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Look at Faith, Religion

Aired December 25, 2003 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, HOST: In focus tonight, faith in America in the 21st century in a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims and more. We'll examine the role of belief in modern life with stories of faith in the face of tragedy, the force of faith in healing, and how Americans find lessons of faith in the most unlikely places.
Good evening and Merry Christmas. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We hope you're having a great holiday.

We chose this special night to devote an hour to a subject central to the lives of most Americans -- faith. We have a lot ahead, but first here are some of the headlines you need to know right now.


ZAHN: We begin our hour-long examination of faith in America by posing these questions to some Americans -- what is faith? And what does it mean to you? And as we found out, faith is many things to many people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Faith is a belief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't see it, you can't hold on to it, but it's there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Faith is when you believe in God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have faith in friends and other people. I don't really have that much faith in anything outside of that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Faith to me is somebody's basic moral beliefs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe faith is...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hope for me that keeps you going every day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... is the belief that no matter what happens you're going to be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life is a test of faith. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, I guess each person has their own faith.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I was raised as a Catholic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was not raised in a religious family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think faith is...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... synonymous with believing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son just recently got back from Iraq, and that's faith. And I had faith that he would come home.


ZAHN: Let's get some help on the subject from the experts. Joining us in the studio are Monsignor Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gelman, who share their spiritual insights in the nationally syndicated weekly column "The God Squad". Also joining us, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf of the American Sufi Muslim Association, and for an atheist perspective we're joined now from our Washington bureau by "New York Times" contributor and author Natalie Angier. Thank you all for joining us.


ZAHN: We appreciate it. Father Tom, you recently went public with your diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. How much are you struggling with the concept of dying right now?

MSGR. THOMAS HARTMAN, "THE GOD SQUAD": Well, when I was ordained, I looked at God and said if I'm healthy, I can give you 24/7. When I got sick, it caused me to ask, hey, God, where are you? And I wasn't so much concerned about dying, as I was disappointed that the ministry that I'm in and that I enjoy so much was going to change. In the process of that, I then started thinking about where could this disease go? And my biggest fear is that I would become a prisoner inside myself. So I'm not worried about dying, but I'm worried about the way I could die.

ZAHN: Are you mad at God?

HARTMAN: I think at first I was depressed. I was angry at God, and then one day I was walking along the beach, and all of a sudden I heard, Tom don't worry, don't be afraid, I'll be with you, you'll be OK. And I walked 10 feet further, and the same thing happened. I knew it was God's voice, and that's all I needed.

ZAHN: That must have been extremely comforting to you. Rabbi, what is it about facing death that makes so many Americans turn to faith, some of them for the very first time?

MARC GELMAN, "THE GOD SQUAD": Well, we live in a world in which people feel for the first time in human history they have control over almost everything -- night, darkness means nothing. We flick a light. Food means nothing to people with means. You can go to a store and buy any food anytime. There's only really one area which we can't control, and it brings us back to our finitude, our limitation, our basic human condition, and that is that we can't control our health.

We can't control when we'll die. And really one of the fundamental motivators for religion is not the fear of death. I don't say it that way. Rather, I would say it is the hope that death is not the end of us. And that's what religion provides. And it's very, very heart and core.

ZAHN: Natalie, as an atheist, what do you use to confront your potential mortality?

NATALIE ANGIER, "NEW YORK TIMES" CONTRIBUTOR: I find it extremely difficult, but I also believe very much that I am a part of this universe, and I've been telling my daughter the same thing, because as an atheist, I'm not going to lie to her and tell her don't worry, you're going to just be what you are now, but I do actually believe that I will always be here. I will always be a part of whatever is going on, and that even though I may not have my memory intact and really who wants most of it anyway -- I think that I will be able to in some sense live on just by the fact that we are going to be recycled, and we are going to always be within some context of beingness.

