15 Nov, 2022 The importance of spirituality to health (a secular argument)
The logic is undeniable and unavoidable: Beliefs lead to thinking; thinking leads to feeling and behaviour.
A ‘good’ or ‘bad’ society is therefore, unavoidably, the product of its core religious and spiritual beliefs.
All spirituality is not equal
This is the most inconvenient part of considering this simple logic.
Some think there are many gods, some that there are none, and some that there is one. Does it matter? Absolutely!
- Some views are positive from their core; and others are not. Mentally this makes a huge difference to life.
- For any person unfortunate enough to have a keen mind, and the courage to think, depression or joy can be a small step away – because they do think clearly (rather than due to the absence of clear thinking). This can be a problem.
- Emotional health therefore is directly connected to a persons core religious/spiritual beliefs, even though secular counsellors often seem to prefer to cut that conversation off at ‘thinking’, as-if spirituality were an unimportant ”extra”.
- And if beliefs don’t esteem the value of the individual, this will soon become a problem not only for them, but for those around them. The fruit of socialism leading to both fascism and communism in the last Century alone demonstrates this. Put someone in power, and the people will rise or fall on the basis of their core beliefs, which unavoidably come from their core spiritual beliefs.
The most hope filled idea is that a ‘God’ of some kind exists – who loves us and who is good
This is an objectively true statement. This is not statement of faith, or from a bias of some kind.
Jews, Christian and Muslim all try to sustain this idea of a ‘good God’.
One possible anomaly here is with Islam. Their image of God is sometimes of a God who is more ‘right’ than ‘good’, and ‘in charge’ than ‘loving’. Some therefore believe Allah is good – while others see no necessity to believe that, accepting instead that he is simply ‘right’. The word Salem means peace, while the word Islam means submission – so one premises of the faith is the submission of our hearts to a God who really is the sovereign over all.
- The nuances of this are not something I’m qualified to speak into, except to reflect the above difference of thought that I’m aware of.
Christianity, however, takes the idea of a ‘good and loving God’ to another level. It presents a God who doesn’t ‘merely’ give us a possible salvation and hope, but who would even sacrifice something of his own comfort and being to achieve that for us.
- He is a God who is so loving and humble he’d even leave the comfort of heaven to come to earth to show us his ways (which we’d not yet understood fully – and hence the visit)
- …and then to die in our place, the innocent for the guilty, so the requirements of justice for the wrongs we’ve each done could be paid for..
- Self-sacrifice is the highest idea of love possible.
Each belief therefore has its explanations for evil and suffering and hope. These range from “there is no explanation because evil isn’t even a real thing”, through to, “It’s not your place to ask because God is bigger than you”, through to, “God is good and can be personally known – with suffering only existing temporarily due to free will”.
To extrapolate this Christian idea further:
- A perfectly good God creates a perfectly good world (evil didn’t therefore always exist)
- Free will was given to enable love. Evil came into existence through its misuse, choosing to mistrust and to pursue power. God isn’t therefore responsible for evil and suffering.
- God therefore has a plan to end all evil and suffering, just
- not yet because he also has a purpose through it.
- He has delayed the full restoration for reasons we can only guess at (the Book of Job points to this – as believed by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike)
- He has promised a full restoration, including an end to all sin and evil.
- He has then taken it upon himself (in Christianity), at his own expense, to enable a pathway for our ‘salvation’.
- Our free will is therefore empowered again, just like at the start:
- (a) Trust him and receive the forgiveness he offers
- (b) or ignore him, continuing to live our own way, with its natural consequences.
- An eternal hope awaits those who are willing and humble enough to receive what he offers – noting again that it will never be forced.
- Once we know God, our obligation is to show the same love he has shown us, to others, generating a culture of charity (like the one we in the ‘West’ live within).
Beliefs affect behaviour
The logic isn’t hard to follow.
- If I’m an accident if chance in a meaningless universe – that brief will affect my psychology.
- Spirituality is therefore a huge component of mental health, and all spiritual views are not equal in this!
Even if no spiritual truth exists, beliefs still lead to our thinking, feelings and behavior.
Even if a good God doesn’t exist, a person who believes one does will be more positive, more hopeful, and live more selflessly! Logically, this belief is therefore to be esteemed for the benefits it brings to individuals, and societies through them, even if we don’t think it is true.
- Irrespective of the truth of the matter, this explains the effectiveness of Christian faith-based rehabilitation programmes like with prisoners and the drug-addicted.
- This also explains a myriad of other statistics in which there are clear health and other benefits for those with this faith.
- The awkward comparison, is to note that there are differences between the effects of the religions upon people’s thinking, wellbeing and living (charity). These are very rarely spoken of for obvious reasons. These are not reported on – even where data exists – because to do so would be too troublesome
- This is to say, it is not faith itself that makes the difference; it is what a person has put their faith in. (All beliefs are not the same).
Are we accidents of chance
or a mystery in a meaningless universe
or loved and planned?
- Some views point us immediately toward hope – while others don’t.
- Some views point us immediately toward selfless and loving actions toward others – while others point the opposite direction (survival of the fittest).
- Some point us toward restrained Governments, who are accountable to God just like the people – under the same law, and responsible to therefore protect the freedoms, rights and wellbeing of the people – while others genuinely don’t (power is what counts; human life isn’t intrinsically of value; ethics are actually made up; the end justifies the means).
He is in prison because he stole – because he has debts – because he gambles – because he feels empty – because he feels his parents betrayed him by separating, and also due to the mean words they said which affected the core of his psyche.
The problem isn’t that he is a thief, or his debts, or his gambling addiction – or even what his parents did or didn’t do.
- His problem is how he sees himself as the result of what his parents did or didn’t do.
But what if his life is objectively meaningless – because he’s an accident of chance in a meaningless universe?
- What if he does have a low IQ?
- What if he does have limited talents – and bad physical health that is of no fault of his own?
- In this scenario no TRUE help can be offered – except to encourage him to think ‘positively’ – whatever that actually means (noting his own thinking is already logical).
- The result: In as much as he convinces himself his positive throughs are TRUE (even though they are objectively NOT true), he will find hope.
For the alternatively, what if God does exist? His parents words and actions don’t therefore define him. God loves him – irrespective of his parents love, or lack of love. God says he matters, and that his life has meaning – because he sees his every thought and action, and then gives them meaning. Having offered forgiveness for his wrongs (while calling him to forgive others in that same way), the man is called to love and serve others – to make the world better. beyond knowing God, that is his purpose, which is seen, which does make a difference, and that will be rewarded.
- In as much as he does true good, every action and even thought will be noticed, recorded and rewarded.
- Every single action and thought becomes imbued with meaning – both now, and beyond!
We cannot escape the fact that beliefs lead to thinking, which leads to feelings and behaviour.
To get through and past life’s challenges, beliefs therefore matter.
- Spirituality is directly connected to health.
- Not all views of spirituality are the same – even though we must respect every individuals right to choose their own.
- Some views of spirituality are objectively more positive by way of
- the hope-filled perspective of life they bring,
- and the pursuit of good for others they motivate (they will produce better societies)
Should our society value spirituality more?
And for a more pointed question, might the seemingly concerted undermining of Christianity by public figures, media and some in Government be objectively unwise and self-destructive to our greater good?
DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith, with stories about the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values intentionally included. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.