, she had only a few hours left to live.

Instead of dying during the night, the next morning she opened her eyes and began to tell her family of her experiences while in her coma.  She tells us that the most significant was her contact with what she called the “essence” of her father who had long passed.  She explains that her relationship with her father had always been strained, and she felt judged by him, and she never felt “good enough” in his eyes.  As she tells us, during her coma, her father showed her how he always loved her and told her if she chose to return to her body, it would be completely healed of her cancer.  She goes on to say she felt she had more to learn and more to do in her life, so she agreed, and this was when she awoke from the coma.

Within 4 days, instead of continuously growing as they had for years, her tumors had shrunk dramatically.  Five weeks later, all tests for any residual lymphoma cells were clear, and she was discharged to home.   Once it was clear she was going to survive, plastic surgery was planned to close her huge skin ulcers.  This surgery was never needed, though; they had healed on their own.  She remains cancer-free to this day.

When I was in my medical training learning about the extremely limited expected survival of people with aggressive cancers that were not curable by surgery or chemotherapy, the possibility of a “spontaneous remission” like Anita’s was never even mentioned.  From what I have been hearing in recent continuing medical education classes that discuss these kinds of terminal illnesses, I doubt this has changed in today’s medical training.  A few researchers, though, have begun to collect reports and case histories of people who have survived what should have been a fatal illness, and what they have found is further scientific confirmation that the human mind has a direct, powerful effect on our health.

There is nothing “spontaneous” about the spontaneous remission of predictably fatal illness

Case reports of what has been called the spontaneous remission of terminal illnesses have been appearing in the medical literature for at least two centuries.  In the past, since we were not aware of any way to predict when they would occur, and they also seemed to be exceedingly rare, they have been almost completely ignored.  Several researchers, though, who have searched the medical literature and have gathered these anecdotal case reports have found that they are more common than most people think.  Unfortunately, since the already existing reports in the historical literature have usually lacked much information about the life circumstances of these unusual survivors, finding commonalities had been nearly impossible.  More recently, though, a few medical investigators have searched for and located unlikely survivors whom they could question about their lives prior to the onset of their disease as well as the details associated with the reversal of their illnesses.  In reviewing what they have found, it is quite clear that those who experience a remarkable reversal of a deadly illness often share certain characteristics that set them apart from those who succumb to their illnesses as predicted by their treating physicians.

I have selected several stories to present here from Kelly Turner, Ph.D.’s book: Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds.  As the focus of her PhD thesis, Kelly interviewed over 100 people who unexpectedly outlived a dismal prognosis of terminal cancer.  From the cases Kelly chose to present in her book, I have selected brief excerpts from several stories to share here because they so clearly illustrate important common themes that Kelly and other researchers have found in their in-depth exploration of this phenomenon. 

John’s story.  For over 10 years, John had struggled with a difficult marriage, a stressful divorce, and constant financial troubles.  At age 50, prostate cancer was diagnosed, and he underwent the surgical removal of his prostate.  Five years later, the cancer returned, and he started on radiation and chemotherapy.  After being controlled again for a while, the cancer came back once again, and John rejected the restart of chemotherapy that was recommended by his physician.  Instead, he began diet changes, increased exercise, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation.  He also found a new “lady friend” that he loves to be around.  It is interesting that he used the feedback he received from periodic PSA measurements to decide whether to continue the various alternative self-treatments he tried, or to continue his search for others.  Seven years after he rejected restarting chemotherapy and began his own alternative treatment approach, John’s cancer has been well controlled.

Shin’s story.  Shin grew up in post-war Japan when duty, responsibility, and hard work were expected of everyone.  He started a consulting firm and dedicated virtually all his waking hours to this business, only sleeping about 3 hours per night out of his commitment to his work.  By age 46, he found that he was extremely fatigued and noticed blood in his urine.  Kidney cancer was found, and Shin underwent radiation and chemotherapy.  Despite these treatments, the cancer spread to his lungs and rectum.   All therapy was then stopped, he was enrolled in a hospice program, and he accepted that he would die soon. He tells us that in response to this realization, everything changed for him.  He began to see: “Every sunrise as a gift.”  He quit his consulting work and began to spend time with his wife and children.  When he began to: “Send love to his cancer” in meditation, he noticed that this practice decreased his pain.  He also started playing his cello again, which he had greatly enjoyed as a young man, but which he had stopped because of work demands. Three years after his chemotherapy was stopped, remnants of his tumor can still be seen in his follow-up scans, but he is greatly enjoying his new life and has far outlived the life expectancy associated with such an advanced cancer of this type.

