Religion and HEALING Religion plays a vital role in one perception of HEALTH and ILLNESS.

Religion and HEALING Religion plays a vital role in one’s perception of HEALTH and ILLNESS.

Just as culture and ethnicity are strong determinants in an individual’s interpretation of the environment and the events within the environment, so, too, is religion. In fact, it is often difficult to distinguish between those aspects of a person’s belief system arising from a religious background and those that stem from an ethnic and cultural heritage. Some people may share an ethnicity yet be of different re- ligions; a group of people can share a religion yet have a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is never safe to assume that all individuals of a given eth- nic group practice or believe in the same religion. The point was embarrassingly driven home when I once asked a Mexican-American woman if she would like me to call the priest for her while her young son was awaiting a critical operation. The woman became angry with me. I could not understand why until I learned that she was a Methodist and not a Catholic. I had made an assumption, and I was wrong. She later told me that not all Chicanos are Catholic. After many years of hearing people make this assumption, she had learned to react with anger.

Religion strongly affects the way people interpret and respond to the signs and symptoms of ILLNESS. So pervasive is religion that the diets of many people are determined by their religious beliefs. Religion and the piety of a person deter- mine not only the role that faith plays in the process of recovery but also in many instances the response to a given treatment and to the HEALING process. Each of these threads—religion, ethnicity, and culture—is woven into the fabric of each person’s response to treatment and HEALING.

There are far too many religious beliefs and practices related to HEALING to include in this chapter. An introductory discussion of religious HEALING beliefs from the Judeo-Christian background, however, is possible.

The Old Testament does not focus on HEALING to the extent the New Tes- tament does. God is seen to have total power over life and death and is the HEALER of all human woes. God is the giver of all good things and of all misfortune, includ- ing sickness. Sickness represented a break between God and humans. In Exodus 15:26, God is proclaimed the supreme HEALER (“I will put none of the diseases upon you which I put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord, your healer.”). In a passage from Deuteronomy 32:39, it is stated “I kill, and I make alive. I have wounded and I heal.” The traditionalist Jew believes that the “HEALING of illness comes from God through the mediation of His ‘messenger,’ the doctor.” The Jew who is ill combines hope for a cure with faith in God and faith in the doctor (Ausubel, 1964, pp. 192–195). A prayer is recited for HEALING each Sabbath and other times throughout the week, and people are invited to submit or speak the names of people for whom they are petitioning for a restoration of their HEALTH.

The HEALING practices of the Roman Catholic tradition include a variety of beliefs and numerous practices of both a preventive and a HEALING nature. For example, St. Blaise, an Armenian bishop who died in A.D. 316 as a martyr, is revered as the preventer of sore throats. The blessing of the throats on his feast day (February 3) derives from the tradition that he miraculously saved the life of a boy by removing a fishbone he had swallowed (Monthly Missalette, 1980, p. 38).

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