Religion And Health Part 16

The Jews have been particularly careful for the lives of their infant children both before and after birth. It is considered a disgrace for a Jewish mother to have a premature birth, for it is felt that some blame attaches to the mother. As for the prevalent practice of abortion, there is almost none of it among the poor Jewish populations, and none at all until their orthodox Jewry begins to break down under the influence of contact with their Gentile neighbors. Human life is a very sacred thing to the orthodox Jew, and no matter how small or insignificant that life may be it has all the qualities of humanity for him and appeals to his protection. The solicitude of the Jewish mother for her children has been the subject of poet and painter all down the ages and is to be found as well developed and as strikingly manifest in the slums of the large cities of the west where it is so extremely difficult of exercise as it was in the Jewish towns of the olden time.

In Leeds, toward the end of the nineteenth century, there were some fifteen thousand Jews, the great majority of them belonging to the very poorest class. Most of them lived in the central ward of the city. As pointed out by Doctor Porritt in "Religion and Health", "that ward, one of the most squalid in Leeds, had a death rate lower than that of the whole city, the statistical records for which show all the advantages derived from the healthier or better class districts."

In London itself, in Whitechapel and Mile End, which were principally occupied by Jews, the death rates were only 18.5 and 19.3 per thousand of population, while in {317} the neighboring districts of Limehouse and St. George, where there were many fewer Jews--Limehouse being practically without them--the death rates were respectively 23 and 24.6 per thousand. There was distinctly less morbidity from the infectious diseases in the Jewish districts, there being actually more than one fourth more in Limehouse than in Mile End on the average, and the infantile death rates were much lower among the Jews in spite of the fact that most of them were immigrants who had led very hard and anxious lives before settling in London and since coming had to work under unwonted, exceedingly unsanitary conditions, in a climate to which they were not as yet accustomed.

In other countries besides England the mortality and morbidity statistics favor the Jew even more strikingly than in England. In Frankfurt (on Main), as pointed out by Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, where the influence of the Jewish ghetto still made itself felt about the middle of the nineteenth century and Jews were herded together under restricted regulations that would seem inevitably prone to hurt their health, they had as a matter of fact ever so much better health than the Gentiles around them. The average duration of life among the Jews was forty-eight years and nine months. Among all other classes it was thirty-six years and eleven months. More than half of the Jews reached fifty years of age, while scarcely more than one third of the other classes lived up to that. During the first five years of life Jewish children died at the rate of about thirteen per cent while Gentile children died at the rate of a little more than twenty-four per cent. One fourth of the Jewish population attained the age of seventy; one fourth of the rest of the inhabitants lived to be less than sixty.


In Furth the tenacity of life among the Jews could be noted at all ages. Of the Jewish children from one to five years ten per cent died, but among the rest of the population the infant mortality of the same age was fourteen per cent. At every stage of life Jewish mortality was lower until past the age of sixty, when, owing to the greater number of Jews who reached advanced age, the ratio was inverted. The number of Jews who lived to be above eighty and even ninety is strikingly larger than among the Gentiles. In Prussia, Legoit found that the average life of the Jew is greater than that of the Gentile by at least five years. The mortality among the population of the whole kingdom was a little over two and one half per hundred, while among the Jews it was only one and one half per hundred. The population in Prussia is increasing annually at the rate of one and one third per hundred among non-Jews, but at the rate of nearly one and three fourths among the Jews. The ordinary population requires fifty-one years to double itself, but the Jews require only forty-one and a half years for the same progression.

Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, by a comparison of the ages of two thousand five hundred Jews buried in London in three years with the mortality of the whole population of London at different ages, found that under five years of age forty-four Jews died to forty-five non-Jews; from thirty-five to forty-five years of age, five Jews died to every eight non-Jews; and it was not until the age of eighty-five was reached that the ratio was reversed and two Jews were buried to every one non-Jew, there being considerably more than twice as many non-Jews alive at that age to supply the bodies for the burial.




[Footnote 18: The suggestion for this chapter came from Reverend William J. Lockington's little book on "Bodily Health and Spiritual Vigour", Longmans, Green and Co., London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta, 1914.]