Susan’s story.  Before her cancer was discovered, Susan had felt “stifled” by her job decisions.  She was bored and felt unfulfilled, but her upbringing had taught her to always focus on the needs of others and ignore her own needs and feelings.  When she was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, she heard an “inner voice” that said “no way” to surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.  She began focusing on her own welfare, attended healing retreats, and studied with “energy medicine” healers. She also increased her walking, changed her diet, avoided negative and critical people, and quit the job that bored her.  While using her alternative routines, and despite refusing the treatments her doctors insisted were necessary to prolong her survival for a year or two, five years later she is alive and well and her symptoms are gone.

Saranne’s story.  In 1993, Saranne was 29 years old and dealing with a strained marriage, caring for a blind mother, and an ill grandmother.  Over the next few years, both her mother and grandmother died, and she suffered through a painful divorce.  In 1999, she was diagnosed with a malignant breast tumor that had metastasized to lymph nodes, spots near her aorta, and to her neck and spine.  Before starting palliative chemotherapy, which would be expected to prolong her life for a year or so, she started a “laughter therapy” regimen as recommended in Norman Cousin’s book: Anatomy of an Illness.  Then, on the first day of chemotherapy she threw a “Chemo Comedy Party” for herself and the hospital staff who would be providing her treatment.  She also used spiritual techniques designed to release suppressed anger and other stressful emotions.  As she began to feel some improvement, she reported feeling empowered by her cancer diagnosis rather than victimized.  She also felt that through the illness she had discovered her life’s mission: starting the Comedy Cures Foundation to help others with terminal illnesses.  Then, in 2001, after an 18-month treatment course of a Tibetan Doctor’s herbs, her follow-up scans showed she was completely free of disease.

One of the common threads in these stories is the almost universal presence of chronic, major life stresses that precede the development of terminal illnesses.  For example, one frequently reported type of stress is feeling trapped in a job that is greatly disliked while other employment options are believed to be unavailable or unacceptable in some way.  Another common stress is feeling stuck in what might be called a toxic marriage while divorce or separation are not perceived to be viable options.  A third frequently reported source of chronic stress is the life-long habit of always putting the needs of others before one’s own needs and welfare.  Religious beliefs are also reported by some to be quite stressful, especially if the individual is convinced that his way of life or past actions will eventually be judged as improper and will result in eternal punishment after death.

In addition to finding frequent reports of major life stressors in people with terminal illnesses, researchers have also found that the diagnosis itself is often a catalyst to change that leads the person with a grave prognosis to take action to eliminate the source of their stress.  Sometimes the person who receives such a diagnosis makes changes they would not have otherwise considered since “there is not much time left.”   The change might have been a divorce, quitting a hated job, or some other means of taking back control of the life circumstances and attitudes that have caused them to feel trapped.   Of course, these kinds of life stresses are common, but when you look over the reports of a large number of people who have had terminal illnesses that have completely and unexpectedly resolved, it is remarkable how frequently the resolution of major life stresses is followed by the surprising resolution of what is expected to be a rapidly terminal illness.  It is also remarkable how often people with terminal illnesses report that the changes they made in response to their diagnosis were an enormous relief, and how they became more satisfied and happier as a result.  A few have even gone so far as to say their terminal illness was a gift!  Their quality of life was much better after their diagnosis motivated them to eliminate the main source of stress from their lives and the resolution of the illness itself was felt to just be an added benefit.

Another common pattern is how a diagnosis of a terminal illness can cause some people to assert more control over their lives by refusing to comply with strongly recommended treatments such as chemotherapy and the surgical resection of tumors.  Instead, alternative approaches are embarked upon, much to the consternation of their physicians, family, and close friends.  Typically, the individual with the devastating diagnosis selects several changes and courses of action that they believe will help control or cure their disease.  These might involve strategies like radical diet changes, greatly increased exercise, ingesting herbs or nutritional supplements, a new practice like meditation or yoga, or more frequent prayer.  It is notable that two things are almost always present in situations where traditional therapies are rejected in favor of alternatives.  One is that the individual with the disease usually takes complete control over their effort to find a cure.  The other is the depth of commitment and the strength of their belief in their chosen courses of action.

There is an important message from these studies of “spontaneous remission” that we can apply directly to our lives, should we be faced with the diagnosis of an illness that is likely to be terminal.  Each of us has unique needs that apply only to us and to our life, and there are no specific rules about what course of action is best that applies to everyone.  Instead, what these remarkable survivors are teaching us is that we should listen to our intuition and what our body is telling us about what we need if we are to be healthy and whole.  If recommended treatments have a high likelihood of success, and the risks and costs they entail are reasonable to us, our decision should be simple.  Just follow the recommendations.  If, however, we are not confident in what is recommended, or what was recommended has already failed, or if we are told there are no known effective treatment options, we need to pay careful attention to how we are feeling about our life circumstances.  These stories show that dramatic changes in life circumstances or alternative treatment strategies can sometimes be highly effective, especially if we have a lot of faith in them. 