So there's no extermination. We are just transformed, and that's not a religious perspective. That's actually just a very pragmatic one. I am afraid of death, but I think anybody who's honest has to say they are, and we all have to confront it. It is a sad fact when you lose someone you love, there's no way around that, we're not going to get past that. But we are here, life is a miracle, life is beautiful, love is beautiful. All of those things that atheists share with people who are religious, I think that facing mortality is the biggest challenge, but we can all do it together as human beings.

ZAHN: Imam, when you hear Natalie talk about love and the faith that there will be a beingness forever, doesn't that almost sound religious to you?

IMAM FEISEL ABDUL RAUF, AMERICAN SUFI MUSLIM ASSOC.: Very much so. In fact, the nature of being has to do with the nature of consciousness. And when I hear her say "I," we're really talking about the nature of consciousness, the self, the fundamental self, that part which we say "me," is something which is not our physical being, not our emotional being, not even our intellectual being (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's a components of our being.

The fundamental core identity of self is our state of consciousness. And when our states of consciousness move even out of our bodies, we have -- we undergo experiences where we may travel out of our body, or we are aware of continuing to exist in a state beyond the envelope of our physical being.

ZAHN: "The God Squad" here, final thought. If you can keep it somewhat disciplined here, the mystery of faith? GELMAN: WD Arden (ph), the great poet, said to do it is difficult, all one's days as if it were easy, that is faith. And to me, that still is the best definition I have ever heard, to do it as difficult as if it were easy.

HARTMAN: When I was born into the world I was fortunate to have two loving parents. I believe that when we die, all of us will be fortunate enough to meet a loving God.

ZAHN: Beautiful. Monsignor Tom Hartman, Rabbi Marc Gelman, Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf, and Natalie Angier, thank you for all of your perspectives this evening.


JOHN UNGER, RESCUED PENN. MINER: I think everyday you think about it. I mean I don't really try to dwell on it, but it's with you everyday. It comes in and out of your mind and it always will. It's something that will be with us as long as you live.


ZAHN: And today faith is a major force for John Unger as one of nine Pennsylvania miners trapped underground for nearly four days. Unger relied on his belief to get him through an ordeal that captured the whole world's attention.

We are happy to have John Unger with us tonight. He joins us from Thomas Mills, Pennsylvania. Always good to see you, sir. Welcome.

UNGER: How are you today?

ZAHN: I'm fine. Thanks, sir. Let's go back to those horrible four days you endured. Obviously you felt trapped by the darkness. You couldn't swim. You were hungry. You were cold. In the end, do you think your faith saved your life?

UNGER: I think my faith saved my life, because -- what God did for us. I mean he gave us the strength to survive, and you had to trust in him completely and totally.

ZAHN: How afraid were you that you were going to die?

UNGER: Well I really thought at one point in time that we weren't going to make it and I wrote -- when I wrote that farewell to my wife, I really thought that was going to be the end. I really didn't think we were going to make it there.

ZAHN: And what did you write to your wife?

UNGER: I've never really told anybody that, and it's really personal, and we never had to use it, and so I've never even told her what I wrote to her. I just -- we all left it alone, and that's where we kept it.

ZAHN: What did you pray for?

UNGER: I just asked God to give me the strength to do his will, whether it was to live or die. I didn't ask for anything else, other than the strength to do what his will was, and that's what I prayed for. And he gave me like an inner peace after I asked him that.

ZAHN: You felt physically a change in the way you were feeling?

UNGER: Yes, I felt when I asked him just for the strength to do his will, that there was an inner peace came over me that, whatever it was, live or die that it would be fine.

ZAHN: Had you ever prayed before in your life?

UNGER: I've prayed quite often in my life. I pray every day in my life, but I think at that point in time I prayed harder than I ever did, just for the situation that we was in.

ZAHN: So when you asked God for help, were you basically saying to God, I have a wife that was newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I have two children who are dependent upon me, you've got to save my life to save theirs?

UNGER: No, I didn't ask for that. I just figured whatever was ever -- was going to happen, if you trust in God, it was going to be OK no matter what, and that's kind of what I went with.

ZAHN: What is the lesson to be learned through what you endured and the rest of us that may have our faith tested from time to time?