Religion, as we have seen in the course of this book, does very much for health, but according to the great principle of nature, reaction is equal to action in compensation and health undoubtedly also accomplishes very much for religion. Indeed there are a great many troubles commonly presumed to be of the spirit and a great many supposed disturbances of the spiritual life that are really only manifestations of ill health of one kind or another, or at least of some hampering of bodily function reflected in the mind. This has always been recognized by all the great authorities in the spiritual life, and none have insisted more than the writers even of the highest mystical theology on the necessity for taking proper care of the body if the spirit is to be free for religious life.

Desolation, that is that feeling of utter dissatisfaction with religious exercises and difficulty in continuing them of which so much is said in spiritual literature, is very often nothing more than dyspepsia. What is familiarly called the "blues" or the "blue devils", that is the state of depression in which nothing seems hopeful and the future seems very blank indeed, is a common experience among mankind generally and is very often dependent on {320} some disturbance of the digestive tract. There is a well-known expression in English according to which the answer to the question "Is life worth living?" is "That depends on the liver", meaning not only the person that does the living, but also that large organ in the right upper abdominal quadrant, the largest, heaviest organ in the body, disturbances of which it is no wonder cause serious interference with a number of the functions of both mind and body. Many a long-faced person indeed who thinks himself pious is only bilious, and many a sad-eyed visionary who is quite ready to proclaim himself religious is only what the ancients called atrabilious and needs some liver regulator as badly as ever Horace thought he needed hellebore in the spring.

There are a good many traits of disposition or habits of life often supposed to be dependent on the state of the spirit that are really only symptoms of bodily indisposition. Many a fit of temper is consequent upon the condition of the digestive organs rather than the state of the soul. Suspicion and jealousy are not infrequently not so much vices as unfortunate feelings exaggerated out of all reason by some disturbance of health. There are certain times in women's lives particularly when almost any feeling that comes to them is magnified and takes on a significance quite beyond the reality. Physicians constantly have to remind their women patients to wait a few days and not let their inhibited feelings run away with them as they are so prone to do at certain periods.

Not a little of the irritability of life and especially the exaggerated response to minor irritations is due to insufficient oxygenation of tissues because the individual concerned is not getting out into the air sufficiently. At the end of a number of hours of mental work indoors, {321} especially in a stuffy atmosphere, most people are inclined to be irritable. If instead of going out into the fresh air and staying out for some time when they get the chance, they think that they feel too tired for the effort which that involves, and prefer to rest in a comfortable chair or perhaps lying down, their irritability will often not be lessened but sometimes will even be heightened. On the other hand, if they get out into the brisk, bracing cold air of the winter time particularly, they come back with their irritability thoroughly dissipated as a rule and ready to go on with other work almost without a sense of weariness. Probably nothing makes a man say his night prayers more unsatisfactorily and with less devotion than to sit down in a nice comfortable chair after a rather heavy evening meal and smoke and read the paper or perhaps a magazine until he goes to sleep. He wakes up feeling all out of sorts, while if he played a game of cards with friends he would feel fine at the end of the evening and be ready to thank the Lord for another day and for the prospect of a good night's rest for the work ahead.

Above all, people who are living healthy, outdoor lives are much more prone to take a happy view of life, to see the bright side of things and to radiate good will and sunshine than those who are overmuch in the house. The cheerful givers whom the Lord loves come especially from among these. A great many of the people who want to pour out their ills perennially, because they like to indulge their self-pity by rolling the delectable morsels of their sufferings under their tongues, and who go around seeking consolation and sympathy whenever they are in even slight trouble are indoor people. They occur especially among those who spend a good deal of {322} time sitting down and not exercising their bodies enough. The good old rule _ora et labora_ is an extremely valuable precept, not only for the next world but also for this. Pray and labor, but be sure that labor gets a fair share of the time and be sure that the body has enough exercise to keep it going and to keep its functions in good condition, otherwise the prayer will be disturbed and life will be far from happy.

Happiness comes to those who are healthily tired every day. Long ago Dooley said in one of those wise sayings of his which made even the _London Times_ declare that the wisest man that was writing English in our day wrote under the name of Dooley in Chicago, that the one thing above all that made life worth living was to be tired enough at the end of every day so that one would sleep well every night. Without that life is indeed a burden.

