In the early days of the pandemic, economist Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen examined Google searches for the word “prayer” in 95 countries. She identified that they hit an all-time global high in March 2020, and increases occurred in lockstep with the number of COVID-19 cases identified in each country. Stateside, according to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans prayed to end the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, and nearly one quarter reported that their faith increased the following month, despite limited access to houses of worship.David H. Rosmarin, “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” at Scientific American (June 15, 2021)
Not only that but people who prayed did better:
In the past year, American mental health sank to the lowest point in history: Incidence of mental disorders increased by 50 percent, compared with before the pandemic, alcohol and other substance abuse surged, and young adults were more than twice as likely to seriously consider suicide than they were in 2018. Yet the only group to see improvements in mental health during the past year were those who attended religious services at least weekly (virtually or in-person): 46 percent report “excellent” mental health today versus 42 percent one year ago.David H. Rosmarin, “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” at Scientific American (June 15, 2021)
One problem, Rosmarin says, is that psychiatrists have tended to “dismiss” spirituality, ever since Sigmund Freud called it a “mass-delusion” a century ago. He has sought to remedy that by developing the SPIRIT program (Spiritual Psychotherapy for Inpatient, Residential and Intensive Treatment) at his hospital in 2017. It got quite the workout during the COVID-19 crisis. So far, he says, “More than 90 percent of patients reported experiencing some kind of benefit, regardless of religious affiliation.”
Some stereotypes were busted in the process. Young secular people responded as favorably as older ones and they responded better if the clinician engaged in the program was “religiously unaffiliated.” Possibly, the clinicians’ lack of affiliation eases the patient’s fear of getting roped into a religion at a vulnerable moment. For example, one secular patient, suffering from depression, found the strength to go on from the sense that she was here for a purpose.
That jives with Bruce Greyson’s report of findings from near-death experiences among those rescued from suicide: “My research with patients who had attempted suicide indicated that about one-fourth of them have an NDE in the course of the attempt. Those who do have NDEs are less suicidal after the event than suicide attempters who don’t have NDEs.” (After 2021, p. 168) Generally, they become convinced that they will continue to live anyway and they often have a sense that they have been sent back specifically to deal with their problems in a more constructive way.
It’s curious fact that modern science, including both research and clinical interventions, is revealing more and more about the importance of spirituality — which is not going away because some earlier thinkers like Freud disapproved of it or disbelieved in it.
You may also wish to read these articles on medicine and prayer by Dr. Michael Egnor:
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne thinks that only fools would pray about Coronavirus. He is wrong and here is why: If God is real, then prayer is probably the first thing you want to do in a crisis. A plea to the Boss is a fine preamble to the grunt work of managing a crisis. I’m a neurosurgeon, and I pray before each operation. It really helps.
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne hasn’t got a prayer. He understands neither natural theology nor natural science. We are more scientifically certain of God’s existence than we are of quantum mechanics or Newtonian or relativistic gravitation. The logic is rigorous.