Another message these stories are providing is almost an extension of the first: how we are feeling in any moment is either creating disease and disability or promoting health.  A positive state of mind is supportive of the body and promotes healing if disease is present.  In contrast, a daily struggle, constantly putting up with unpleasant feelings, and ignoring emotional distress is damaging; the body often eventually reacts with illness.  These things are cumulative.  The longer you remain in distress the more disruptions your body responds with.  In contrast, the longer you remain in a positive state of mind, the more your body will return toward its natural state of well-being and health.

A final message is a suggestion based on the commonalities I observe through these inspiring stories and many others like them.  While disease for some people can be beneficial by creating an impetus to needed change, we do not need to be given a terminal diagnosis to get some of this kind of helpful guidance.  We can imagine ourselves in the situations of these remarkable people who have managed to survive hopeless illnesses.  You might ask yourself: “What might I change about my life if I knew beyond any doubt that I had only one more year to live?”  You might also get useful insight, and maybe even a different answer, by asking: “What if I had only three weeks left?”  In my opinion, these questions, if considered in a serious fashion, can put us more in touch with what truly matters most to us in life, and this can be healing.

In a sort of summary to both this presentation and my first presentation, I will reflect on a conclusion that certain neuroscientists have arrived at about the human brain.  They have said that we use only about 10% of the potential power of our brain.  I think this statement is wrong in one way and right in another.  It is wrong in that it is not actually the brain that has all the potential power.   But they are right in implying that we are on the threshold of accessing enormous power.   As these stories demonstrate, once we understand how to use the power of human conscious intent and expectations more effectively, we will greatly increase our power for healing.  Jesus, in the New Testament Gospels, anticipated these research findings by thousands of years.  What he taught was profoundly healing, and he pointed the way to further enhance this healing power by explaining that it is our faith that is the true key to it all.

                                                                      *         *        *

In the next presentation, I will dig deeper into the effects of the chronic life stressors that have been found to be so damaging to our health.  This will be an important understanding that will set the stage for later presentations that will explore what scientific research has shown to be effective for minimizing or eliminating their actions in impairing our well-being and health.  I will subtitle it: “Power against unclean spirits.”

                                              References

A classic research report that shows that a completely ineffective surgical procedure can successfully control angina in cardiac patients

Dimond EG, Kittle CF, et al. Comparison of internal mammary artery ligation and sham operation for angina pectoris.  Am J of Cardiology 1960; 5:483-486

Articles demonstrating both the potency and complexity of the placebo effect:

Finniss DG, Kaptchuk TJ, et al.  Placebo effects: biological, clinical and ethical advances.  Lancet 2010; 375:686-695

Kam-Hansen S, Jakubowski M, et al. Labeling of medication and placebo alters the outcome of episodic migraine attacks.  Sci Transl Med.2014; 6:1-15

Jensen KB, Kaputchuk TJ, et al.  Nonconscious activation of placebo and nocebo responses.  PNAS 2012; 109:15959-15964

Here is a research report that conclusively shows that administering a physically inactive placebo changes the structure and function of the brain when the subjects of the study believe it is an active drug:

Leuchter AF, Cook IA, et al.  Changes in brain function of depressed subjects during treatment with placebo.  Am J Psychiatry 2002; 159:122-129

Here is a book that thoroughly documents the power of human belief in changing the health and functioning of the human body.  It is professionally written and comprehensive:

Dispenza J,  You are the Placebo: Making your Mind Matter.  Hay House, Inc; 2014

If you want an in-depth understanding of the power of the human mind in completely reversing terminal illnesses, you should start with this book:

Turner KA,  Radical Remission: surviving cancer against all odds.  Harper One; 2015

The following articles are by independent investigators who examine the same phenomena researched by Kelly Turner, and who arrive at similar conclusions:

Roud PC,  Psychosocial variables associated with the exceptional survival of patients with    advanced malignant disease.  J Nat Med Assoc  1987; 79:97-102

Peters R,  The connection between spontaneous remission of cancer and mindbody medicine.  Cancer Strategies J  Summer 2013; 1-8

Another professionally written and researched book about extraordinary healings and what they can teach us:

Hirschberg C, Barasch MI,  Remarkable Recovery.  NY,NY: Riverhead Books; 1995

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Scientific Support for New Testament Teachings 1:

                                            “The Good News”

Disclaimer:  The implications of the scientific research discussed, and my interpretations, may be challenging for some individuals to read.  It is not my intent to change anyone’s beliefs about religious topics or doctrine.  Rather, I will be presenting useful and well verified research for your consideration that may have beneficial consequences for your health.

