With the proliferation of TV shows centered around the paranormal, even skeptics might wonder if belief in the supernatural serves any purpose. Clay Routledge, Ph.D., author of “More Than Mortal” thinks it’s about meaning in life: “My research lab studies how religious beliefs contribute to perceptions of meaning in life. Not surprisingly, we and other researchers reliably find that religious beliefs help people find and maintain meaning. In general, the more religious people are, the more they believe their lives are meaningful. Religious beliefs make people feel like their existence is purposeful (i.e., God has a plan for them), that they are being watched over by benevolent supernatural agents (God, guardian angels), and that they are part of a larger and meaningful cosmic drama (i.e., God intentionally created the world). Not surprisingly then, when people are struggling with difficult life challenges that make them feel uncertain, stressed or scared, religious beliefs serve an important psychological function. They restore and protect a sense of meaning in life.”
In my experience over the years, I have encountered two types of religious people. The first believe what they believe and are largely at peace with it. When reason/common sense and religion conflict, that person tells him- or herself, in essence, “Have faith,” or finds some idea or principle in religious documents (e.g., the Bible) to support the basis for faith.
The other type is in a perpetual state of psychological crisis, often because he or she is using logic and reason to try and make sense of their beliefs. On the one hand, they believe, or at least feel they should. On the other hand, they’re questioning and thinking, which naturally gets in the way of the beliefs.
I’ve had more than one conversation in my office that went something like this: “I’m angry that my life turned out this way. I’m angry that my mother was so unloving. I’m angry that I didn’t get the job [or romantic love, or whatever] I wanted.” So I ask, “At whom are you angry?” He or she responds, “I’m angry at God. Why would God allow this suffering? I realize there’s greater suffering than what I endure. But if God is so wise and just, why all the problems?” “But,” I counter, “aren’t you trying to apply reason, logic and standards of human justice to something that’s faith based? Doesn’t your religion tell you to simply believe and accept uncritically?” At this point there is generally silence.
The question answers itself. Faith, by definition, does not involve reason, logic, proof or sense. It’s something different, and both faith-based and non-faith-based people will agree. In such cases, the psychological conflict arises out of contradiction, from which a host of psychological conflicts and problems stem.
Routledge continues: “It makes sense that religious beliefs that involve loving and protective supernatural agents such as God and guardian angels would help people feel like their lives are meaningful and purposeful.”
Most people assume that the only way to find meaning and purpose in life is through some kind of a religious perspective. Yet what about meaning and purpose to be found in other ways? For example, through the development of one’s mind; through some kind of meaningful work involving reason and leading to concrete results like the building of a house or the invention of a microchip, electricity or a cure for cancer?
Two things are apparent. The religious person who also resolves to live a meaningful, secular life to the fullest can experience a sense of happiness. But so can the person who is not religious, i.e., who resolves to live a meaningful, secular life to the fullest, pursuing productive results and/or rationally happy experiences.
Such subjects might seem a little abstract and profound to those who hold a position of some kind on these issues. In fact, most of us do. And where your mind stands — even subconsciously — will determine to a great extent how happy you really are.
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