The practice of hard work, some of it physical, is a very good rule for the physical as well as the spiritual life. A hard-working man has little time to be grouchy and to throw wet blankets over the good that others are trying to do. He is likely to be a lifter and not a leaner, a doer and not a talker. Nothing keeps people from finding fault so well as having so much to do that they can scarcely find the time in which to do it all. Especially is this important for those who have to spend a good deal of time in each other's company, and who must learn to bear with each other's faults and go on with their own work to the best of their ability. It must not be forgotten that a great many of the faults of others are to be attributed rather to the state of their health than to their disposition, and once this is rightly understood charity will readily help us to gloss them over or forgive them. Any one who makes his own faults the subject of excuse {323} on the score of health, when his health is something that by a little care he could improve, is of course imposing on himself if he does it at all deliberately, and he is trying to impose on good nature if he thinks that other people do not appreciate that his ill health is really an excuse and not a reason for his faults.

In the chapter on Abstinence it is suggested that one of the best things that men and particularly women could practice to advantage from the standpoint of religious abstinence would be abstinence from excessive rest. Rest is one of the most dangerous remedies that we have, nearly as dangerous as opium and with a definite tendency for a habit to be acquired by the system for it whenever it is indulged in to excess, exactly as is true of the opiates. If mortification of the spirit were to be practiced by abstinence from overrest and by a definite amount of exercise every day it would be an excellent thing for the religious as well as the physical life. This is one of the most frequent advices of those interested in the spiritual life as well as the bodily health for many generations. What people need is to keep busy. This is good for both their minds and their bodies. It requires a great deal of mortification of the inclinations to keep at work and above all to take exercise voluntarily when one might sit around and enjoy the delightfully lazy feeling of doing nothing, but that way lies serious disturbance of health. The men who have been very hard workers, especially from a sense of duty and not for mere selfish reasons, taking a great deal of exercise and going to bed so thoroughly tired every night that they went to sleep as soon as their head touched the pillow, have been long-lived as a rule, unless they met with some accident or infection.


Above all, it is important for any one who wishes to retain his self-respect and keep from that sluggishness which is so fatal to the power to pray and to meditate not to permit his abdominal and flank muscles to become overstretched and to allow fat to accumulate within the abdomen until it is actually a burden. There is almost no excuse for any one permitting his waist line to become larger in girth than his chest, unless of course he happens to have some deformity that makes exercise very difficult or practically impossible. To keep these muscles in good condition prevents slouchiness and makes the individual ever so much more ready for activity of any kind. The only way that these muscles can be kept in tone to hold in the abdomen properly and keep the circulation within it in such vigor as will support the digestive tract so as to permit and encourage its proper activities is by exercising them. This requires the performance of certain exercises every day. Stooping, bending, stretching, all these must be practiced if the muscles are not to be allowed to degenerate.

There is no harder task than to keep up the custom of performing these exercises regularly a couple of times a day, for though only from five to ten minutes is needed night and morning to maintain the muscles in condition or even to restore them when they have once begun to sag, all sorts of excuses come in to prevent the regular practice of the exercises, and it is the regularity above all that counts.

A man who keeps these muscles in good shape will be much readier for every sort of activity than if he allowed them to yield, and one of the secrets of the army officers' power as the years go on so that, quite contrary to the usual rule in life it is men well beyond sixty who make some of the greatest successes as leaders, is because their {325} regular training and discipline keep them from letting their muscles lose tone and their powers deteriorate. The setting-up exercises of the army or navy indulged in for fifteen minutes a day--and this could be divided into two periods--would keep men in condition and prove at the same time a very salutary mortification and above all an exercise in self-control and persistent application to a good purpose that would constitute a magnificent factor for that training of the will that is so important for religion.

Nerve irritation is oftener a function of insufficient exercise and air with overfeeding than of any other factor. This same thing is true for suspicion and jealousy and envy and other of the supposed inner emotions of the soul. They will disappear very often before the fresh air, while they will be fostered by life indoors and by the coddling of ills by rest and high living generally. The passions, by which a great many people mean mainly the sexual feelings, though of course they also include the tendency to overeat and especially to stimulate one's self to eating in various ways, are all fostered by being much indoors and not getting enough fresh, outdoor air and particularly cold air.

