Pragmatic Spirituality

In trying to keep my Postaday2011 string alive this year, perhaps the most difficult subject has been Spirituality on Sunday.  Yes, I know.  I could deviate from my self-imposed weekly topic schedule but then again, if I weren’t impossibly stubborn, would I be two weeks from the end of 2011 with a post every day?   I suppose my difficulty in posting on spirituality is a combination of two factors: my largely non-specific beliefs are hard to articulate; and I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to convince anyone of anything.  After all, I am an evangeliphobe myself.  If there were a point I’d pass along it’s that even if you can’t attach yourself to a particular orthodoxy, it is possible to find a spirituality that makes your life better.

An article by Tom Knox I found on the U.K.’s Daily Mail Online makes the point nicely.   While visiting Salt Lake City, Knox was wandering the street at night and realized that he felt safe, something he might not have felt in most cities.  This is what he wrote:  Why did I feel safe? Because I was in a largely Mormon city, and Mormons are never going to mug you. They might bore or annoy you when they come knocking on your door, touting their faith, but they are not going to attack you.  The Mormons’ wholesome religiousness, their endless and charitable kindliness, made their  city a better place. And that made me think:  Why was I so supercilious about such happy, hospitable people? What gave me the right to sneer at their religion?  From that moment I took a deeper, more rigorous interest in the possible benefits of religious faith. Not one particular creed, but all creeds. And I was startled by what I found. 

What he found was that people who attend service regularly live on the average seven years longer than people who don’t.  They have lower blood pressure and are less prone to mental illness.  He found that religious believers, compared to non-believers, record less stress, are better able to cope with losing jobs and divorce, are less prone to suicide, report higher levels of self-esteem, enjoy greater ‘life purpose’ and report being more happy overall.  Some studies conclude the benefits arise from a sense of community but others have found they extend to a lesser extent to believers who don’t attend services.  Interestingly, Knox notes that neurologists are discovering that the frontal cortex of our brain may be wired for belief in God for the evolutionary purpose of making us healthier and happier … thus more likely to have children.

I’ve said here before that I choose to believe in God because my life works better when I do so.  There’s scientific evidence to support that whether the benefits are inherently spiritual, social or neurological.  Yet atheists argue … religiously, I might add … against belief, citing the evils that religion has brought to the world.   If belief is good for us as individuals, doesn’t it make more sense to argue for an enlightened spirituality and more religious tolerance?

What do you think?

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6 Comments on “Pragmatic Spirituality”

  1. marjulo Says:

    You make a good point! I was religious when I was young, but that changed over time. The denomination I was born into was liberal and the congregation more intellectual and open. The suburban church of the same denomination was peopled by folks who came there because it was the closest church, thus changing the climate of the church as a whole. The orthodoxy of that church turned my daughters away from religion at all, unfortunately.

    Since then I have been on a spiritual search. Although my husband and daughters label themselves atheists, I am definitely an agnostic. I would agree that a religious faith does provide a measure of peace and community, but I found that I was depressed by church services as an adult. They did not feed my soul. However, I miss my faith–the grace I felt as a child, sitting in church with my parents and church family, praying, listening and singing.

  2. ceceliafutch Says:

    I almost hate to comment because you stated your point so well. And I agree, life with a religious (or spiritual) faith/belief/practice/whatever you want to call it, is better for me by far than living without. I’ve tried it both ways.

    Thanks yet again for another excellent post. 🙂

  3. I think, as with all things (look out: here comes Eastern philosophy!), it’s all about balance. The religious fervor that has caused wars and problems since time immemorial has arguably always been overzealous, and based on misinterpretation of sacred commands, texts, beliefs, rituals, etc. “God likes me more than you.” “God is on my side.” “The Garden of Eden is in Missouri.” “God wants me to have all the land in the world, or at least as much as I can possibly control.” “God wants me to kill you because you’re an infidel. Sucks to be you.”

    Interpersonally, it seems that what causes the most tension is trying to persuade other people that you are right and they are wrong about an understanding of a Higher Power. (Not you, you.) That applies to angry atheists, as well. And I say “angry atheists” because I have known a few atheists (even dated one, turned out) who had no desire or compulsion to tell their friends and family why they were crazy/stupid/illogical/foolish/naive/weak to believe in a higher being. They are perfectly content to reside in a world one might call secularly humanistic, just being good people because they figure it’s the right thing to do. But angry atheists insist everyone else is an idiot and they’re the smartest people in the room. I wonder if Christopher Hitchins’ death on Friday spurred on your post; I found him to be one of these angry atheists – brilliant, gifted, and as singularly closed-minded as he believed the Religious Right to be. Just of the opposite persuasion.

    I think the irony (for non-believers) is that science proves that faith is good for us. (To me, science and faith are not mutually exclusive.) And so, as you say, why argue against it? Faith, belief, religion – in their true and pure forms, when not tainted by misunderstanding – can only be forces for good in the world. The danger is in the twisting.

  4. I’ve always been a “believer” -a member of the church I belong to today for almost my entire life. All three of my kids were raised in this church and only one of them attends church regularly and is active within the church itself. My oldest has work-time conflicts and has never found a church near where she now lives. My son has gone from belief to more of an agnostic than an atheist and as such, generally refuses to go to church as he chooses to believe that organized religion is wrong/bad, and can’t understand why we have to hire someone to “preach” and lead, much less the contentment I feel inside myself within the community that is my church. He is of the opinion that as long as he abides by the Golden Rule, is not bigoted, judgmental in nature and tries to do right, that’s all that is necessary for him. And perhaps, for him that is all he needs but at least he doesn’t criticize his sister and me for our faith, for the things we participate in within our church or for the fact that his niece and nephew are both being raised in the church and that he is Godfather to his niece. (However, he had no qualms about turning to our Pastor when he was going through a really rough emotional patch last year so go figure that out, huh?) I chalk it up to just a kid being a kid still but in his late 30s. Time will tell and we’ll see what eventually shakes out I think.)

  5. Bob S Says:

    Like you, my life works much better when I am in contact with my Higher Power. That’s enough for me. I love the KISS theory.

  6. undividing Says:

    I’ll have to go read the article you quoted from Knox, it sounds really interesting. I just love how you are able to practice your faith in your own way, incorporating into your life what makes sense and works for you. I have enjoyed reading your blog this year Bud, thank you for all of the thought-provoking posts as well as your faithful comments on my blog : ) Happy Holidays!

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