CASA: Train Preachers To
Treat Nonbelieving Drug Users
From: "Kevin Courcey"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: my TempletonWatch column
Date: December 15, 2001 11:03 PM
News from TempletonWatch:
The Templeton Foundation has been busy, once again funding "research" which they hope will entice (or force) people to "reintegrate faith" into their lives. In a report entitled "So Help Me God: Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality, Columbia University's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) claim simultaneously claim that non-believers abuse substances a significantly higher rates, and that preachers should be trained to treat them. The report was co-sponsored by both the Templeton Foundation and the Bodman Foundation; a conservative, religiously oriented foundation known for funding religious homeless programs, school-choice/voucher research, sexual abstinence-only programs, welfare-to-work reform, and faith-based solutions to drug abuse, teen pregnancy, and youth violence. It was at the request of the Bodman Foundation that this research was undertaken.
While the report uses a variety of techniques to skew their results (See "The Devil Made Me Do It" in the next issue of American Atheist Magazine), the primary problem was in overestimating the religiosity of the American public. The report uses Gallup poll figures for religious belief, notoriously unreliable and skewed to increase the apparent numbers of believers, as it states 95 percent of the American public believe in God, and 91 percent of us are affiliated with a specific faith or denomination. Fortunately, City University of New York just completed its American Religious Index Survey (ARIS) for 2001 (see Positive Atheism, November, 2001), which gives significantly more reliable figures. The percentage of American adults who self-identify with a specific religion has dropped to 81 percent. Of those who do claim a religious affiliation, an amazing 40 percent stated that neither they nor their family members attend services. The ARIS survey also found that 14 percent of those surveyed chose "no religion." This means that a substantial majority of the adults in this country either profess no religion, or have so little interest in organized religion that neither they nor their family members go to services. This completely undercuts the CASA conclusion that pastors, rabbis and priests should be trained to combat substance abuse. Their conclusion merely reflects Templeton's goal to reintegrate faith into American life by using religious clerics in substance abuse programs. It isn't so much about appropriately treating substance abuse, as it is about bringing the wayward sheep back into the "faithful" fold. This also plays into the drive to allocate taxpayer funds to "faith-based" treatment programs.
Two other research ventures have made the news recently. The first was the study done in a Korean pregnancy clinic and they claimed miraculous results for the women who were prayed for. The researchers claim that women in the prayed-for group had a 50 percent pregnancy rate, while those in the non-prayed for group had only a 26 percent pregnancy rate. But there were several aspects of this study that are suspect. First, the study used a two tier prayer system. The first tier prayed for individual women (they had pictures and first names), and the second tier prayed for the prayers of the first tier to be heard. The researchers did not explain why felt their God was getting hard of hearing and in need of such amplification.
Secondly, the overall rate of success at the clinic remained essentially normal during this study. So if prayer accomplished anything, it simply distributed the usual clinic success rate into the prayed for and non-prayed for groups. This means that the non-prayed for clients were robbed of a chance to get pregnant merely by agreeing to participate in this study. This seems unethical, even for a God.
To top it off, in two subgroups (those under 30 and those who received a specific type of treatment) the non-prayed for group actually had better success rates. The non-prayed for patients under 30 had a 25 percent better pregnancy rate than those who were prayed for! This is exactly the type of random outcome one would expect for a non-efficacious treatment.
The final study that is making press these days is one where patients undergoing cardiac catheterization (the threading of an IV catheter near the heart) were offered prayer, "healing touch," relaxation exercises, or guided imagery to lower their anxiety about the procedure and prevent complications. Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University is a co-author of this study, and sits on Templeton's Board and is a member of the Templeton faculty. The authors are claiming in the press that the prayed for group had better outcomes than any of the other groups. However, to quote the summary of the study as published in the American Heart Journal, "Results were not statistically significant for any outcomes comparisons." So while this study will get press coverage, and already has been showcased on WebMD, the truth is that the headline should have read:
"Prayer Found Clinically Insignificant In Yet Another Study."
Kevin Courcey RN
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