There are a great many people who seem to forget that air is absolutely the most important requisite for life, and that when it is cold it takes heat away from the animal body and sets all the cell functions working at their best. Human beings are practically heat engines, and we keep on manufacturing heat all the time. As our temperature never rises except when we suffer from fever, some outlet must be found for this heat, and unless there is exposure to the air and especially air in motion that will carry heat away from us, the heat is consumed in {326} various large organs and almost invariably succeeds in making us quite miserable. It is under these circumstances of sluggish indoor living particularly that irritability of all kinds is heightened and that the tendency to lack of self-control is most manifest. It is a form of intoxication actually that comes over people and would remind us not a little of the intoxication that follows from smaller amounts of alcohol with the resultant lack of inhibition.

When people are much out in the air it is surprising what they can stand in the shape of injury without great suffering. Our young soldiers learned during the war that their outdoor life in camps and at the front made the slighter wounds appear almost as nothing to them and even the severer wounds caused them nothing like the pain which they had anticipated or which they actually would have caused if the soldiers continued to be in the same state of mind and body as regards the reaction to pain which had been true during their civilian days.

It requires much less courage to be heroic when one has been living the outdoor life and has been hardening muscles by exercise and plain food and not too much sleep than when one is living the indoor, relaxed over-rested life. That does not lessen the merit of what they did, but helps to account for its development in just ordinary mortals and above all helps to explain why now they modestly prefer not to talk about it, for to them it seems to have been just all in the day's work.

Not infrequently oversensitiveness of disposition which resents even the slightest imputation and which is often prone to translate what was a mere conventional remark into a fancied insult is due to lack of sufficient outdoor air to keep the individual in good health. On the other {327} hand men and women who spend a good deal of time outside are capable of standing even severe insults without wincing under them and sometimes this rebounds greatly to the benefit of the cause for which they are working. Father Lockington has dwelt on this in one of his chapters rather interestingly.

"Good health helps us to be patient and silent under insult and wrong, when this makes for duty better done. The souls for whom we labour are often unreasonable, often ungrateful, often crooked, but the trained worker never hesitates. Strong and self-contained he moves serenely on; no display of temper mars his work, no hasty word is uttered, however great the provocation. Like the missionary calmly wiping his face, when spat upon in the Japanese street, or that Little Sister of the Poor, who, struck across the face when begging food for her old people, calmly answered, 'That is for myself, and I deserve it; please now give me something for Christ's poor,' such a worker sees only souls here below, and Christ above, waiting for them. A healthy body will keep the mind broad and even; it has no place for brooding suspicion to lurk; it will help the soul to take a wide view of life and prevent that narrowness of thought, so fatal to work, to which our life of continual introspection tends."

A great many of the vicious impulses in connection with suspicion and jealousy and envy may be traced to a lack of diversion in life. There are some people who take no pains to organize existence in such a way that they have definite diversion at certain times. Every human being ought at some time on every Sunday to decide that on certain days of the following week, and above all on certain evenings, he will do things in which he is {328} particularly interested and which he can look forward to with pleasant anticipation. Those who can should arrange either to go to the theater, or to a lecture in which they are interested, or to visit friends whom they care to see, or to go to a library and look up something that they have been wanting to find out about; or, if it is pleasant weather, to go for a short excursion or a boat ride or something of that kind and they should make two or three appointments with themselves for definite occasions of recreation for the ensuing week. As a rule all that is necessary for this is to make up one's mind to do it, though there is a tendency on the part of a great many people just to let each evening be like every other evening and because of lack of sufficient interest they lose that variety which is the spice of life. As a result existence becomes dreadfully monotonous, and those who live such narrow lives become the subjects of all sorts of unfortunate suggestions with regard to those around them.

Over and over again I have found that when women patients particularly were the subjects of various of these nervous irritabilities so that they were permitting themselves actually to be led into being deluded into various suspicions, there was a prompt disappearance or significant minimization of these thoughts when diversions were properly introduced into their lives. The founders of religious orders were very wise in this matter. In all the religious orders the members are required by rule to spend a certain time in recreation, that is in conversation and lighter occupation, usually several times every day.

This must be spent in company with the others and the members of the house are not allowed to absent themselves without good reason. Young religious sometimes feel like resenting the rule requiring {329} them to be present day after day at recreation as if it represented a waste of time, but they learn later on in life how wise it is. The various feast days of the Church are celebrated in such a way that there is a definite diversion from the usual routine of life and then there are special indulgences at table and in the matter of spending time in the open and receiving visitors and other things of that kind which mean a very great deal in breaking the monotony of the religious life.

