Religion has been given a bad rap in nursing. Faith and spirituality are “good,” religion is “bad.” Examples?
A press release came today that caught my eye: “3 Things We Can Learn from Dying Hospice Patients--The Strongest, Most Content are Those with Faith, Therapist Says.” The release promotes author Charles “Carlos” Gourgey, an experienced PhD board-certified, state-licensed music therapist, who published Judeochristianity and writes on psychology and religion. Courgey speaks of “an unwavering faith that transcends religious dogma,” explaining, “The problem with many concepts of faith is that people attach specific doctrines to it, which means some people will always be excluded. A unifying faith – that all people are connected and love is the force that binds us – allows for trust, compassion and caring.” So good faith connects while religion excludes.
Barbara Stephens Barnum in the introduction to her 3rd edition of Spirituality in Nursing: The Challenges of Complexity (2011, Springer Publishing Co.) writes: “These were questions that had puzzled me and, on the whole, had given the nursing profession problems. What, for example, what do we do about the zealously religious, but spiritually immature, nurse who thinks she has the answers for every patient?” (p. xiii). Another question: “Some nurses wish to proselytize their own religion. How can this practice be stopped?” (p. xv). Of all the issues to ponder about spirituality in nursing, religious zealots would not be my first.
I just returned from the Faith & Nursing Symposium: Religion and Ethics in Pluralistic Healthcare Contexts at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. The release of Religion, Religious Ethics, and Nursing and Religion: A Clinical Guide for Nurses (both 2012, Springer Publishing Co.) were celebrated and many of the contributors from various faith traditions were present. Lead editor for the first book, Marsha Fowler, challenged listeners that although nursing has neglected religion for the past 150 years, religion may even be more important than spirituality. Why? Religion has influenced society, ethics, and people for millennia. Nightingale was committed to the study and understanding of religion. People turn to religion at times of birth, illness, and death, at the places where nurses stand on holy ground.
It’s time for religious nurses to come out of the closet. I don’t mean go out and start “zealously proselytizing.” JCN has consistently stood against inappropriate, unethical proselytizing (i.e., FAQs in Spiritual Care, a regular column, and Taylor, E. J. . Spiritual Care: Evangelism at the Bedside?” JCN, 28(4), 194-202). I do mean be okay with who you are and what you believe. Appropriately let others know you are a religious nurse. Our religious faith provides a strong moral, ethical compass that guides our practice. Our religious beliefs sustain us and help us care well for our patients, families, colleagues, students.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.