UNGER: I think the biggest thing you possibly learn is you never give up on -- in any situation you're in, and whatever possibly you ask God for, God will do for you. You just have to trust him. It might not be the results you want right away, but God definitely will take care of you.

ZAHN: And there was no point during that four days where you felt abandoned by God, in spite of...


ZAHN: ... the great faith you came into...

UNGER: No, I never...

ZAHN: ... the mine with?

UNGER: ... I never felt that he was abandoning us. From the start to the finish, I felt he was with us the whole time.

ZAHN: And how about the fellow miners around you? Did they share your faith or were they more skeptical?

UNGER: No, I think we all really believed and that God was going to take care of us. I mean, I don't think you can do it any other way, seeing what we seen and what we was into and what was going on, that you knew God was going to take care of you and God was with us all the time and that's how I totally looked at the whole thing.

ZAHN: And I guess as you go through the joy of this holiday season that sense of gratitude must never leave you?

UNGER: It never does. Every day you get up, even some days, I think even the bad days are even good. I mean you know just every day is good, and you just try to make the best out of it you can every day.

ZAHN: Well I know you haven't talked much about your personal faith before, and we thank you so much for sharing your story with us this evening John Unger, and my best to you and your family. Always good to talk with you.

UNGER: Thank you. Good talking to you.

ZAHN: Thank you. So what do you do when your faith is shaken? In times of national tragedy or personal struggles, how can you find the strength to believe?

And how a faith helped a former deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury prepare for a heart transplant.

Also, lessons of faith from would you believe, "The Simpsons".


ZAHN: How do you find strength when tragedy strikes? How do you go on believing when a loved one dies? What do you do when our faith is shaken? It is one of the most difficult questions all of us face. For answers we're joined from Watertown, Massachusetts by Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" whose latest book is called "The Lord is My Shepherd".

Always good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paula, it's a pleasure.

ZAHN: So Rabbi, that's probably the toughest question you are asked by folks doubting their faith. When you look at something the scale of 9/11 attack, how do you explain to someone why God would allow that to happen?

RABBI HAROLD KUSHNER, AUTHOR: Well the key, Paula is to understand that God -- it's not God's will; God is not doing this to you. God's promise was never that life would be fair. My teacher Mortici Kaplan (ph) used to say to us expecting the world to treat you fairly because you're a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you're a vegetarian. God's promise was when it's your turn to face the unfairness of life, you'll be able to handle it because you won't have to face it alone. God is with you.

What I said to the victims of 9/11 and their families is God is on your side, not on the side of the hijacker, not on the side of the criminal, not on the side of the drunk driver, not on the side of the malignant tumor, and not on the side of the accident. God is with you. It's the essence of the Twenty-third Psalm; it's why we love that Psalm so much. I will fear no evil for thou art with me. It doesn't say I will fear no evil because nothing bad every happens. It doesn't say I will fear no evil because things only happen to those who deserve them. He says, you are with me, and as long as I know God is on my side, I can handle whatever life throws at me.

ZAHN: After 9/11, we saw a numbers spike in churches all over the country of folks going to regular worship and other places of worship, but we also know that during crisis, people often turn to faith, and some view that as simply a crutch. Is that real faith?

KUSHNER: Faith is a crutch in the same way that food is a crutch who can't live on -- for people who can't live on photosynthesis. No, faith is something we need. Maybe the most urgent question is, how do you live in a world where everything is so vulnerable and everything is so dangerous and you never know what's going to happen? People all over the world have been living this way for a long time and after 9/11 it came to America too.

How do you do it? You do with it a confidence that no matter how unfair the things that happen to you are, God will give you the strength you need. That's God's role. God's role is not to explain. God's role is to comfort and to strengthen. I know because it happened to me when we had a personal tragedy. It has happened to hundreds and -- more than hundreds of people that have spoken to me about their lives.

ZAHN: When you talk about your own personal tragedy you had to confront, it was the issue of your son having an incurable disease. How shaken was your faith?

