A placebo can work for anything that makes a person feel bad or sick.  We argue that religion can be a placebo too.  If you have a dark soul, you can use rites and prayers to feel forgiven.  Unless you are really forgiven and unless God is really improving you this is a serious matter.  It is a grave wrong.  Religious rites, community bonding, prayer all these things can involve placebos and be placebos full stop.  A placebo needs belief and expectation to work.  Any belief including religious can be a placebo.

Let us define a placebo.  1973 Edition of The Dictionary of Behavioral Science (DBS): "a substance with no medicinal properties which causes a patient to improve because of his belief in its efficacy...It reinforces the patient's expectations though it does not really act on the individual's condition."

A source says,

The usual definitions of the placebo effect imply fakery and reinforce commonplace assumptions like these:

(1) If a patient responds to a placebo, his symptom was either feigned or imaginary.

(2) The only symptoms placebos can act upon are anxiety or pain.

(3) Placebos, whether they help or not, at least are harmless.

(4) Only neurotic personality types respond to placebos.

I would add that it does not have to involve a substance.  Also, people see God's grace as a power.  So if we are going to talk substance we can talk about it as substance too.  It is a substance as far as the person asking for it is concerned.  Regarding point 1 above a symptom itself is not a unit but a summary of problems.  So one of these problems or more can be imagined while the rest can be real.  And if a patient gets cured it was definitely feigned but if the patient feels better - feeling better is not the same as cured - it is a different thing.

To use a placebo for the anxiety or pain caused by hurting someone or lying to them is reprehensible.

A source says,

Behavioral psychology finds the placebo effect akin to the Pavlovian response: Just as a dog salivates when a bell associated with food rings, so a patient enters a cure mode when something associated with a cure is present. The conditioning agent need not be medicine: It could be the setting--a doctor's office or a hospital--where one expects to get help. It could be merely attention from a surrogate of the person who in the patient's childhood "kissed it and made it better"--a role most often played by a doctor. ...

Among psychotherapists in general there is much grappling with the definition. A placebo has been called all of the following:

1. any nonspecific treatment

2. anything nonintentional in the treatment

3. anything incidental to the treatment

4. anything deliberately used that the doctor believes to be ineffective or pharmacologically inert

5. any pharmacologically active substance that brings about a completely unaccountable result

6. variables that accompany any treatment that are considered to be irrelevant to the treatment

7. the belief of the patient that he or she is in a healing context

Taken together these definitions broaden the concept of placebo to include everything--real medicines and sugar pills, voodoo dolls and physician's personalities, surgery and a good day at work, a doctor's office and the shrine at Lourdes. And a placebo effect would include not only good effects but also bad effects.

This is exactly right. In other words, the number of placebos is infinite. A placebo may be anything--intended and not intended, an active and an inert drug, the disposition of the doctor and the faith of the patient. Any of these may trigger a cure or may intensify an illness.

My comment here is, "Agreed!"

Let is look at religion as a placebo.  A good source is Placebos, Faith, and Morals Or Why Religion by Thomas Gale Moore, Hoover Institution, Stanford University.


The American Heritage Dictionary defines religion as: "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe." The operative word is "belief." Even though we have made great progress in explaining nature, storms, disease, and even death, people still have strong beliefs about supernatural powers that control these events.


Beliefs also play a strong role in medical care. Scientists have found that if a patient believes that a treatment will be effective, it often produces results, even though by objective standards the therapy is useless (Blakeslee 1998; Brown 1998). ...

Belief is very powerful and, as careful studies have shown, is remarkably effective.

It can also produce strong negative effects, sometimes called mass sociogenic illness or, more commonly, mass hysteria. A belief that some thing, person, or spirit is causing sickness often does result in pain, suffering, and symptoms of illness. As Dr. Dean Edell describes it, "Many of the diseases … have taken on cult like status. Patients approach those illnesses with a religious fervor that defies explanation."(1999, 36)
Medieval Europe witnessed a malady called Tanzwuth which led sufferers to wild dancing, seizures, and, eventually, fainting. In a recent example, described by Edell, students in a high school class were told that a safe, nonvolatile herbicide had been sprayed near the school. Although the story was complete fiction, thirty-two students had to be rushed to hospitals. In another school, a student claimed that cocaine had been baked into a white cake. Even though subsequent analysis showed that he had made up the story, twenty-two kids fell ill and were rushed in three ambulances to the hospital. Even though considerable controversy remains about whether chemical exposures caused the Gulf War syndrome, the symptoms are consistent with mass sociogenic illness. What seems to be crucial in such hysteria is a belief that the person has been exposed to a substance that could cause harm.

The Placebo Effect of Religion

Since belief systems are so powerful, belief in a religion can provide real physical and health benefits (Johns Hopkins Medical Newsletter, Nov 1998). As Blakslee reported, a strong belief has physiological effects. Numerous studies have found that faithful churchgoers, believers, and those with strong religious leanings live longer and are healthier than those who are more skeptical (McFarling 1998 & 1999; Strawbridge 1997; Koenig et. Al. 1997; Oxman et. al. 1995). Those benefits exist even after taking into account the more sober lifestyle of many religious adherents (McFarling 1999).

