Addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on July 2, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told his audience that faith is just as important to many refugees and internally displaced people as water, food and air.
“By preserving a person’s faith, we help preserve their future,” he declared. “Often,” he remarked, “aid and assistance programs focus on the physical well-being of displaced people, but don’t give the same priority to their mental, social, emotional and spiritual health. While physical needs are important, it’s also crucial we address these other, less tangible, but equally vital needs if we hope to give refugees a true chance at healing.”
Elder Holland doesn’t dismiss the need for material aid, and he certainly wasn’t backing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints away from joining with others to provide it. “In the past, charitable institutions have provided financial support, medical treatment and other physical needs for refugee victims, all of which are still needed. But we now understand that we must look to emotional and spiritual needs as well.”
He is exactly right. I’ve written several columns here on the measurable benefits of religious faith and involvement for physical, mental and emotional health. As professor Andrew Sims, former president of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, summarizes the state of the data in his book "Is Faith Delusional? Why Religion is Good for Your Health," “The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry, and medicine generally.”
Research correlates religiosity with enhanced well-being, happiness and life-satisfaction; greater hope and optimism, even when facing serious diseases, such as breast cancer; a stronger sense of purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better responses to bereavement; greater social support; less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; reduced rates of suicide; decreased anxiety; better coping with stress; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; and greater marital stability and satisfaction. A strong faith and the positive relationships and thinking associated with membership in a faith community fortify the immune system, observes Simms, “thus reducing the risk of cancer, improving general health and protecting the cardiovascular system.”
There is, however, perhaps no better witness on this subject than Viktor Frankl (1905-1992), an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who somehow survived 2.5 years in the Nazi death camps at Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Dachau. In his classic 1946 book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Frankl notes that physically weak prisoners often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a more robust nature. Why? Prisoners who gave up on life, who lost hope, were invariably the first to die. It wasn’t lack of food or medicine that killed them, but lack of a reason to live. “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How,” Frankl reflects.
Contrary to Sigmund Freud, Frankl declared, life isn’t primarily a quest for pleasure. Contrary to Alfred Adler, he said, it isn’t principally a quest for power. It’s a quest for meaning. “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life.”
Speaking at the same London conference as Elder Holland, Sister Sharon Eubank, who serves as both first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society and director of LDS Charities, cited two examples of Latter-day Saints providing religiously significant items for distressed non-Christian communities: After the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, LDS Charities supplied hundreds of prayer rugs and copies of the Quran for Indonesian Muslims. And, more recently, LDS Charities provided help so that Yazidi refugee women in Syria could replace the traditional white dresses that form part of their religious clothing.
“These are items that may not have made the most urgent list for physical aid,” said Sister Eubank, “but they are extremely important for emotional and spiritual health.”15 comments on this story
Religion, Frankl said, is the search for ultimate meaning. And faith is trust in such ultimate meaning. The essential importance of such faith for people suffering under conditions of extreme stress is both obvious and undeniable.
Elder Holland’s and Sister Eubank’s remarks are recorded at ldschurchnews.com/latest/2018-07-03/elder-holland-calls-on-governments-faith-groups-and-others-to-refocus-efforts-for-refugees-47524. Elder David S. Baxter, a General Authority Seventy, mentions the episode of the Indonesian Qurans in his 2014 book “What Good Men Do.”