There are a lot of scientific research reports with important implications for our health that very few people know much about.  But while most of these studies are well designed and meet the highest standards of high-quality research methods, their results are often in conflict with widely accepted scientific theories.  Because of this conflict, the results are usually ignored.

Since the implications of these reports are so important, it should be well worth your time to carefully consider this summary of the findings.  What I will be presenting here will demonstrate how science and religion are more connected with each other than we usually assume.  It will also provide insights that may provide a greater feeling of well-being, and may even lead to improved health.  To begin, I will do a very brief survey of the many religions and systems of belief that are well established across the modern world, with a focus on the fundamental assumptions on which there is widespread agreement.

The modern world’s belief systems

About 85% of the world’s population accepts that a non-physical, spiritual reality exists in some form or another.  This, of course, would include ideas and beliefs about such things as our possession of a soul, our expectations of an after-life, and the existence of an intelligent Creator of everything that exists.  Since these things are not directly observable, those of us that hold these beliefs take them on faith.

One important consequence of these beliefs being faith-based is that there exist thousands of different faith traditions that can put us in conflict with one another.  This is especially true when these beliefs include expectations about what others should believe and how they should behave.  Another important consequence of our faith-based beliefs is that we naturally assume we will have to pass on to an after-life reality before we will have direct access to ultimate truth and be able to verify what we now believe.

In addition, the nature of these widely shared assumptions leaves most us with a divided sense of our own individual lives and the universe we live in.  On the one hand, there is the day-to-day content of our lives that is the concern of modern science and our steadily advancing technology.  On the other hand, there is our concept of a separate spiritual reality which is the concern of theologians, philosophers, and the ministers of our many religions.  For the most part, most of us assume that these are independent realities, with little or no interaction.

If you look back at the historical record over the last five or six centuries, it is apparent that this dualistic approach to what is most important in our lives was not always as firmly entrenched as it is today.   Things began to change, though, when the “natural philosophers” who were developing what is now modern science came into conflict with the power of the Catholic Church.  Out of this conflict emerged a kind of agreement that has now become so well accepted that it is now almost never questioned.  This dualistic approach to reality means that scientists almost always limit their experimentation and theories to those phenomena that are directly observable in the physical world, while theologians and church leaders are considered to be the authorities concerned predominantly with spiritual issues  and beliefs.

What we have now, as a direct consequence of this unquestioned agreement, is that many scientists are either atheists or agnostics.  Even those scientists who belong to a religious tradition usually believe that any spiritual influence in the world is minimal, except where it impacts the decisions of the believers of a given religion or faith tradition.  In contrast, theologians and religious leaders believe that while a direct spiritual influence does exist within the events of the physical world, it still must be completely be taken on faith.

But what if this imagined rigid division of our reality is not accurate, and it is just an artificial agreement we have chosen to accept as if it were real?  What I am going to demonstrate, using the results of pertinent scientific research studies, implies that this well-accepted division of our reality is not only artificial, it is also misleading in a way that has important detrimental consequences for our health and well-being.  If you are not accustomed to considering these kinds of questions, this may be a tough line of reasoning to follow at first.  To make it easier, I will take us through some simplified examples that I hope will more clearly introduce the approach I will use.

The existence of invisible influences

To start, consider that even though we accept certain scientific concepts as completely true, they are not directly observable.  A few of these are gravity, magnetic fields, and the movement of invisible “radio waves” across widely separated locations.  Although we cannot see, or in any way directly sense, these fields of invisible influences, we know beyond any doubt that they exist because we see their impact on things we can observe, and these observations allow us to indirectly verify their existence.  Take the electromagnetic waves that carry radio and television signals as an example.  Although they are completely invisible to us, we know they are constantly present everywhere on our planet since the use of a radio receiver of sufficient power and properly adjusted to their frequency readily verifies this.

In some ways, spiritual concepts like “the power of prayer” are much like the electromagnetic fields that make radio and television broadcasts possible.  To better see what I mean, imagine several people sitting around a table praying for the well-being and healing of another group who are suffering from a severe illness.  If you were to walk into the room and see this group in silent prayer, it might appear like nothing is happening.  In this situation, like the electromagnetic fields of radio waves, any effects that the people in prayer might be having would be completely invisible.   But just like you can test for the presence of radio waves by turning on a radio, you could test the effects of the people praying by measuring the changes in the illness of the group being prayed for.  While this measurement requires careful scientific design, and the sophisticated application of modern statistical analysis, it is possible for us to design experiments to verify the health impacts of prayer.  In fact, this scenario has already been tested in several well-designed scientific studies.  “State of the art,” highly sophisticated scientific methods were followed, and the results were quite clear.  I will summarize one of the best.

