- Mental Health
Religiousness as a Mental Tool in the Toolbox of Our Psycho-Physical Survival
Under a Scope of X-Rays
In a very short answer to the question of the title, all mentioned features of mental functioning are merely some of the acquired programs forming our automatic part of the nature. This is to say that the same mechanism of "storing data for future use" is at work.
So, whether we chose at one point to believe in a god or in a Santa Clause, or we learned to ride a bike, or we saw ourselves as deserving to succeed, or decided that "black looks good on us", or "we couldn't do without our morning coffee" - our brain is just putting all of them into the same "toolbox for psycho-physical survival".
Now, I am not expecting any objections about most of those mental items being clumped together in the same mixed bag - except from those folks of faith who find it hard to size the dignity of their beliefs down to something like "riding a bike".
Well, sorry folks, but even Miss Universe, when put against the x-ray machine looks like just another skeleton, and I am about to pretend to have that x-ray vision as I give a pretty mundane look at religious belief.
A Belief Reduced to Its most Humble Version
All of us presumably being people of certain logical capacity, we should agree that everything observed is a subject to a chosen perspective. On the other hand, if you choose to keep your faith in its pristine and unexamined form, then it won't matter to you how our brain is defining it, and you might even opt not to keep reading this article - it is written for those curious and exploring minds.
I am not your typical non-believer with a mission to debunk existence of god or make your faith nonsensical. As a matter of fact I believe in existence of universal intelligence - as I have stated in so many other similar articles - but my belief stays humble at that, since I don't consider myself smart enough to understand its unfathomable nature. My apologies for saying that, but - I don't consider any of believers as qualifying teachers to help me understand it.
In Business of Surviving
In order to bring religious belief - or any other belief for that matter - down to a level of mental processes, we have to attach it to that most prominent of all instincts in our default nature - survival instinct.
Since the most primitive times of our herding that instinct began to discriminate, by trial and error, among what was safe and useful for our survival - and that which wasn't. If you don't like this somewhat evolutionist introduction, I don't mind if we assume that we were "created" that way to have a survival instinct making that distinction.
One way or another, our brain got into a habit to "store for future use" all useful data about our survival. A function that we share with all other living beings, by the way.
Chronic Existential Paranoia
Now, since our brains happen to be much more developed than say, monkey's - or at least with most of us it seems to be true - due to the complexity of our life, our survival toolbox is much bigger than monkey's. Also heavier to carry around, due to our incredible passion to complicate our coexistence to the point where just about anything poses a threat to our well being.
Thus we are not only talking about physical survival, but also mental, as our mere interacting is triggering that fight-flight mechanism in our survival toolbox. (To be a little more "anatomical", that "box" refers to our lower, still animalistic part of the brain).
Whether we realize it or not, for quite some millennia, our brain has been in a constant paranoid mode of functioning, never at peace, always expecting something survival-unfriendly befalling us.
And so Man Created His God in His Own Image
At certain point in our adaptive attempts to mentally counteract that constant sense of being threatened, we came upon religious faith as a part of dealing with it. Just like our bodies are known to adapt, so does our mind with so called "defense mechanisms".
One of them is "optimism", another is "hope", and yet another is much more complex, as we summoned a heavenly father to protect us from perils of the life uncertainties. We gave him characteristics of a human father, even calling him that way.
So, our celestial father "loves us, protects us, punishes us, watches what we are doing" - and we also have to please him not to deserve punishment. Gee, my father was exactly like that, a strict dude, and you were never sure what of that was supposed to represent "unconditional love", and what was merely pissing him off about us being playful and imperfect kids.
Hey, Dr. Freud, is that why I never joined any organized religion? No, I don't think so. I just happened to be born with a very liberated mind for which I don't take either a credit or a blame.
Acting as a Hypnotic Suggestion
Who would ever think that on our "gut level" the need for religion would stem from our survival concerns? Well, I know at least who wouldn't think this way, and the world is full of such folks rationalizing their fears and wrapping them up into something much more dignifying. That's probably why our default fear of dying finds so appealing that part of religious belief which is promising the eternal life.
People like to rationalize. Take a hypnotized person instructed to take his shirt off - then ask him why he did it. He'll say something like :"It's quite hot in this room". While we are at hypnosis, it's fair to say that every belief acts as a hypnotic suggestion, whether suggestion is making any sense or it isn't, like with that dude taking his shirt off.
