Here we go...
As scientists prove that faith can relieve pain, distinguished psychologist Dorothy Rowe examines the case for and against religion
I'm not religious, but I have thought about religion all of my life. My mother never attended church but she insisted that I went to St Andrew's Church, a cold, unfriendly place filled with cold, unfriendly people. At home, my father, an atheist, would read aloud to us from the essays of Robert Ingersoll, the 19th-century militant atheist.
Is there anybody out there? William Blake's 'The Lord Answering Job Out of the Whirlwind'
Ingersoll's prose had the music and majesty of King James's Bible. I loved the language of them both. I learned how to use Ingersoll's logic to examine the teachings of the Bible. My disapproval of the cruelty and vanity of the Presbyterian God knew no bounds, but I felt at home with Jesus, whom I saw as a kind, loving man like my father.
God had not been in the trenches, or anywhere else, with the ex-Servicemen whom I met at university. When religion was discussed, we listed the cruelties and stupidities of religion throughout history, just as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were to do 40 years later.
However, when I went to work in psychiatric hospitals, I realised that criticising religion was not enough. I needed to understand why religion becomes an integral part of a person's life - and doesn't cease to be so when such beliefs cause the person much pain and guilt, or lead him to commit murder, even to the point of genocide.
Although they had not recognised it, my depressed or psychotic patients were struggling with the questions that theologians and philosophers had struggled with for thousands of years. "What will happen to me when I die?" "How can I be a good person?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
Siegfried, a depressed, alcoholic psychiatrist, told me about his uncle, who was in the RAF during the war. He provided the love and concern for Siegfried that was lacking in Siegfried's parents. He said: "Then, one day his aeroplane came down a bit too fast.
"Up to that time, aged 13, I'd had some vague concept of God - I sang in the church choir every Sunday. My last memories of any contact with God was that particular night when I called Him all the filthy language I knew. I thought, if He exists, He's a s--t." I asked him how he felt about God now. He said, 'If He exists, He's a s--t'."
Unable to find satisfactory answers about the meaning of their existence, the psychotic patients had constructed very idiosyncratic fantasies. Ella was a beautiful 16-year-old who had become withdrawn and isolated. Her parents had taken time to recognise that there was a problem because, to them, she was the perfectly obedient child they wanted.
Ella's mother told me: "I always obeyed my parents and I expect my children to obey me." Fearing her parents' anger, Ella learned to avoid all spontaneous decisions and actions. She told me: "I've begun to wonder whether I'm the only person who's really alive - the only living person. Everyone else is a vision. I'm living each person's life in turn."
I asked her how she felt about living all these lives. She said: "I never feel anything about it… I'm here for no particular purpose. My parents aren't real. They just behave like real people. I believe that everything I see is God. I'm part of God."
A child who is completely obedient is powerless. Only by being the only real person who was part of God could Ella seem to become powerful.
All of this was of no interest to the psychiatrists and psychologists I worked with. Psychiatrists were interested in identifying symptoms - "irrational guilt" as a symptom of depression, and hallucinations and delusions as symptoms of schizophrenia.
Psychologists assumed that their patients wanted to be happy, failing to notice that, for many people, being good is more important than being happy.
Death loomed large in my conversations with my patients. I would ask: "Do you see death as the end of your identity or as the doorway to another life?" This led on to a discussion about the purpose of life.
All we can ever know for certain about death is that a living person grows strangely still. We each have a fantasy about what happens after death and this fantasy determines how we see the purpose of life. If we see death as the end of our identity, the purpose of our life becomes making this life satisfactory.
There is an infinite number of ways in which we might choose to define "satisfactory", but whichever we choose becomes our purpose.
If we see death as the doorway to another life, we have to decide whether this next life will be better than this one. To give us hope, we decide that the next life will be better. This raises the question of justice. Do all people go on to this better life, or are there standards that have to be met?
