Saturday, 8 September 2012

Prayer as an element of medicine

         James records in his gospel that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick” 1, and according to the U.S. Centre for disease control and prevention, 45% of adults use prayer for personal health reasons in the modern age.2 Unfortunately, it is very difficult to measure the power of prayer as a part of the treatment of someone, for quite a number of reasons: firstly, because some religious groups claim that praying as part of a scientific study is artificial, so the prayers will not be answered. There are also various confounding variables, such as ability to pray (according to some, prayer is a skill to be learned )3 and fervour of prayer (this may affect the effectiveness of prayer)4. Another reason that it is difficult to study is that it receives very little funding; according to the Washington Post, “about $5 million is spent worldwide on such research”5. Critics of scientific study of prayer argue that part of the point of prayer is that it is not always answered, and that god is not a mechanism that responds in a way that is predictable, or even measurable, by humans. For these reasons, and because in such a religiously charged subject, some studies are bound to be biased, research into prayer is still very much being refined, and there are conflicting results at the moment.
There have been three main types of prayer studied scientifically to gauge their efficacy. The most obvious one is second person prayer, which is performed by someone who knows the person they are praying about. Second person prayers directly ask a higher power for the person to be helped, as do third person prayers, which are performed by a stranger. First person prayer not only includes the petition to god but also can include self-meditation beforehand, and is a separate type of prayer.