Of Different Intellectual Appetites
By the same natural tendency to rationalize all of our beliefs, we are also wrapping our religious beliefs into a shiny package of metaphysical theorizing for which we have absolutely no evidence.
Aside from the high probability that there really is a universal creative intelligence involved in orchestration of all reality (whatever the true nature of it may be) - everything beyond it is a pure speculation.
Not because I say so, but because some geniuses out there are still seeking answers to the enigma of universe, life, and consciousness, not satisfied with the intellectual solution of taking a peek into the Good Book "with all answers".
Don't mind me saying that, but to many fine minds it's just not much of a challenge to simply kneel and believe. Regardless of what our scared hearts choose to see as true, some people simply can't settle for using their heads solely for wearing hats.
Ultimate Truth - Brain Is out of Its League
So far, I have been trying to suggest that universal intelligence and religion are two completely separate themes. What religionists see as "god" is a mind's construct, as opposed to the real thing that we are simply not wired in our heads to conceptualize.
That's right folks, we are not advanced enough to grasp the realm that's so out of our linear processing of reality that we are almost embarrassing ourselves by trying to. Could your mind accept that an electron can be at two or more places at the same time? I cannot, to me - it's "either here or there".
Like one scientist put it: "Reality is stranger than fiction". O.K., of course, we can all play geniuses, and we have been doing it for quite a long time by replacing "knowing" with "believing".
Provability in Science and Religion
Hence that crucial distinction between intimate and factual reality. Every so often another believer is arguing how "science is also merely a theory and a belief". Well, anyone making such statement must be forgetting a couple of facts.
One is that he is not riding to work in a heavenly chariot but in an automobile built upon certain scientific principles - not a theory that still has to be proven. And also, science is known to keep updating itself as new evidence comes up - while religious belief keeps insisting upon the same tenets.
Actually, faith would not be effective at all if it was allowed to deviate from one version to another. As we have reached this point of the effectiveness of religious belief, let's give it a little down to earth look.
Useful as much as Healthy Habits and Attitudes
Our five senses are limited in their range of perceiving this world, and our brains which are interpreting that sensory input are basically working on principle of conceptualization which is not giving us an ability to know what's beyond our range of that conceptualizing.
Since a brain-dead person can't be religious at all, we just have to agree that all our religiousness is our mind's construct, not some kind of reflection of divine truth in our souls.
Thus, our beliefs serve us only inasmuch as they contain positive elements benefiting our survival, like good habits, tastes, self-images, and life-skills. Faith can be invaluable as a form of placebo effect, helping us to feel safe, protected, loved by a celestial entity of our own make and denomination.
Being synonymous to hope, faith can contribute to our sense of peace and harmony, and if we choose to see it that way, it can give us a manual for moral values which we wouldn't otherwise know in our hearts. Fine with me, but I just happen to somehow know it without a guidance of a manual. To each their own, I guess.
Its Harmful Aspects
However, from the perspective of its direct effects on wellbeing, religious belief can be harmful to self and others with those of its elements which are negativistic by nature. Therefore : no suggested horrors of hell will do; and neither will babies already born as sinners, or evils lurking from everywhere, or god's punishment, guilt, harsh criticism of those of other beliefs, or debt to Jesus for his sacrifice.
Likewise, blowing ourselves up in the name of religion certainly doesn't look "life promoting", let alone as an act of "love for every human" as prescribed by the holy book. In my modest interpretation of religious faith, there is no bigger "evil" than consciously deteriorating the gift of life, which is the ultimate measurement of any reality worth knowing of.
Without a sound mental and physical health we are like out-of-tune violins that make it impossible for the best virtuoso to produce music - only a noise. Maybe a noise that reminds of these chaotic forms of our global interactions.
Being only Humans
Religious folks oftentimes get carried away by impersonating their deity and "speaking on his behalf" - while forgetting their ordinary status of imperfect humans generating imperfect thoughts, imperfect emotions, and consequently imperfect concepts of the ultimate reality.
I salute to those believers of a pragmatic mind, with a tendency to weed out all those negativistic aspects of their faith and thrive on the goodness of love, harmony, peace, humor, tolerance, and good health.
For, at the end of the day, it's all about our intellectual tastes, habits, self-images, and life skills catering to our psycho-physical survival. Anything above that is - at its best - poetry, and our spiritual drive to find a dignifying place for ourselves in this vast universe.