[This is overreach.  The moderate sober lifestyles could explain it all.  Where are the atheists who live disciplined healthy lives?]

Such evidence suggests that belief and, therefore, religion, is beneficial from an evolutionary fitness approach. However, although belief in religion may increase fitness, that fails to explain why evolution should have beings that could be more successful if they had a strong faith. Why should evolution favor those who believe over those who are more skeptical? The answer would seem to lie in the importance of religion in fostering ethnic solidarity.

[Let us consider not evolution here but its basis, survival of the craftiest and most adaptable.  Survival of the fittest describes how the animal with the biggest and sharpest teeth and claws survives at the expense of the rest.  He has just told us that religion leads to violence.  It is too in line with race boundaries and national concerns to be called truly inclusive.]


Members of religious groups often refer to other believers as "brothers" or "sisters" and to the leaders of the faiths as "fathers." God is often referred to as "Father" or in this day "Mother." Tying adherents together with family terms strengthens the bonding. The closest ties people have are to family members, such as those whose names appear in religions. In the same vein, patriots use the term "fatherland" or "mother Russia."
Christianity included, religions virtually always stress the difference between the in-group and the heathen. Only in recent times has the murder of people from other tribes or religions been considered wrong. After Joshua slaughtered the women, children, and men of Ai, he built an altar to the "Lord God of Israel" and "wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses," including the prohibition "Thou shall not kill." Since the people of Ai were not part of the chosen people, Joshua was not being hypocritical. Margaret Mead made the same point: murder is considered wrong only when it involves a member of one’s own tribe (Ridley 1997, 192).

[Good point.  Jesus by the way did not simply say that you must love your neighbour but to look at it how it is interpreted in the Torah or commandments and concern yourself with that.  The lawyer was told by Jesus to read it for himself within the context of his religious tradition.  This shows us that Joshua and Jesus his namesake were psychopaths.]

Modern religions that encompass many ethnic groups and hold themselves out to be universal probably result from the competition among sects for members. Universal religions lose some but not all of their ability to motivate narrow ethnic groups but gain by solidifying larger groups. These proselytizing religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism, claim that they minister to all irrespective of their ethnic origins and are thereby truly universal.


[The universal is a cosmetic for the influence of the toxic divisive teachers and scriptures will rebound.  It always has and does].

Even though reciprocal altruism may explain much obviously altruistic behavior, many clear cases of generosity occur that cannot or will not be reciprocated. People give anonymously to various causes. The secret benefactor may be rare but he exists. Some provide help to others whom they know will never be in a position to respond.

[The atheist is better than the religionist for the religionist thinks that God and the angels and saints are watching].

Tribal bonding is ubiquitous. Herbert Simon (1992, 77) points out "the central role in economic behavior [of] group loyalty." He (1992 and 1993) notes that business firms are more than a collection of independent, selfish individuals; the employees usually identify with the goals of the organization and are loyal to it. In the modern world, outside the marketplace, bonding can take the form of loyalty to one’s school and its football team, adhesion to a military unit, fealty within clubs, ethnic and religious solidarity, and language group attachments.

[This self-serving drive could be behind religion.  Religion is only an organisation as much as a business is.]

Clearly group loyalty results in both great good and great evil. Non-members are suspect. Other tribes, other ethnic groups, other religions can and should be shunned. Even in societies like the United States, which emphasizes inclusiveness and non-discrimination, people tend congregate with fellow ethnics. In multi-ethnic schools, Blacks will eat with other African-Americans, Asians, with others whose families came from across the Pacific, Hispanics, with those whose ancestors grew up south of the border (Garcia 1999)....

[Two-edge sword.  It is wrong for a religion to want credit for the good its declared members do and to say it has nothing to do with the bad they do.  An honest person does not want to be all about shining or seen that way.  So an organisation should be the same.]

Religion has been a force for war, violence, and persecution. It has also been a great impetus for good, beauty, and justice. In recent centuries religious feelings have moved towards the more humane; but, in times of distress, anger, or upheaval, the basic tribal loyalties built upon religion, which lie just below the surface, may erupt with disastrous consequences. A major breakdown in a free, prosperous Western civilization may lead to an upsurge of bigotry, tribal conflicts, and killings in the name of God or Gods.


The argument that Christianity is not a placebo for it says we all deserve Hell forever and Jesus has to earn our place in Heaven for us and many of our loved ones will go to Hell is odd.  The religion claims you are set free from sin to enjoy a spiritual life with God in this world and the next and never underestimate God's power to reach the unsaved.  People who think they deserve to be sick see medicine as a great gift and that is WHY the placebo may seem so powerful.  They get a placebo and enjoy it regardless of knowing that it might not work for their loved ones.  Consider this in the light that we normally have a tendency to think things will get better.  This should not be interfered with.  Do not try to think more positive than you need to for negative feelings and hunches are good warnings.  You need to live in the real world for it is not about you.  Religion and prayer clearly violate all that.  Thus they are toxic positivity at least in a mild form.  They are placebos.


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