“Omg. I’m in the market for a Bible. Yes. A Bible. I have not had a Bible in many, many years but I’m trying to get closer to a god of my understanding and I’m giving a relationship with Jesus another shot. I feel really vulnerable atm. Lol. . . . Recommendations for a former believer who had bad examples of Christ, turned drunk atheist, to sober agnostic, now seeking again . . . ?” (Facebook post)
It can be temptingly easy to regard those who have disaffiliated from institutional religion as having entirely lost interest in—or dismissed as without value—spirituality, religious belief, even God. We may also assume that for those lacking orthodoxy or clear religious conviction, religion and spirituality in fact have little or no value.
The evidence belies such easy assumptions.
An article in Fuller Magazine exploring connections between spirituality and resilience begins: “When it comes to trauma, why do stories with the same beginning have different endings? . . . We know some people are more resilient to trauma than others. But why and how?”
Five psychologists, in the article titled “Spirituality: A Facet of Resilience,” find a number of factors contributing to certain individual’s having greater and lesser degrees of resilience. Among the correlates of greater resilience: “spiritual resources.” Evidence the authors cite includes findings from the World Health Organization that “for many people, religion, personal beliefs and spirituality are a source of comfort, wellbeing, security, meaning, sense of belonging, purpose and strength.” (who.int/iris/handle/10665/70897)
“The trauma itself can be a catalyst to delve deeper into spiritual and religious practices and beliefs,” the Fuller Magazine article notes, “which in turn have been reported to often result in positive religious coping and posttraumatic growth.” As evidence, the authors cite research published in Journal of Religion and Health (no. 46, 2007) in a report titled, “Spirituality and Resilience in Trauma Victims.”
Citing yet another study, the Fuller authors note: “Awe, inner peace, and hope predict a positive quality of life, while spiritual strength is associated with less stress.” (Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 13, no. 26, 2015)
The authors conclude: “We do not yet know which aspects of spirituality are most important in predicting resilience. Is it beliefs? Prayer life? Community practices? There is room for a great deal more research in this area.”
A recent Baylor University study fine-tunes the broader discussion of a relationship among religion, spirituality, and health. The study, published in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice, “examined data from 55 young adults (ages 18–25) with serious mental illness who had used crisis emergency services. Of the 55 young adults interviewed, 34 ‘mentioned religion or spirituality in the context of talking about their mental health symptoms and service use with little-to-no-prompting,’ researchers wrote.” (Baylor University Media and Public Relations, July 25, 2018)
Holly Oxhandler, associate dean for research and faculty development in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor and the study’s lead author, notes in a university media release that many of those studied did not self-describe as “religious.” Forty-one percent of the 55 persons interviewed answered “other,” “I don’t know” or “none” when asked their religious preference.
A common denominator among all subjects was not only serious mental illness, but extreme personal adversity as well, including abuse, addiction, near-death experiences, “and an overwhelming lack of access to medical and mental health services,” according to the researchers.
“Yet, many attempted to explain, make sense of or organize their circumstances through their religious/spiritual perspective and talked about God as a source of comfort and support,” the researchers wrote.
Views of God among subjects were both positive and negative, as were religious experiences with prayer and religious and spiritual communities. But most importantly, noted Oxhandler, respondents brought up these topics without prompting. She called discussions of religion and spirituality “the elephant in the room.”
Said Oxhandler: “It’s critical that mental health care providers be well equipped and trained to assess for the complex role of religion and spirituality in the lives of young adults with serious mental illness, recognizing that it could appear to be a tremendous source of support and resilience and/or a source of pain and discomfort, if even a part of their lives at all.”
As reported by a Saint Mary’s Press study on disaffiliation of young adults in the Catholic Church, disaffiliation from institutional religion does not necessarily indicate disinterest in matters spiritual and religious. The Fuller article and Baylor study corroborate and bolster such findings: religion and spirituality matter and impact lives. To begin to understand how, sometimes all one needs to do is ask.
Jerry Ruff, Senior Writer and Editor
Saint Mary’s Press Research