KUSHNER: For a couple months, I didn't know if I could continue as a Rabbi and every Sabbath morning officiated a celebration of another family's little boy growing up and knew that my son would never reach that age or get very far past it. He died when he was 14, and the key was understanding that it was not God's doing, this is nature. Nature is blind. God is good, human beings are potentially good. Nature doesn't understand what the world good -- what the word "good" means.

Nature can be a hurricane that kills innocent people. Nature can be an earthquake. Nature can be a speeding bullet that doesn't deflect from its cost -- its course. God is good, and God gives good people the resources to cope with the unfairness, the moral blindness of nature. Ultimately, that's what we have to conclude. God gave us the capacity that we did not believe we had to raise that child, to comfort him when he was scared and ultimately to lose him and to grieve for him. And then God showed me how to take his tragedy and redeem it from just being a statistic and turn it into something which would help so many others.

ZAHN: Well you certainly have had a lot of impact with your teaching, Rabbi Harold Kushner, thank you for joining us tonight.

As we continue our hour-long look at faith in America, I'll be talking with former Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and how his faith helped him survive a heart transplant.

And more on how medicine joins forces with faith to help people heal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel I'm different now after the intensive care. I am more spiritual. I wouldn't say religious -- OK, maybe it's a little bit more religious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all religions.


ZAHN: We turn now to the healing power of belief and the story of Roger Altman. He served as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury under President Clinton. Two years ago he had a heart transplant and he relied on prayer and faith to carry him through his surgery and recovery. Roger Altman is here to share his personal story with us.

Welcome. Good to see you.


ZAHN: Tell us a little bit about how the news impacted you that you would possibly die if you didn't get this heart transplant and how that affected your faith.

ALTMAN: Well first of all, I'd had heart disease for 10 years before I approached the real critical point, and I was deteriorating, and that deterioration was pretty steady. And so I was -- I knew things were getting worse, although up until three months before my transplant, they were pretty manageable. But then in the fall of 2001, I went over the cliff, so to speak, and I had a whole series of attacks which -- from which I barely escaped.

I mean I was resuscitated in the emergency room three different times and I was told I had to have a heart transplant and that the only thing that would save me would be that. Otherwise, I was -- I had two months or four months, but it was going to be over. And -- so that was a shock, the idea of a heart transplant. It struck me as something terrifying and incomprehensible. And, of course, having long been a religious person, the immediate reaction you have is to envelope yourself in your religion and prayer.

And when I finally arrived in the hospital to wait for a transplant, that was several weeks of waiting, Dr. Rods (ph), who did my surgery, who I know is going to be part of this program, came to see me. He gave me a book about the importance of alternative medicine as it's called, and I define that as the relationship between the psychological side of healing and the physical side of healing and what I learned from that was how important it was to prepare yourself psychologically and I would say spiritually for this incredible experience you were going to have, and all the risks associated with it.

ZAHN: So you weren't skeptical about it? ALTMAN: About prayer or about...

ZAHN: Prayer. I know you said you had long relied on faith in your life, but clearly this is a juncture of your life where that faith had been to be severely tested.

ALTMAN: No, it was the opposite. I mean it caused me to even more deeply embrace faith, because I knew just instinctively that only that would see me through, because facing a heart transplant to say the least is an anxiety-producing experience. I mean you're terrified. And the only way you can get through a few hours, let alone the day or a few weeks waiting for the transplant, and remember in the case of a transplant, you don't know when it's going to happen, because it requires a donor organ, and that can happen at any moment and you don't know when it will happen.

The only way I could get through a few hours was to have that faith and to lean on it. And so my immediate reaction was to embrace it even more deeply, and then it became pretty clear to me that unless I could somehow get psychologically ready for this operation and somehow be positive about it that I would have trouble getting through it.

ZAHN: Do you think your being alive today is a function of that faith and your spirituality or just really good medicine?

ALTMAN: I think it's both, and I came through this feeling that without preparing yourself psychologically -- I would argue spiritually -- your chances of surviving what I went through are lower. In other words, recovery -- survival and recovery are a function of both spiritual preparation and good medicine or physical preparation, not just the latter.

