Sunday, October 21, 2012

Offering Hope to the Hopeless

It is common among the secular population to view religious coping as a copout and a hindrance to efficient recovery. However, this is untrue for studies show that applying religious coping strategies actually enhances acceptance of circumstances and one’s ability to overcome the pressure of the demands placed on the individual experiencing negative situations. One major area in which religious coping strategies are constantly employed is in the diagnosis of cancer. In fact, these coping strategies play an integral part in the success of the individual maintaining self-esteem, having a firmly established sense of hope and emotional stability, and still being able to retain a sense of importance and purpose amid a trying and difficult reality. Religious coping seems to reduce distress and increase illness adjustment as pertaining to cancer patients. However, the positive effects of religious coping are primarily isolated to evangelical patients for it is actually negative for other religions, especially Catholics. This is certainly seen in such examples as those pertaining to seeking encouragement and aid from church membership in which the results were positive for evangelical women but highly negative for the Catholic denomination. Prayer is one specific religious coping mechanism that may have either positive or negative effects depending on the religions view of God. For instance, among evangelicals who understand God to be a loving God and have a secure relationship with Him, the experience of prayer is typically positive, whereas for those in a religious denomination that view the illness as a potential punishment from God who view the relationship with God as less secure in which they must struggle to maintain his favor; in such cases the experience is negative and enhances stress (Social Science and Medicine).

Therefore, there is a difference between whether or not the religious coping strategies are influenced by religions that demonstrate positive religious coping strategies or negative religious coping strategies and sometimes this is subject to the individual and other times it is directly influenced by the religious teaching of specific denominations. For instance, positive religious coping strategies such as praying in collaboration and cooperation with God concerning stress or illness served some adaptive functions and led to some relatively long-term improvements in mental health among patients as well as their significant others; they also experienced less depression, anxiety, and distress (Religious Coping). On the other hand, negative religious coping, such as feeling that illness or particular stressful or negative circumstances are either caused by God for punishment or are the work of the devil, while not causing lower self-esteem or a lack of purpose in life, did actually result in an increase in depression, anxiety, and distress. So, it is not sufficient to simply subscribe to implementing religious coping techniques arbitrarily and it may be more beneficial for a person to not be religious as opposed to being involved in a religion whose coping strategies cause negative impact such as that of Catholicism. The best option according to the results of the research on the subject is to be involved in an evangelical denomination which would provide positive impact through religious coping.

There is, however, a personal responsibility involved with personal coping. Regardless of the typical religious beliefs held by any set religious affiliation, the choice to use religious coping strategies may be either positive or negative based on the perspective of the person. If a religious person believes in God but decides to blame him or run from him in times of distress then the religious coping strategies will become negative and more burdensome because they will add additional stress and anxiety since they consciously put themselves at odds with God and as a result feel guilty of their rebellion while at the same time being unwilling to restructure their attitude. Otherwise, a person may allow the circumstance to strengthen the relationship with God and increase positive and cooperative communication with God which will in turn allow them to receive imbuement of strength, courage, hope, and value from God causing their levels of anxiety and stress to drastically decrease. Personally, I would advise pursuing God according to the only true source of Truth, particularly concerning matters pertaining to His character, that source being the Word of God, the Bible, Holy Scripture, and to learn of the Most High and Powerful God and to come into a true and meaningful relationship with Him for ultimately it will be who He is that brings us hope, comfort, peace, tranquility, strength, courage, purpose, value, and joy; not what we practice or do ritualistically, but what we know and experience intimately through relationship with God, this is what shall bring hope to an otherwise hopeless situation.

1 comment:

  1. James,

    You have brought up a topic that definitely requires much clarification. I've read through numerous scientific studies that discuss the issue of religious coping strategies in relation to various illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, depression, etc. However, more times than not, the definition of "religion" is not clearly identified. This therefore includes people from multiple denominations of faith with different perspectives and views of God. As you mentioned, there is a difference between positive and negative religious coping, and this often varies based on belief set. I believe more studies need to be done that clearly identify religious coping strategies when the person's faith is defined by biblical standards and reflect an accurate perception of God. Thank you for bringing up this critical issue!


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