This month Florida International University is hosting a special interfaith dialogue to promote a shared vision of love and compassion that is common to the world's great religious traditions. Spirituality can be a source of peace and inspiration that uplifts human beings. However there are also some religious beliefs that can foster either internal or external conflict and disharmony. When people have fear and judgment, shame, guilt, or feelings of rejection or abandonment associated with the Creator or religious doctrine, this can have a negative impact upon their lives and their health.
"Obviously not all of the effects of religion on health are positive, and it is important for healthcare practitioners to be aware of times when religious/spiritual beliefs may worsen health problems or conflict with appropriate medical care. Conventional wisdom proves that religion has been used to justify all sorts of negative behaviors throughout history. Religion can cause people to be judgmental and lead to alienation or exclusion of those not playing "by the rules." Religion may become so rigid and inflexible that it becomes excessively restricting and limiting. Religion may encourage magical thinking as people pray for and expect physical healing as if God were a giant genie at the beck and call of every human whim. Then, if physical healing does not come immediately, the person may be disappointed and disheartened, claiming that the prayer was not answered and that God does not care, or, worse, that the illness was sent by an angry, vengeful God as a punishment. These uses of religion are not uncommon in health care settings, causing distress and potentially have a negative impact on illness and its response to treatment.
Devout religious involvement may also lead to more subtle psychological and social strains that can influence the well-being of patients and family members. These include interpersonal strains, inner struggles to believe, and problems with virtuous strivings. Interpersonal strains result from religious disagreements and negative attitudes towards other religious groups. Conversion to a different religious group (from Christian to Buddhist, or from Catholic to evangelical Christian, for example) may cause disharmony, anger, and pain to other family members, close friends, and patients themselves. Another example is when one spouse comes from a different religion than the other, with resulting arguments over leadership roles, the raising of children, ways of spending time together, establishment of family traditions, and financial matters, often based on differing religious views. Conflict may also arise when a person is so involved in church activities that he or she neglects a spouse, children, or other responsibilities around the home. This may lead to marital or family discord and deep-seated resentments that could adversely affect that person's mental health and family support when sick.
Inner struggles to believe may also create conflict. Nonbelievers may experience distress related to the dominant Judeo-Christian culture in which they live. Unable to logically and rationally endorse a religious belief system, they may nevertheless desire for life to have greater meaning (especially when sick and suffering) or to have greater support from their community (as members of faith communities might have). Furthermore, many nonbelievers are not strict atheists, may wonder about whether there is some truth in religion, and may fear that they have missed something important.
Finally, patients may experience distress over virtuous strivings. Religious people strive to better themselves in ways prescribed by their religious group. This may involve a lifestyle that includes self-sacrifice, non-participation in certain kinds of activities, or avoidance of certain kinds of people. Such a lifestyle may alienate them from their social group or from the culture at large. This may create inner conflict over desires to be true to religious teachings and yet also to be approved and included by others. Likewise, religious people may have high values that they are trying to live by (sexual morality, honesty, generosity, forgiveness, humility, or kindness) and may often fail to live up to such high standards, resulting in feelings of guilt, self-condemnation, and discouragement. Thus, psychological, social, and spiritual strains may result from devout religious involvement or lack thereof. These may create inner conflicts and struggles that can influence mental health and medical outcomes."
Fortunately, when religion and spirituality help people feel love, joy, peace, and gratitude, this enhances their health. Having faith and trust in a higher power has been found by researchers to help improve outcomes among those diagnosed with serious illnesses and to help reduce the prevalence of stress-related conditions such as hypertension and heart disease. In a study published in 2006, University of Miami researcher Dr. Gail Ironson and her co-researchers Dr. Rick Stuetzle and Dr. Mary Ann Fletcher found that spirituality was a significant protective factor for those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS.
"I have treated hundreds of patients, the larger number being Protestants, a smaller number Jews, and a few Catholics. Among all my patients in the second half of life, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook." - Carl Jung, Ph.D.
If we are able to access the positive aspects of spiritual and religious beliefs while breaking free of any negative beliefs attached to religion or spirituality then we have the opportunity to enhance our own lives and create a more harmonious society. Some of South Florida's leading spiritual teachers are coming together in an interfaith dialogue at Florida International University to foster harmony and understanding and a focus on love and compassion. These speakers will explore the common themes present across their religious traditions that promote love and compassion. This event is sponsored by the FIU Program in the Study of Spirituality.
Venue: FIU Modesto A. Madique Campus, 11200 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33199, Graham Center (GC) Ballroom
"Sharing a Common Vision - Compassion and Understanding Among All Religions", will be held at the Florida International University's Graham Center Ballroom, 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. on Wednesday, May 21, 2014
KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Arun Gandhi - Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, peace activist and proponent of non-violence.
Paramahamsa Prajnanananda - spiritual leader of Kriya Yoga International
Master Chufei Tsai - Buddhist and Taoist master at Zen Village, Coconut Grove
Reverend Dianne Hudder - Christ Congregational Church, Miami
Imam Mohammed Zakaria Badat - Resident Scholar, Islamic School of Miami
Ven Samani Unnata Pragya - Jain Nun and Instructor of Jain Studies at FIU
Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz - Scholar-in-Residence, Temple Israel of Greater Miami
MODERATOR: Dr. Nathan Katz - Distinguished Professor in the School of International and Public Affairs, FIU