ZAHN: And you obviously view your heart transplant as this enormous gift that is the result of the cycle of life and death.

ALTMAN: Well to me it was more, Paula, a spiritual experience than a physical experience. Because the actual operation itself, if you're lucky enough to get through it, fades after three or four months in your own memory. You heal physically, there are all kinds of issues, of course, with going through life as a transplant recipient, but the operation itself recedes, and the impact the whole thing makes on you is primarily in my case, at least, spiritual, meaning that you've received this incomprehensible gift, remembering that someone has to die for you to receive it, and it's a very difficult spiritual thing to describe, but it's inherently very spiritual, and the physical side of it in retrospect is the minor side, not the primary side.

ZAHN: Well we appreciate your sharing your inspiring story with us and your sense of hope tonight.

ALTMAN: It's a pleasure, thank you.

ZAHN: Thank you, Roger. Good luck to you.

And still ahead, I'll be talking with Roger's heart surgeon about how he incorporates spirituality and faith in treating his patients.

And finding faith when illness strikes. We'll have more stories of how the power of belief can go a long way for patients and their families.

And far from a shock jock, how a popular radio talk show host is using words of encouragement to change lives.


ZAHN: We have just seen how faith helped Roger Altman get through his heart transplant.

Deborah Feyerick reports now on how other people are bringing faith into the process of healing.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five days a week, Anton Imling treks to the hospital to get radiation for the cancer invading his body.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you feeling all right?

FEYERICK: He's had surgery and tried four different chemotherapies. Born Catholic, faith never played a big role in Anton's life. Then in May, after almost dying, that changed.

ANTON IMLING, CANCER PATIENT: Something happened, something -- right? Because normally I'm different. I feel like I'm different now after the intensive care. I am more spiritual. I wouldn't say religious - okay, maybe it's a little more religious, all religions.

FEYERICK: You likely heard the saying there are no atheists in foxholes, but the role faith plays in healing can't be underestimated says expert Dr. Herold Koenig.

HEROLD KOENIG, DR., DUKE UNIVERSITY: Hope, and especially meaning and purpose, help people to experience less stress and consequently frees their natural healing mechanisms in their body.

FEYERICK: But critics say there can be a down side.

(on camera): Patients may compromise their own medical care by listening to God, not their doctors. There's also another problem.

RICHARD SLOAN, DR., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: It's bad enough to be sick. It's worse still to be gravely ill. But to add to that the burden of remorse or guilt over some supposed failure of devotion is simply unconscionable.

FEYERICK: Even so, the trend at medical schools and hospitals, like Long Island's Northshore University Hospital, is to teach the spiritual side of healing. Imling can't say whether his new spirituality will cure him. He now has a greater appreciation for everyone who has ever prayed for him. But for wife Shirley, a devout Catholic, Imling's Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have made her question her faith.

SHIRLEY IMLING, WIFE: I'm like, why?

FEYERICK: When you say "why," is it out of anger? Is it out of, you know, why him? Why,,,

S. IMLING: Probably.

A. IMLING: Don't worry about it, kid. Don't worry about it. Whatever is going to be is going to be. Don't worry about it.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: To get a closer look at the power of faith and healing, we are joined by three people who know the subject very well. Dr. Nancy Snyderman is a veteran medical journalist and vice president of Johnson & Johnson. She joins us from Corte Madeira, California. From Watertown, Massachusetts, welcome Dr. Herbert Benson, author and president and founder of the Mind Body Medical Institute. And here with me, I'm joined by Dr. Mehmet Oz, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at New York Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center. Welcome to you all.

Dr. Benson, you have spent some 35 years understanding any sort of connection between spirituality and medicine. What kind of conclusions can be drawn?

HERBERT BENSON, MIND/BODY MED. INSTITUTE: Belief is very, very important. When you focus on a word, a sound, a prayer, or a phrase, and repeat it, and disregard other thoughts, distinct physiologic changes occur in the body, which are exactly opposite to those of stress.

