Admonition or Admission?

Monday, March 29, 2021

With the end of the pandemic in sight, I've been running across a new theme in the press, of which the latest example appears in USA Today under the title, "Why Going to Church During Holy Week (And Beyond) Is Good for Your Mental Health."

Spoiler alert: Nowhere in the article will you get the answer to that question. The closest it comes is to list a few benefits or alleged benefits that people get from being part of a religious congregation:

Many perks accompany engaging with members of a congregation. They include better support systems, personal encouragement, group prayer, access to financial help, and a reminder that there is a hope far greater than our tired and discouraged selves.
And that comes after citing a survey and some research in which religious participants self-report (however accurate that might be) being "happier," whatever that means.

That last paragraph is hardly meant to sound condescending: I have always been the first to admit that religion, as a substitute for philosophy, serves actual human needs, although badly and thoroughly mixed with things that are actively harmful to one's thinking and therefore well-being.

With that out of the way, let me say that that article raises a point anyone should appreciate after a year of varying degrees of social isolation and disruption: We are all probably lonelier, more isolated, and more off-balance than we think.

Image by Gerson Repreza, via Unsplash, license.
Social interaction sharpens our minds and provides us with motivation: We can much better experience psychological visibility in the company of friends and friendly acquaintances in person than over social media or even over the phone (which is already far preferable to social media). Religious people pray both to celebrate good things and to offer each other support. I think there are better ways to do either than by praying, but the point stands that this is a way that some people gain perspective and reaffirm or reconnect with their values.

So let us give the angels their due, so to speak, and learn: We will soon be able to socialize freely again, and to reestablish cherished routines that involve being around others. I plan to do so with intention: The flip side of the religious admonition to return to church is that all that offers is a return to the way things were. Why not take some time out to consider what you look forward to, and why? What do I most want to do again? What do I wish I had been doing? How can this be even better than what I had before?

For their positive points, such pieces remind me also of why I left religion in the first place. It never made sense to me, and my hopes of it all being explained clearly "in college" immediately went down in flames. I wanted to know -- but I was admonished to take things on faith instead. That was an admission that religion did not offer knowledge. And likewise, the admonishments to attend religious services, festooned as they have been with promises of earthly benefits, are admissions that it isn't religion that we need.

Perhaps we should think about what we need and how we ought to go about getting it, rather than forgetting mid-stream the importance of the question Why? -- and taking someone else's word for it.

-- CAV


John Shepard said...

You might appreciate, Gus:

From Leonard Peikoff:

"It is false and impossible for faith to promote health, because there would then be a solid contradiction in the universe — health would require giving up your means of survival, which is reason, and that is the impossibility. Religious faith means ignoring reality and sacrificing the mind. So, that's out of the question."

From his podcast of September 01, 2008 (Duration: 03:35)


"There is strong evidence that there is a correlation between religious faith and health. So, can it be argued it’s within our selfish interest to hold religious faith for better health?"

bit ly/3ie6Kq1 [Replace the space between "bit" and "ly" with a period]

From 30:32 - 43:35 in Onkar Ghate's 2006 talk "Religion and Morality," on incapacitating the individual's rational judgment in the realm of morality (13 minutes). Or, as he does, one might say that the price for the benefits (if there are any, then as you note they are from the social aspects of religious services, and perhaps with a willingness to risk death in some contexts where it's actually an advantage and one might otherwise not do so) it too high):

bit ly/2M37z9l [Replace the space between "bit" and "ly" with a period]

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the links, John!

For interested readers, I'll make them easier to use here: Peikoff, Ghate.

John Shepard said...

You're welcome, Gus.

Sorry about the URLs. I gather, from the fact that you could post links, that I could have done so as well. I didn't try, because I thought that I remembered trying to post a URL previously only to find that I could not do so.

Gus Van Horn said...

No big deal. You have to hand-code the HTML markup, which not everyone knows how to do. If you do, I have seen other commenters successfully post links in their comments in the past.

I can't vouch for whether this will get past whatever security precautions Google might have in place at any given moment, though, so if you try this and it fails (or you're pressed for time), doing what you did is fine.