March 7, 2012
United Kingdom Bans Expression of Miracles and Prayer
The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned a registered trust group called "Healing on the Streets" against declaring and making public, whether in an open or covert way, the fact that people can be physically healed based on their faith or prayers.
Regardless of your position on the church, religion or faith based groups, the ASA has imposed their opinions in a manner that is beyond unreasonable and far exceeds what is unacceptable in a free society where everybody has the right of belief and the freedom to express those beliefs.
"Healing on the Streets -- Bath", consists of teams of Christians from many different churches that have been regularly praying for the public outside Bath Abbey, an Anglican parish church in Bath, Somerset, England. For three years running, they have been regularly offering to pray for people who are sick to receive healing.
The group had been peacefully going about their business, until atheist Hayley Stevens, a 24-year-old from Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, who is a regular blogger, speaker at skeptic conferences in a relentless campaign against religion and faith based groups, complained to the British Standards Authority that the claims of people being healed through prayer could "not be substantiated."
It seems Stevens has ignorantly preached to the choir without even researching the biology of belief. There is both established and a growing body of scientific evidence showing that faith indeed brings us to health. There are more than 6,000 published studies on the topic just since 2000. It is substantiated, but only for those who are ready to believe and accept the truth that faith can heal. It may not work for Stevens, but it works for millions of others who do believe.
A belief in God can lead to a more contented life.
People who attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any one year than people who don't attend. People who believe in a loving God fare better after a diagnosis of illness than people who believe in a punitive God. "Even accounting for medications," says Dr. Gail Ironson, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Miami who studies HIV and religious belief, "spirituality predicts for better disease control."
Skeptics such as Stevens
will say there's nothing remarkable - much less spiritual - about findings that support the link between faith and health. Your viral load goes down when you include spirituality in your fight against HIV because your levels of cortisol - a stress hormone - go down first. "Science doesn't deal in supernatural explanations," says Richard Sloan, professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine. "Religion and science address different concerns."
Our brains and bodies contain an awful lot of spiritual wiring. "A large body of science shows a positive impact of religion on health," says Dr. Andrew Newberg, a professor of radiology, psychology and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Penn's Center for Spirituality and the Mind. "The way the brain works is so compatible with religion and spirituality that we're going to be enmeshed in both for a long time."
But Stevens doesn't want to hear it. On the www.thisissomerset.co.uk website, she is quoted as saying, "My issue isn't with their Christian faith; it is with the potentially dangerous situation of vulnerable people who think they will be cured of something as serious as cancer. I don't think it is appropriate for them to be out on the streets taking the chance that they could come across someone with, say, mental health issues who should be being treated properly." By "treated properly," one can only assume she means through the pseudo-scientific quackery which treats mental illness with debilitating prescription psychiatric drugs. Psychotropic medications which don't have a shred of scientific evidence to support their claims appear to be more of a sane and logical option to Stevens than the biology of belief.
It turns out that the ASA agreed with her complaint and upheld its assertion by ordering the group to stop stating on their website or in literature that God can heal. The founder of the group Paul Skelton declared "Other teams around the country have been targeted in similar ways. It seems very odd to us that the ASA wants to prevent us from stating on our website the basic Christian belief that God can heal illness."
According to Skelton, the British Standards Authority asked the leaders of the group to sign a document the content of which was unacceptable to them " - as it no doubt would be for anyone ordered not to make certain statements about one's own conventional religious or philosophical beliefs". In truth with its ruling, the Authority is asking the Christian group to avoid expressing a common and widely held belief that is an important aspect of the Christian faith. In effect it is a request to renounce the Christian faith in the Bible. The leaders of this Christian movement tried to reach a compromise. Skelton declared "But there are certain things that we cannot agree to - including a ban on expressing our beliefs". As a consequence Healing in the Street will officially oppose the ASA decision and appeal against it.
It's Not About God, Church or
Love and The Faith In What We Feel
If belief in a pill can be so powerful, belief in God and the teachings of religion - which touch devout people at a far more profound level than mere pharmacology - ought to be even more so. One way to test this is simply to study the health of regular churchgoers. Social demographer Robert Hummer of the University of Texas has been following a population of subjects since 1992, and his results are hard to argue with. Those who never attend religious services have twice the risk of dying over the next eight years as people who attend once a week. People who fall somewhere between no churchgoing and weekly churchgoing also fall somewhere between in terms of mortality. That doesn't mean you have to go to a church to receive the benefits. It simply means that people congregating together in one place has a very powerful effect on human health. It's about collective consciousness which has unlimited power.
That search for the mind-body connection motivates the work of many researchers, such as Professor Andrew Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania. "Whether there is a God or not in some senses isn't as relevant to the kind of research we're doing so much as understanding why those feelings and experiences are important to us as human beings," he says.
Newberg observed the brains of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns as they engaged in deep prayer and meditation by injecting radioactive dye, or "tracer" as the subject entered a deep meditative state, then photographing the results with a high tech imaging camera. He found that "when people meditate they have significantly increased activity in the frontal area -- the attention area of the brain -- and decreased activity in that orientation part of the brain."
Many of these changes occur whether people are praying (focusing on oneness with a deity) or meditating (focusing on oneness with the universe). But there are differences, in that prayer activates the "language center" in the brain, while the "visual center" is engaged by meditation.
Either way, Newberg finds that the sense of "unity," or "oneness" experienced by his subjects is a real, biological event. And he acknowledges the limits of his own work: He currently lacks a means to measure the neurological events associated with other religious practices -- such as caring for the poor or ecstatic worship, despite their positive affect on human beings.
"Our work really points to the fact that these are very complex kinds of feelings and experiences that affect us on many different levels," says Newberg. "There is no one simple way of looking at these kinds of questions."
The ASA's actions show a great disrespect for freedom of belief and expression. It sets a precedent that the opinions of some hold more weight and value than others, and that these opinions can then be imposed and enforced. We must always remember that those that feel the most threatened are the same ones that feel a sense of limitation, restriction and the need to dominate those that oppose. Unfortunately, those that feel these strong boundaries are often in positions that have the power to effectuate enforcement. The solution? Be at peace and know and confide in the fact that the tipping point for the spread of new ideas has finally arrived.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.
The Biology of Belief