In the hazy period of waking up yesterday morning I overheard one of the BBC TODAY programme commentators inform the public that Christians do not feel pain in the same way as others do!
The story relates to a piece of research where twelve Roman Catholics and twelve atheists were all given some electric shock treatment – allowing scientists to discover that the Christian group experienced less pain than the group of atheists!
Bishops and others were quick to welcome the results with one declaring that he was not surprised by the outcome!
Well, I run into the danger of commenting upon an article that I haven’t read in any detail but, to be honest, a large slice of me always groans when I see a scientific attempt to prove that religion makes a difference. I am particularly intrigued by the assertion that religious faith somehow enables Christians to feel or think differently about the experience of pain. Surely Christianity does not anaesthetise its adherents from all of the ups and downs, stresses and strains, pains and sufferings of the life? Christians are human beings like everyone else with an immense and varied capacity to experience and feel the highs and lows of human experience.
I just do not detect here any acknowledgement of the variety and subjectivity of the interpretations that we human beings put upon what we feel. We all know that there are some people who can keep on going amidst the most difficult of circumstance – while others give in to a cold or fever and retreat from others to the safety of their beds! From my own pastoral experience I am aware that some people cope with the frailties and vulnerabilities of old age with extraordinary courage and lack of self-regard – while other become more demanding, more agitated and stressed, less able to cope with their pains. Surely it is impossible to generalise?
However, I am not prepared to dismiss the research completely. We do need to think more creatively about the nature of religion and its impact upon our lives. Would it be possible to explore further the difference between good religion and bad religion? Would you have any sense of what kind of religious observance and practice enables you to cope with life in all of its challenges?
What ever your pains or problems today, of course, I pray that you will find support and encouragement – that our religion should safeguard us in any way from being human in all its range of feelings is surely a fantasy?