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Reblogged:Admonition or Admission?

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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.

gathering.jpg
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

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