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Loss of faith 'increases risk of dying'

Christians whose faith is shaken when they fall ill are at greater risk of dying, according to a study in two American hospitals.

While earlier research has shown that regular church attendance can lengthen life, this is the first study to document the consequences of a loss of faith.

Those who died had tended to feel "abandoned or punished by God" compared with those who survived illness, the researchers said.

They studied 595 people aged 55 or older who were admitted to two hospitals in Durham, North Carolina, with a variety of illnesses. Those who said that their illness had made them feel alienated from God, who attributed it to the Devil, or said they felt abandoned by their church community, were up to 28% more likely to die within the next two years compared with those who had no such religious doubts.

"Whenever anyone becomes suddenly ill with a disease that threatens life, or a way of life, they ask 'why?' or 'why me?' " Harold Koenig, of Duke University, one of the authors of the study in Archives of Internal Medicine, said. "Some people experience anger at God for not protecting them or not answering their prayers for healing. Some feel as though God is punishing them and they question God's love for them, and sometimes they feel like others have deserted them as well."

Among those who died, there was no distinction in terms of the severity of the disease that could explain it. Nor did gender, race, brain functioning, independence in daily activities, mood or quality of life provide an explanation. It was as if they simply turned their faces to the wall.

Kenneth Pargemant, a psychologist at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and the leader of the study, believes that it underlines the need for spiritual assessment and pastoral interventions for patients whose faith is shaken by illness. Increasingly doctors in the US are taking a patient's "spiritual history" and many medical schools have courses to train students on how to do so.

Times (London)