Healing effects of prayer directed toward people in a coronary care unit

In 1988, a study by Randolph Byrd, MD was published in the Southern Medical Journal.  Dr. Byrd studied 393 patients in the CCU of San Francisco General Hospital for 10 months.  He randomly assigned about half of them to be in the experimental prayer group and the other half served as controls and received no prayer through the study protocol.  While all the patients in study agreed to participate, they had no knowledge of whether they were being prayed for or were serving as controls.  Nor did their treating physicians and the hospital staff know to which group they belonged.  This was a prospective, blinded, randomized, and well controlled scientific study design.

The treatments received in the CCU, such as medications, days of ventilatory support and need for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation were carefully followed and used as measures that allowed the researchers to monitor the progress of the illness experienced by study participants.  The results were quite astounding: those in the prayer group required much less treatment.  In fact, the statistics indicated that the people prayed for did so much better than the control group that the researchers would have had to run well over a thousand similar studies to find one like this by chance alone.  And, as you might expect from these results, the survival of the group that received prayer intent was also much higher.

Since several other studies of prayer improving the health of seriously ill patients have confirmed these results (please see the references for further examples), we can draw several firm conclusions.   One is that prayer can be demonstrated to have an important impact on the health of those who are prayed for in the same way we scientifically verify the action of physical interventions like drugs.  But beyond the beneficial actions of prayer, these studies also clearly suggest how we can test the truth of many other spiritual beliefs using modern scientific methods.  This is an immensely powerful tool!  On the one hand, it can be used to help us further strengthen our faith in what we already believe to be true.  On another, we can also use it to compare the health benefits of belonging to different faith traditions or religions.  Perhaps most important of all, it can be used to help clarify the original meaning of ancient teachings which have become obscured by language and cultural changes over the thousands of years since they were first presented.

These prayer studies are only a tiny sample of a huge amount of high-quality research reports that address the health impacts of human beliefs and religious faith traditions.  Before I begin to further explore these, though, for some readers it may be helpful to briefly discuss how to interpret scientific research reports so that we can effectively derive reliable guidance from them.

Interpreting scientific research reports

If you are already experienced in reading and comparing the results of scientific studies in order to determine what is reliable and what is not, you may want to skip this section.

Obviously, modern scientific research has provided us with amazing by-products, such as our incredibly convenient electronic devices and our extremely effective medical treatments.  From these successes we know beyond any doubt that the scientific method is quite potent, but to use it most effectively, the results of scientific research must be interpreted carefully. 

Most of us are aware of how scientists develop their theories and how they use carefully designed experiments to test their validity and accuracy, but people without a strong scientific background often put far too much emphasis on research reports that have not been replicated by independent researchers.  If you look at the results of a lot of scientific research reports, you know that some are distorted by a researcher’s bias and others use poorly designed methods.   People that lack this experience are often are not completely aware how necessary it is for potentially important results from any experiment to be retested by independent researchers before being accepted as reliable.  Isolated and unvalidated reports can be quite misleading. 

Scientists use carefully designed reporting procedures to ensure the reliability of their results.  One of these is that the editors of journals that communicate research results ensure that the methods and conclusions are carefully reviewed before accepting reports for publication.  Another is that when enough research has accumulated on a given topic, review articles are usually published that compare, contrast, and evaluate the existing literature to further help us arrive at reliable conclusions on important topics.

There are now literally thousands of research reports available to us concerning how religious and spiritual beliefs impact the health of those who hold them and use them to guide their lives.  As I have evaluated this research literature, I have taken great care to be sure that my conclusions are firmly based on well-replicated and consistently confirmed research reports.  I have also included references at the end of this presentation to allow you to evaluate the accuracy of what I am reporting on here. 

Since most of the studies available to us that explore the health impacts of spiritual beliefs have evaluated Christian worship, I will begin with a review of research involving the followers of Christian teachings.

The health impacts of attending Christian worship services

The large number of potentially useful research studies involving Christian worship that are readily available for review give us an excellent opportunity to explore this topic.  From the standpoint of scientific research analysis, it is important that the studies of Christian church members have included people who base their worship on remarkably consistent translations of the New Testament Gospels.  This allows us to ask if the depth of involvement in the Gospel teachings, for all Christian denominations taken together, correlates with changes in the health of the participants.  Since all the different groups use consistent translations, we can reasonably expect the results to be comparable.

