Cancer diagnosis does not make young people religious, research suggests


A sociologist of religion from the University of Copenhagen has interviewed 21 young patients diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer about their religious beliefs. She concludes that a cancer diagnosis will not make young people, who are not religious already, turn to religion. But it can confirm already existing beliefs.

“My research shows that young cancer patients’ views on existential issues show consistency before and after the diagnosis: Their faith and their religious practices remain the same. However, the beliefs they already had can be confirmed and strengthened — this applies both to religion and science — so the patients may feel more strongly for the beliefs they had before they were diagnosed,” explains sociologist of religion Nadja Ausker from the University of Copenhagen.

It has been a theoretical staple of sociology of religion that major religious conversions are preceded by personal crises; a person’s feelings toward religion are significantly altered when confronted with an existential crisis such as a cancer diagnosis.

But Nadja Ausker challenges this theory with her thesis “Time for a change? Negotiations of religious continuity, change, and consumption among Danish cancer patients.” In the thesis, she interviews 21 young cancer patients about the religious consequences of life crises, both shortly after the diagnosis and during treatment.

Written By: Science Daily
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  1. People with cancer today don’t usually revert to medieval medicine either. 

    In the early days of my HIV infection friends and acquaintances would force quack cure upon quack cure on me.  I had to try them to get them of my back. Most had nasty side effects, or tasted ghastly. All were claimed to be foolproof and suppressed by some conspiracy.  People would buy them for me, just encouraging the frauds. Somehow Christianity is considered a legitimate form of this sort of carnival fraud which always seems to require the practitioner to expend almost no effort and yet be richly rewarded.

    Part of the problem is people spontaneously do get better. That is what our immune system is supposed to accomplish on its own. But humans INSIST on attributing a cure to whatever nutty thing they did just prior, even if it was pressing bubble gum into their ears or shaking a tortoise rattle.

    I have been in a rage the last few days at the Canadian government and the CBC radio treating the Catholic Church’s latest quack medicine cure claims as legitimate with the canonisation of Kateri Tekakwitha.

  2. It’s the classic post hoc fallacy. People will connect invisible dots all aver the place; such is the self-deceiving nature of the human mind. If rubbing rabbits’ testicles on one’s head happened to cure cancer, it would be believed. During the height of the witch-hunts, an alleged witch pulled up her stockings and it then preceded to rain – she was duly burned alive. 

  3. I wonder if the study included those we might call faith-healers.  It would be interesting to  learn if their cancer did not respond to prayers, but did respond to chemo or whatever, and if that affected their religious beliefs.  But then, how many faith-healer types change their treatment ?

  4. On this basis, we should be highly sceptical of any story of deathbed conversions.

    Of course many of us were sceptical already, but it’s good to have evidence for support.

    Also, should hospitals now have “No Proselytising” codes of practice for religious pedlars who visit?


  5. Calan Sagan refers to spontaneous remission in cancer patients in one of his books. He said that the natural spontaneous remission rate for cancers is higher than the number of so called miracle cures at Lourdes which are officially recognised by the RCC.
    The simple message is  –  “Stay at home” you’re more likely to be cured by your television set.
    I just love Voltaire’s response to a priest on his deathbed.  When asked if he renounced Satan he quipped “This is no time to be making new enemies”. 

  6. I suspect one of the reasons why there is a perception that cancer sufferers are likely to turn to God is that those quite believers who don’t necessarily talk about it or go to church will suddenly be more open about it when faced with their own mortality.

    That’s certainly the case in the UK where people really don’t talk about religion very often; but there seems to be this duality that you can ignore ignore religion all your life but still believe in an afterlife. 
    I have found that with my two closest friends; neither who spoke about religion but it turned out had religious belief when in this situation. 
    One who has lung cancer ( in all probable terminal )  now talks about his spiritual health all the time when previously for the 11 years I knew him he never once mentioned these things.
    I have to tread a very careful line in conversation because I would offend not only him but many close friends if I even implied there wasn’t an after life.

  7. There may be a faint religious link with cancer in that fasting is typically associated with various religious rituals. Deliberate fasting must have some effect or it wouldn’t be such a universal aspect of so many religions.

    I’ve heard that there is research interest in the application of fasting as a potential treatment for many kinds of cancer, and it’s possible that frequent fasting may also have a preventative effect on some cancers developing in the first place. From what I’ve heard fasting for several months can be more effective than chemo or radiation treatment. Most people can easily fast for this long without harm. And combined with chemo or radiation the combination is more than the sum of the component contributions. Presumably only experiments with rats at this stage.

    It may eventually be worthwhile to apply aspects of religious rituals as a cancer treatment. Maybe future physicians will instruct cancer patients to ‘take 3 Ramadans and then report for a follow up appointment’.

  8. Pete H
      It may eventually be worthwhile to apply aspects of religious rituals as a cancer treatment. Maybe future physicians will instruct cancer patients to ‘take 3 Ramadans and then report for a follow up appointment’.

    Many obese patients have been told to diet and exercise before they can be fit enough to operate on. (Not just for cancer.) 
    An improved  general level of fitness will help the immune system and will-power fight any disease, while lethargy and junk-food will have the reverse effect.

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