In "Religion and Disease: Deadly epidemics can have a profound impact on people’s choice of religion" (The Scientist , August 25, 2011), Cristina Luiggi reports on a study of the role of religion in epidemics:
In an attempt to study this in a modern setting, Hughes and colleagues surveyed religious attitudes among the people of Malawi, where AIDS has become the leading cause of death among adults. They found that 30 percent of people who described themselves as Christians visited the sick, in contrast to 7 percent of Muslims They also found that in the last 5 years, about 400 of the 3000 respondents changed religions, mostly to Christianity, “where the promise of receiving care is greater and the stigma of having AIDS is less,” Hughes explained to ScienceNOW. The researchers presented their data at the 13th Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology earlier this week.
Of course, there's always the influence of Jesus's judgement on the saved:
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
vs. the lost:
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
, where the eternal welfare of the Christian seems to depend on helping others.
The this-worldly rewards of helping the sufferers are not always evident. Many priests died during the Black Death in Europe in the late 14th century, as a result of giving the last rites to sufferers. That had a major effect on the mediaeval Church: The committed priests died; the slackers who didn't attend the dying lived. Scholars think that fact played a role in hastening the corruption the resulted in the Reformation and the Counterreformation.
See also: Study: Spirituality plays a key role in fighting depression