It is also important to note that the Christian scriptures proclaim, in no uncertain terms, the healing power of what they contain.  This healing power is relatively easy to test by comparing the frequency of attending services with the level of health or illness of those in the group we are investigating.  It is reasonable to expect that if the Gospels have this healing power, those who attend most consistently would derive the greatest health benefits.  We can not only compare their health and well-being to their frequency of participation, and we can also follow the changes in these measures over time by following the development of new diseases, the changes in severity of already existing disease, and their mortality risks.

While the frequency of participation in worship services lacks somewhat in its precision for measuring the depth of involvement and commitment to following Christian teachings, it has still been shown to be a reliable and repeatable indicator that correlates well with more precise indicators of their commitment.  The health impacts are also reliably measured using questionnaires, reviewing medical records, and obtaining death certificates.

How, then, do the predictions of the New Testament Gospels hold up if we look at the health impact of Christian worship for the members of all the various denominations taken together?  Are those who are most deeply involved with their religious faith healthier?  The thousands of studies testing these questions clearly confirm the benefits of Christian worship services!  They show that those who attend most frequently have a more positive state of mind and are less likely to suffer from mental illness of all types.   Beyond these mental and emotional benefits, those most deeply involved with their religious faith also have had a lower incidence of newly diagnosed physical illnesses of all types that have been studied.  Existing illnesses were often slowed in their progression or sometimes even healed.  As you would expect based on these findings, it has also been shown that the most devout Christian faithful usually have both less debilitation in later life and have a longer life span.

These conclusions cannot be explained by the effects of already known factors such as genetics, the environment, and health behaviors.  Their significance remains even after researchers statistically control for the effect of all the risk factors that scientists have discovered in the past.  Putting this all together, one of the most important messages from these data is that the failure to consider the health effects of our deeply held beliefs and our participation in religious services and activities means we are missing very important information about the causes of human disease and their impact on the quality of our lives.

As further support for these conclusions, review articles that have carefully analyzed these research reports verify them.  This extensive body of research results clearly confirms what is stated within the New Testament Gospels: taking “The Good News” to heart is healing.  This is true now, just as Gospel writers reported it was over two thousand years ago.

This research literature not only adamantly supports these conclusions, it also gives us the means to explore important questions that naturally arise from them.  In the remainder of this presentation, I will briefly summarize the research that answers some of the most important.  One obvious question is: How do different Christian denominations compare to each other in their health impacts?  Another is:  How do those involved in non-Christian religious or spiritual groups compare to Christians?  Yet another important question, that we can at least begin to answer, is:  What is it about attending religious services that is so beneficial to our health and well-being?   I will then close this presentation with some further considerations of how what we are finding about the health impacts of religious beliefs and behaviors matches up with the widely accepted scientific theories of modern medicine concerning the causes of human illnesses and disease.

How do Christian denominations compare to each other in their impact on health, well-being, and longevity?

This question has been carefully evaluated within the review articles I have previously referred to and have cited at the end of this presentation.  Based on the results of thousands of well-designed, scientifically valid, studies, we can conclude that no one specific Christian church or denomination has a monopoly on health or well-being benefits.  Nor are any left out.  Of course, there is variation from one to another for any specific disease process, but these variations are readily attributable to differences in environmental factors, shared genetic variations and cultural variations in behaviors that have impacts on health.

Personally, these conclusions make me wonder about all the conflicts, strife and wars that have occurred between Christian groups who have adopted different doctrines based on the same Gospel teachings.  From a health and well-being perspective, the conflicts have been wrong-minded and unnecessary.  The research certainly suggests that this is so.

How do Christian and non-Christian faith traditions compare?

Although the research reports are far less extensive than what we have for Christians, those that we do have also show that the other widely-shared faith traditions that have been studied, and which profess values similar to the Christian Gospels, provide health and well-being benefits similar to those enjoyed by Christian believers.  Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are all included.  Among the references I include in support of this conclusion, studies of the health impacts of members of Israeli kibbutzim are notable for the demonstration of powerful health benefits for Kibbutz members who adhere closely to Judaic traditions, as compared to the kibbutzim that do not incorporate involvement in a strong Judaic tradition within their structure.  

Just as we found in comparing different Christian traditions to each other, no tradition or belief system, be it Christian or non-Christian, has a monopoly on health and well-being benefits.   At least from the standpoint of these benefits, it is not a question of which system of belief is THE right one, it seems that the most appropriate question is which is best for the individual who participates.

The next topic to be addressed, a brief exploration of how it is that participating in Christian worship services is beneficial to one’s health, will also serve to shed light on why non-Christian faith traditions provide similar health benefits to those Christians enjoy.

Is it just participating in religious services that matters, or is there more to it than that?

Here, I will again just briefly summarize a lot of the research literature and indicate how it gives us important clues to the answer to this question.  Most of these studies involve Christian groups, but research involving non-Christian groups provide similar results.