ZAHN: Are there -- or is there any tangible proof of what impact repeating a mantra over and over again might have on your blood pressure or other bodily functions?

BENSON: Oh, indeed. In fact, 60 percent to 90 percent of visits to healthcare professionals are in the mind-body, stress-related realm. So it affects not only blood pressure, but heart rate, affects many forms of pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia. In other words, there's discrete medical proof that evoking what we call the relaxation response, often through prayer, can treat many, many different diseases. And to the extent that any disease is caused or made worse by stress, to that extent, this intervention will work.

ZAHN: Dr. Oz, we met your patient, Roger Altman in our last segment, who talked about how you encouraged him to embrace spirituality. You really believe spirituality can affect whether a patient lives or dies? Particularly a patient with really serious health problems.

DR. MEHMET OZ, CARDIAC SURGEON: Not only do I believe it personally, but we're beginning to get more data around the issue of spirituality. And remember, spirituality can impact in our lives at several different levels.

There is, of course, the placebo effect, which is that I think I'm going to do better. So I do better. And then there's the type of mind-body interaction that Dr. Benson was alluding to, where we can calm ourselves, deal with some of the major risk factors for death after heart problems, for example.

At my hospital, New York Presbyterian, a quarter of our patients after open heart surgery are depressed. So someone like Roger Altman, if he's depressed after a heart transplant, I don't care how good the heart is. He may not be able to cope with that.

But there's a third level. Because independent of the placebo effect and the effect of the mind and the body, is there an additional level of the spirit? Forget the issue of God. The spirit itself, could it affect our basic energy level? And most people don't think about this, but if you look at the level of a cell, the basic building block of the body, it's defined as being alive by energy. We go through the energy to pass in and out of that cell means it's alive.

Well, if you put those cells together into an organ, like in a heart, and you put that organ together with other organs, like the liver and the brain and everything else, well why shouldn't we acknowledge that there's energy in the body that keeps us driving forward, that gives us a reason and an ability to survive? And that's the level I'm intrigued by when we look at spirit.

ZAHN: Dr. Snyderman, you're a cancer surgeon. You have certainly seen evidence of how spirituality has enhanced the recovery of some of your patients. And yet, we also know there's a great deal of skepticism about this in the medical community. Do you think some doctors out there listening to Dr. Benson and Dr. Oz tonight are saying, oh, yes, right?

NANCY SNYDERMAN, VP, JOHNSON & JOHNSON: Paula, for those of us who have been around the block more than once, we know that Herb Benson and Mehmet Oz are right. Remember at the very core of what we do, we heal. And so that power of touch, that power of communication, that power of interaction between two beings has a tremendous potential to change the course of a patient's life.

If I sit at a patient's bedside, and I just touch a patient's hand, and I'm there for a minute, that patient will think I've been there for an hour. But if I stand in a doorway, and I say nice to see you this evening, I'll see you tomorrow, that patient may not think I was there at all.

In the same way that I tell someone he or she has cancer, if I say I'm sorry you have cancer and only five percent of people like you survive, I don't expect that patient to do very well. But if I say, you have a tough cancer, but here's what we're going to do, and there are some promising new medications, and you can call me anytime you need me, I expect those patients, and anecdotally I've seen it, those patients do better.

But beyond what I do at the bedside, what Herb Benson and what Mehmet Oz have done, is they've taken those anecdotes that as healers they know to be true, and they've looked for the science that backs it up. And there is no doubt in my scientific mind that we are going to bridge the gap between belief and spirituality and how we can watch patients do from a scientific and medical basis.

ZAHN: More ahead with our guests, as we look at what could be the next frontier of researching into whether praying for someone else can help them heal? And examples of faith where you'd never expect them, "The Simpsons."


ZAHN: We've seen how faith and prayer can help a patient recover. Now we turn to what could be the next big area of research, whether praying for someone else can help that person heal. We continue now with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Dr. Herbert Benson, and Dr. Mehmet Oz.

So Dr. Nancy Snyderman, we are told that some research will eventually surface that will show that faith actually creates healing energy. Do you buy into that?

