Thank God We’re Healthy?

In the current issue of Vanity Fair a graph appearing on its regular feature, “The 60 Minutes Poll,” shows that when Americans nationwide were asked, “Whom or what do you most thank for your good health?” 54 percent credited…God.

Before you decide that this is refreshing evidence of the deep abiding religious character of the nation, consider that this was the favorite choice among lifestyle (26 percent), genes (26 percent), and doctors (4 percent). That it means that a majority of Americans believe that their health is more a result of the benevolent and regular intervention of the Deity than the way they live or the bodies they inherited or the medical profession. That is an abject admission that they don’t believe that what they eat or ingest, or how much, or how often, or how much exercise they get if any, or what sanitary conditions they live under, or how often they see a doctor, or whether they access preventive medicine has any significant importance for their health.

Right there, you see why this nation is so sick. Why 2.5 million people die from diseases each year, mostly preventable, why the U.S. ranks 38th in a World Health Organization list of the world’s countries, why it ranks dead last in a 2013 academic study of healthcare in 17 industrialized nations.

The leading causes in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer, strokes, lung disease, and diabetes—all of them largely preventable by healthy life styles, regular doctor visits, and appropriate medicines. None of them is known to be preventable by regular prayer or church attendance.

Surely anyone can see what’s wrong with the attitude, If God is in charge of my health, then what difference does it make if I go to hell with myself? Why go through all the trouble of avoiding cheeseburgers and fries, eating fruits and vegetables, giving up cigarettes, jogging for a mile or two, if it’s all in His divine hands?

Before we consider the nationwide implications of this further, it is interesting to look at the regional breakdowns in this poll (carried out by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pennsylvania in August of this year). Lifestyle was chosen as the entity to thank by 33 percent in the North, 28 percent in the Midwest, 31 percent in the West, and 14 percent in the South. Genes were chosen by 6 percent in the North, 16 percent in the Midwest, 18 percent in the West, and 13 percent in the South. Doctors rated 6 percent in the North, 5 percent in the Midwest, 4 percent in the West, and 2 percent in the South, a remarkable showing of the status of U.S. medicine these days.

And God was the choice of 48 percent of the North (which some had thought Godless), 51 percent in the Midwest, 46 percent in the West, and 70 percent in the South. Is it any wonder that the South is the unhealthiest region in the nation by almost all measures?

Of course I am not recommending that either the South or the nation give up religion, for that is clearly a comforting staple by which certain lives are improved and guided, or at least that is the usual intention. But there should at least be some moderation in the amount of faith that the religious place upon a Being that actually seems not to be providing very much in the way of superior health, and indeed has an infinite variety of ways, most recently SARS and ebola, to create and spread sicknesses.

Thanking God for health is a little like knocking wood, and it’s a good reminder that there are higher powers and mysterious ways at work in the world. But it should not get in the way of understanding who and what actually provides for healthy living in our nation, and giving our real thanks to vitamins and fish oils and treadmills and bicycles and handwipes and vaccines and check-ups.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of twelve books over fifty years and lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of seventeen books.  A 50th anniversary reprint of his classic SDS has been published this fall (Autonomedia).