Research that compares those who attend public religious services to those that worship privately through personal religious activities, such as prayer and the reading of scriptures at home, show similar health benefits for both groups.  This strongly suggests that it is personally involving one’s life in the teachings themselves that has the most important health impacts, rather than compliance with public participation expectations.

To continue this question of why religious beliefs promote health, the results of questionnaires that explore the emotional states of those who involve themselves with religious activities are particularly instructive.  Those who report deriving more confidence, re-assurance, joy, and more of a sense of peace because of their participation do much better with their health than those who do not report receiving these emotional benefits.  In contrast, those who report feeling fearful, or feel that they may be “out of favor” with their Creator, do worse.  Some evidence even suggests that, from a health perspective, those who have a fearful and negative reaction to religious participation actually do worse than those who are non-believers and do not participate in any religious services of any kind.  This is probably already obvious to just about everyone who reads this, but the scientific evidence confirms that it is not just sitting in the pew or reciting memorized prayers that matters, it is how deeply you involve yourself with uplifting and supportive teachings, as well as your positive emotional response to them, that makes a difference in your life.

This conclusion, that both what you believe and how these beliefs are expressed in your life are powerful determinants of your health and well-being, brings us to the last question to I will address in this presentation.

How do the health benefits of spiritual and religious activities relate to the benefits of modern medical treatments?

What the research studies show us in answer to this question may be the most astonishing of all that I am presenting here.  I say astonishing because this is not what most physicians and other medical scientists believe, nor is its potential benefits usually included within our modern medical healthcare systems.  If the current medical literature is any indication, it is also not a widely accepted and important part of what medical students are learning today.

To begin, I will briefly summarize how modern medical science currently views the human body and what causes the diseases and illnesses that many of us experience.  Scientists know, beyond question, that the human body is an extraordinarily complex organic machine with a huge number of parts and subsystems.  Due to this complexity, we now recognize thousands of diseases that can result from the failure of any part, organ, or subsystem of the body.  We have also concluded that each of these diseases has its own set of unique, physical, pre-disposing factors that are considered to fully explain why one individual develops a given disease while others do not.  And, as we all know, each organ system now has its own medical specialists who focus on the diagnosis and management of the many diseases or disorders that each body organ can develop.  Since it is assumed that the body’s diseases are caused by the disruption of its physical systems or subsystems, the main treatments medical science relies on today are an array of interventions such as drugs, surgery, or other physically based therapies.

This approach to human illness has been tremendously successful, but what the research I have been presenting is telling us (and which is often ignored) is that it is incomplete and, due to this incompleteness,  it is limited in its explanatory power. 

One example of the limitations of the currently accepted model of human disease is its failure to explain why some of our patients can live into their ninth or tenth decade of life with little or no illness, while, at the other extreme, some patients have developed a very long list of medical diseases by the time they reach their fiftieth birthday.  Medical researchers usually assume that such extreme variations must be due to differences in genetic inheritance, environmental circumstances, or habitual lifestyles.  A careful review of these possibilities, however, is completely unconvincing.  When you combine all the physical factors that we currently recognize, most of the variability in health status remains to be explained.

Another failure of our current theoretical model of the causes of human disease is its complete failure to explain what has been called the “spontaneous remission” of predictably fatal illnesses like advanced cancers.  These presumably random occurring cures can happen even without any of the usual medical treatments being utilized, and when death from the disease was considered to have been 100% certain.  These unexplained cures have been sporadically reported in medical journals for many years, but since they seem to be unpredictable, they are usually ignored by medical research scientists.  The continuing reports of their occurrence and our inability to explain them, though, clearly is telling us that our current understanding of what causes disease and the factors that may promote its healing, is incomplete in important ways.

Perhaps the most important and clear failure of modern medicine is its inability to stop the progression of chronic disease like diabetes, dementia, kidney failure and degenerative arthritis.  Certainly, we have developed many drugs that decrease some of the discomfort and dangers these chronic diseases cause, and which may even slow their progression, but these disease processes usually continue to advance despite all these efforts.  Medical researchers usually attribute these failures to undiscovered or still poorly understood physical processes or factors.  It could well be, though, that our failure to prevent and cure chronic diseases is due to an incomplete and misleading theoretical model of the underlying causes of these chronic and relentlessly progressive maladies.

Obviously, what the research involving the religious and spiritual impact on human disease is telling us does not fit well within the model of the causes of human disease that I described earlier in this presentation.  In contrast to what the physical model of human disease predicts, the studies of the impact of religious and spiritual activities on our health are telling us that there is something about engaging one’s life within a positive system of beliefs that is healing, and which applies to ALL human disease in a comprehensive fashion.  This is a completely different understanding of the nature of the disease process itself than the one held by most modern medical professionals and researchers.