SNYDERMAN: I do buy into it. And I think you're going to have to see medical schools step up to the plate and look at alternative forms of healing. And if you really want to figure out where the medical profession's going, talk to the older physicians who have been touched by a cancer scare or some life-altering illness. Doctors later in life start to really embrace this. Do I believe the science is there? Absolutely, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Dr. Oz, this is what I look at. How do you even quantify how someone else's prayers will help you recover? How do you measure that?

OZ: Well, it seems crazy, doesn't it?

ZAHN: Yes.

OZ: Someone like me and you, who grew up in Western society see this as an incredibly foreign concept, but the trials that we have done, looking at people paying for the ill, and this by the way doesn't involve one or two sects. You have Baptists in North Carolina, and born-agains in Missouri and Soufis (ph) in India, and Tibetan monks. And you get these folks praying in a randomized trial, which means we've taken all the chance out of this, basically. We're going to actually look at what role spirit plays in getting people to recover after illness.

Well, what happens when you see changes? I mean, how do you deal with that? If you're intellectually honest, you've got to go back and see there's something happening here that I need to figure out.

And it's not all about having a Tibetan monk if I have cancer. It's about trying to corral that energy, to learn about something that we never thought possible, that we had never acknowledged. But the reality is the history of human progress in medicine is dotted with these kinds of events. We never acknowledged bacteria until we discovered in middle of the last century. We never believed in immunology until 30 years ago.

Well, I think this may be the next frontier. And wouldn't it be cool if one day you come into a doctor's office, and they can evaluate energy and spirit as an element that may be driving your illness?

ZAHN: I'm praying for that right now.

Dr. Benson, a final thought on where you think this all leads us?

BENSON: I think we really have to quantify, as Nancy pointed out, aspects of how this can help us. We know now that when people pray for themselves, and pray in a repetitive fashion, that nitric oxide, NO, is released in the body. And this particular gas has tremendous manifestations in various biochemical systems. And by quantifying these mind-body effects, including spirituality, I think we can link a doubtful -- bring together a doubtful society with science.

ZAHN: Dr. Benson, Dr. Oz, Dr. Snyderman, thank you for all of your insights this evening. And have a great holiday.

SNYDERMAN: Thank you.

ZAHN: She has more that are five million sets of ears. At night, listening to her unique message of faith. I'll be talking with radio host, Delilah. And we're going to show you how some people are finding lessons of faith in, of all places, "The Simpsons."


ZAHN: Every night, more than five million radio listeners tune in to hear Delilah. On the show, Delilah touches people's hearts with words of love and support. And she discusses spiritual healing for life's problems. Delilah joins us from Seattle to talk about her show and her message of faith.

Good to see you. Welcome.


ZAHN: What is it that people need the most from you?

DELILAH: Wow, I think a lot of my listeners tune in because they want to connect heart to heart. And they connect with not only me but the other listeners. And a lot of people who call, call because they want someone to listen. They want to share. And a lot of my listeners call for prayer.

ZAHN: And are these people who have prayed before? Or people who are somewhat cynical about what that might bring to their life?

DELILAH: Both, both. A lot of people will call and be in crisis and share a story that's, you know, overwhelming. And they know that I'm a woman of faith. And they call specifically, hoping that I will pray with them or pray for them, or ask my others listeners to pray.

And then a lot of times somebody will call and, you know, be going on about a tumultuous situation. And I'll say you know what you really need? You really need God's help in this. And it sort of stops them in their track. And they're like, excuse me? That's not something that they expect, but...

ZAHN: Well, you're quite open about the crises you've faced in your own life. You have had some pretty dark times. You lost your mother. You lost your brother and his wife in a plane crash. You've gone through two divorces. What is it that you tell your listeners that helped you work through that sadness? Was it prayer alone or more than that?

DELILAH: Well, when I lost my brother and his wife, I didn't have any faith. I was an atheist, agnostic. And it was actually that accident that led me on a spiritual quest, because he was only 26. They were both 26 years old. And I needed to know what happened. Where did they go? Would I ever see them again?

