To Benson, any form of prayer is as valid as another—prayers to Jesus, praying the rosary, or using a mantra—as long as the person believes in it. Benson takes this one step further, suggesting that the "relaxation response" and "the faith factor" are "not the exclusive domain of the devout. People don't have to have a professed belief in God to reap the psychological and physical rewards of the faith factor." In other words, you don't even have to be sincere. You just have to pray!
Benson's study illustrates the importance of Christian professionals getting involved in the burgeoning debate. The concept and reputed practice of "prayer" is being bandied about in the studies, but its definition is anything but certain. At times "prayer" can be used to refer to meditation, mantra recitation, or supplication. Few studies address the importance of personal supplication to a specific, divine Being—the definition of Christian prayer.
"We have to be careful," Tan summarizes. "No matter how much empirical data you amass, you will never be able to prove that the Judeo-Christian God is the true God. That can only be known through faith. Faith doesn't go against reason (and the studies are showing that), but it goes beyond reason."
Dr. Matthews is a little more direct: "Scientific knowledge has demonstrated the positive benefits of religion. I can say, as a physician and scientist—not just as a Christian—that, scientifically, prayer is good for you. The medical effects of faith on health are not a matter of faith, but of science."
These positive results do not imply, however, that the studies are without their critics.
Medicine's cultured skepticsThe new convergence between faith ...1