This new understanding that I am describing is saying that each one of the huge number of human diseases has a single, underlying emotional and cognitive factor as an important part of its source.  To further clarify this source, the research strongly indicates that positive emotional states such as appreciation, confidence, satisfaction, and joy tend to heal any disease we are experiencing.  In contrast, it is also showing us that negative emotional states such as fear, discouragement, discomfort, and frustration tend to cause or worsen all the disease processes medical science currently recognizes.

In this new understanding, our genetics, our environment, and our behavior are what determine the specifics of which diseases each of us will develop should we move in the direction of physical decline.  But they do not determine whether physical decline or healing will occur.  The research is now leading us to envision the underlying, general tendency toward more disease or toward healing to be a product of what we believe to be true, and the emotional state that these beliefs create for us.

To be clear, I am not saying that the research into the physical determinants of disease which medical scientists have completed up to this point is not both valid and extremely useful.  What I am saying is that it is not the complete explanation we have believed it to be, and it is not likely to be the ultimate answer that most of our medical researchers expect it to eventually become. 

To develop a much more complete image of what is driving both the disease process and the healing process, we need to better understand and include the impact of human consciousness and of our chronic emotional set points.  This brings me to the end of this brief introduction to a rarely recognized and vastly underutilized literature of health research and its profound implications for our health and well-being.  I will finish by briefly summarizing what I feel are some important take-home messages.

In summary

Reliable scientific research confirms what many of us already believe:  prayer does, indeed, heal.  It not only tends to heal those to whom it is directed, it even helps heal those who are praying for others.

Prayer is far from the only religious or spiritual activity that has a healing impact; all types of positive religious or spiritual involvement are healing to those involved.  This is especially true of those that take these teachings completely to heart and use them as guides for their lives.

The impact on our health is not limited to religious and spiritual involvement.   If we look at the big picture of what it is saying, the research is also telling us that what we occupy our minds with, what we believe about our bodies, what we believe about our world, and what we believe about our purpose here on earth, all have a profound effect on our health, our well-being, and our longevity.

    *     *      *     *

If you found this presentation to be interesting and helpful, the next should be even more so.  In it I will begin to address more directly what the Christian Gospels say about the potential power of human consciousness and review research that clearly demonstrates the truth of these assertions.  While the scientific research  indicates that healing is a byproduct of all the world’s widely shared and followed faith traditions, I have found the Christian sacred literature to be the most clear and comprehensive in its presentation of concepts with the potential to heal human illness.  Therefore, I will be using the Christian Gospels as a guide to the further exploration of how scientific research supports spiritual teachings.

                                                 References

Research reports showing the healing effect of prayer:

          1. Byrd RC, Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population.  South Med J 1988; 81:826-829

          2. Harris WS, Gowda M, et al. A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit.  Arch Int Med 1999; 159:2273-2278

          3. Sicher F, Targ E, et al. A randomized double-blind study of the effect of distant healing in a     population with advanced AIDS.  WJM 1998; 169:356-363

Review articles evaluating research reports concerning the health impacts of attending religious worship services (the most recently published are listed first):

          4. Koenig HG, Religion, spirituality, and health: the research and clinical implications.  ISRN Psychiatry 2012 (published online, includes 600 citations of individual research reports)

          5. Levin J, Spiritual determinants of health and healing: an epidemiologic perspective on salutogenic mechanisms. Altern Therapies 2003; 9:48-57 (includes 64 citations of individual research reports)

          6. Koenig HG, McCullough ME, Larson DB, Handbook of Religion and Health. NY,NY: Oxford University Press; 2001 (includes citations of over 2,500 individual research reports)

          7. Levin JS, Schiller PL, Is there a religious factor in health?  J of Religion and Health 1987; 26:9-36 (includes citations for 221 research reports)

A couple representative studies showing the health benefits of non-Christion religious participation:

          8. Kark JD, Shemi G, et al,  Does religious observance  promote health?  Mortality in secular vs religious kibbutzim in Israel.  Am J Public Health 1996; 86:341-346

          9. Al-Kandari Y Y,  Religiosity and its relation to blood pressure among selected Kuwaitis.  J Biosoc Sci 2003; 35:464-472

Some research reports that help determine why attending religious services and participating in spiritual practices provides health benefits:

          10. Levin J,  God, love and health: findings from a clinical study.  Rev Rel Research  2001; 42:277-293

          11. Ironson G, Stuetzle R, et al,  View of God as benevolent or punishing and judgmental predicts HIV disease progression.  J Behav Med  2011; 34:414-425

          12. Pargament K I, Koenig H G, et al, Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients.  Arch Intern Med  2001; 161:1881-1885

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