And so, it was that accident that started my real search for God. And it was a couple years after my brother -- oddly enough, Matthew Mark Luke disappeared, that I gave my heart to God.

And since Matt's accident, there have been a multitude of problems. As you mentioned, I lost my mother, I lost my father, I lost my grandmother, I lost my best friend in Boston. I've been fired umpteen times, I've been divorced, I've got a child who has special needs, but because I have such a rich and wonderful relationship with God, and because he's my best friend, I've been able to get through those times much better than I got through tough times before.

ZAHN: So would you say your message to listeners is a message of faith? A message of religion? A message of positive thinking?

DELILAH: Certainly not religion, certainly not positive thinking, because religion and faith are two completely different things to me. Religion is the form, it's the building, it's the structure, but faith is a very personal and very intimate thing between you and God.

I don't believe in the power of positive thinking, because I get depressed. I have PMS. You know, and when I'm going through tough times, there is no positive thinking. That's when I have to lean on God and I have to say, God, get me through this. Get me through this dark time.

You know, when you get a phone call in the middle of the night and somebody you love is dead, or is dying, or you go to the doctor, like I did with my sister, and the doctor looks at us and says, your mother has terminal cancer, there's no positive thinking in that. You have -- for me, I have to believe in something much greater than myself.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate you sharing your personal story with us tonight. Delilah, thank you... DELILAH: Thank you.

ZAHN: ...very much for spending some time with us tonight.

And as we continue our hour-long look at faith in America, we'll show you how the Simpsons are teaching some important lessons about belief.


ZAHN: Can the antics of Homer Simpson teach us anything about faith? For some religious leaders, the answer is yes. Besides laughter, they believe the Simpsons offers up life lessons we can all learn from.

Bruce Burkhardt has the story.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Questions of faith, questions of God, where can we go for answers?


BURKHARDT: The Simpsons may seem to some more sacrilege than religion. And certainly when the show debuted in 1989, it was reviled by many as a corrupting influence, but there may be more here than just a bunch of jokes.

MARX PINSKY, AUTHOR: So I watched and kept watching. And there was all this religion. And finally I grabbed my notepad and decided to write an article about it.

BURKHARDT: For Mark Pinsky, that article grew into a book. And the book, "The Gospel According to the Simpsons," grew into a guide, a bible study guide.

CHUCK KENNEDY: What leads to the tension between Marge and Homer?

BURKHARDT: Chuck Kennedy is leading some of his Christian friends in Jacksonville, Florida in bible study. It starts with an episode of the Simpsons.

So in this episode, Marge almost commits adultery with the French bowling pro. Where can we go with that?

KENNEDY: Is Homer is good husband? Why or why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tried. You think you're going good. Everybody thinks you're going to be a great husband, and you just end up being clueless.

BURKHARDT: This time it was adultery, but religious themes abound in "The Simpsons." Bart selling his soul.

CARTWRIGHT: There you go, one soul.

BURKHARDT: Or Homer breaking the eighth commandment with his illegal cable connection.

YEARDLEY SMITH, "LISA SIMPSON": Well at Sunday school, we learned that stealing is a sin.


SMITH: But everybody does it. I mean, we're stealing cable as we speak.

CARTWRIGHT, "TODD FLANDERS": Oh, my freakin' ears!

BURKHARDT: And then there's the evangelical neighbor, Ned Flanders, who seems to be the subject of ridicule.

PINSKY: But the more you watch him, the more you see that he returns every insult and all the mockery and scorn from his neighbor Homer with love. He acts out his belief.

HARRY SHEARER, "NED FLANDERS": It's not safe with the unbeliever.

BURKHARDT: And not just Christian beliefs are represented here. Judaism is visited through Crusty, the clown. And even Hinduism is seen through the eyes of Apu, the convenience store clerk.

CASTELLANETA: It's sacrilegious, I tell you.

BURKHARDT: God is often found in the funniest of places.

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.


ZAHN: Thanks so much for being with us on this Christmas night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Good night. And I hope you and your family have a great holiday.


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