Using the methods of science to examine religion has another seemingly unintended consequence: It has led to attempts to establish the relative merits of different religious traditions by scientific means. After all, if we can determine scientifically whether frequency of attendance or frequency of prayer is associated with health outcomes, then shouldn't we begin to test whether the type of service makes a difference? If we are truly interested in collecting information relevant to health outcomes, then we should want to know whether it is better for our health to attend a Catholic mass or a Quaker meeting. Are Orthodox Jewish services better for our health than Reform services? Is there a health advantage to praying five times a day, as Muslims do, as opposed to the three times of Orthodox Jews? Why is it acceptable to determine that more-frequent attendance at religious services is better for your health than less-frequent attendance, but it is not acceptable to determine that Christian services are better for your health than attending Jewish or Muslim services?
Most researchers in the field of religion and health do not address this matter. My guess is that if they were asked, they would oppose contrasting the health benefits of different religious denominations. But why should they object? Presumably, the objection to studying the different health effects of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, for example, is that it would be offensive if we discovered that one religion was superior to the other two. The offense lies in the implication that those who practice the medically less beneficial religions would be better off converting to the medically more beneficial one.
Friday, November 03, 2006
The Critical Distinction Between Science and Religion
The Chronicle: 11/3/2006: The Critical Distinction Between Science and Religion