Very often scruples are, as we have pointed out in the chapter on Nervous Diseases, only a manifestation of a nervous disposition sometimes on a hereditary, but sometimes on an acquired basis. The acquired basis is very often a lack of nutrition due to insufficient food, for people who are underweight are much more subject to dreads and obsessions of all kinds than are those who are up to weight.

Living on the will, as it is called, when one is underweight and does not eat very much, certainly not sufficient to supply the energy for what has to be accomplished, is a fruitful source of irritability of any and every kind. It keeps people on edge, that is in a condition of unstable equilibrium, and almost anything that touches them has a tendency to put them into a state of disequilibrium. Bringing people up to normal health and especially up to normal weight is often the best possible means to lessen their tendencies to scruples and to various other manifestations supposed to be spiritual yet which represent only conditions and symptoms that are frequently seen in those who have no religion and no conscientious obligations with regard to anything.

It is surprising how often a sluggish state of the bowels proves to be seriously disturbing to the spiritual life. {330} People find it hard to pray without distraction or to meditate without getting sleepy, and they are liable to think of themselves as perhaps being the object of very special attention on the part of certain evil spirits who make it their business to distract and obtund those who are trying to put themselves in communication with the Most High, when all that is really the matter is that they are absorbing certain materials which ought to be excreted promptly but which are being delayed in their intestinal tract longer than is good for the individual.

I am not one of those who believe that intestinal auto-toxemia is a very serious condition which produces dire results, but I know very well that absorption in any quantity of residual materials from the intestinal tract that were meant to be excreted will produce langour and sluggishness. The present fad among certain physicians for attributing a great many serious symptoms to intestinal auto-intoxication has no basis in physiological chemistry and represents only one of those exaggerations of a minor truth for which medicine is so famous. The idea of self-poisoning, which is all that auto-intoxication means, is a very old one in medicine and the use of drastic purgatives such as calomel in large doses and the antimonial purges and then of blood letting represent the responses to this idea which doctors made in an older time. We know that they did harm and those who would exaggerate the meaning of auto-intoxication in our time are likely to do just as much harm, but there is no doubt at all that obstipation will make the majority of human beings uncomfortable and take away their initiative and keep them from being up to their best in mental and spiritual matters. To use some of the greatly advertised remedies or modes of treatment which are suggested for {331} it, however, would probably do more harm than good. There are a number of simple sensible methods of treatment by which the affection may be overcome. Above all the formation of good habits, of taking an abundance of water, of eating coarse food, the peelings of baked potatoes and the parings of baked apples and an occasional orange with its peel, and using marmalade rather freely as well as eating whole wheat bread will gradually overcome the condition. The important thing is not to mistake the merely physical affection for a spiritual disturbance.

It requires persistence to form good habits and it is ever so much easier just to take something that will supposedly do the same good work "while you sleep" and are not bothered by the exertion of the will power necessary to form the habits that are required. Many a disturbance of health is due to sloth and laziness rather than to ignorance of what ought to be done or to any inherent tendency to ill in the body. Any number of people blame Providence for ills which they have brought on themselves by neglect of their own health and the habits necessary to maintain it.

Nothing so conduces to good health as the regularity of life without haste and without worry which the rational practice of religion brings in its train. The attitude of mind that a trusting faith in the Almighty fosters is particularly likely to prevent the neurotic symptoms and exaggerations of feelings which are responsible for so much of the modern suffering of mankind. It makes the real pains and aches ever so much more bearable and eliminates those which to a great extent are imaginary. The success of all sorts of curious therapeutic systems which prove after a time to be utterly without beneficial {332} effect on the human body shows how much faith in anything may mean for health and restoration to health, even in the midst of what is supposed to be rather serious illness, and as men are bound to have faith in something and a living faith in a Providence that somehow, even though we may not be able to understand it, cares for men, drawing good even out of evil, can accomplish an immense amount in making men less amenable to suffering even in this world. It would be too bad to reduce religion merely to this status, but this should be one of its benefits. As the Scriptures said, "For it is not a vain thing for you because it is your life, and through this thing you shall prolong your days in the land."

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