A sense of justice leads us to choose standards, and in doing so we condemn ourselves to living this life in terms of the next. If you set standards which you can easily reach, you limit the amount of self-inflicted pain you will suffer, but if you acquire, say, a Calvinist conscience you set yourself impossible standards, and berate yourself for your constant failure to live up to them.
For all of us, life is full of uncertainties and difficulties, and it ends in death. Every religion claims to overcome death, to provide certainty, and reward us for being good. So great is our fear of life and death that most of us allow hope to override our intellect.
When Peter Stanford interviewed the Rugby League champion, Shawn Edwards, about his Catholic beliefs, Shawn spoke of the death of his younger brother, Billy Joe, which posed for the family the question: "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
He said: "My mum is very close to God, I often think the closer you get to God, the greater the tricks the devil plays on you. They get more and more harsh to try to turn us away from God." Does that mean that, if Mrs Edwards had been a less good woman, her son would have survived?
No religion accepts us as the person we know ourselves to be. Rather, we are told that we are inadequate, unsatisfactory and helpless. We fear that this is so, and to give us hope we, like Ella, construct a fantasy about how we are superior to those who do not share our views.
On these grounds we feel entitled to force our views on non-believers, and, if they resist, to kill them. I was taught that we Presbyterians were infinitely superior to Catholics and all the rest, while Aboriginals were not even human.
I thought that the man Jesus wouldn't have approved of such views, and this set me on the path of understanding that, although people differ as individuals and in terms of culture, basically all human beings are the same.
We all want to be the person we know ourselves to be, and for others to recognise this and treat us with respect. We want to live without being dominated by fear, to enjoy good relationships, and to have a secure place in our society. No one is better than anyone else by virtue of their beliefs.
When we are able to be the person we know ourselves to be, without vanity or self-pity, we have the wonderful experience of feeling at home with everything that exists. Some people describe this in religious terms, some in terms of nature, but, whatever, we do not feel the need to have a religion tell us what we should believe.
'What Should I Believe?' by Dr Dorothy Rowe is published next month by Routledge, price £9.99.
Religion: why do people believe in God? - Telegraph
It's what people were taught, it makes them feel better. Better meaning both "comforted" and "superior."
Some people have been screwed up by church and religion..If you're not going somewhere that preaches love and unity and the true word of God..There alot of messed up churches out there that give the good ones a bad name..
My grace is sufficient for you, for my my strength is made perfect in weakness...I love you dad!
Some people go berserk over religion and use it like some kind of judgmental drug.
I truly believe in God and that enriches my life daily. I don't know how I would fare without that comfort. My Mother always warned about ever marrying a man who was at Chruch everytime the doors opened or would-as she said-serve religion for breakfast ,lunch and dinner. God is in my life without limiting me-we do not judge people and their personal beliefs or lifestyle choices. I think of God as a loving Being. I love my life with Him in it.
I didn't start out to collect diamonds, but somehow they just kept piling up.-Mae West
I wish all religious people were like you McJag
There are many reasons we, believers, believe in God. If I am asked, I will share my views. Otherwise, I am quiet.
I believe there is a higher power of good, just as I believe there is a higher power of evil.
I'm pretty sure any notions of a 'good deity' and an 'evil deity' are just mythological personification of humanity's usual duality.. mostly because 'good' and 'evil' are conceptual constructs and vary wildly depending on the culture that uses them.
There is no set good or evil.
I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.
I'm not a religious person, because I find the idea of so many criticizing others' beliefs to be silly. We tend to make the situation so complicated, pushing our opinions on others without respecting what values they have. Never mind all that garbage. I'll hold church in my own way, on my own time.
That said, I believe in faith and being the best person possible.
I don't believe in organized religion. I feel it should be about your own walk with the man up stairs.
I personally am an atheist. While I have no problem with others being believers, sadly I find that belivers tend not to extend the same courtesy to those of us who are atheists. Instead this seems to instantly trigger a sermon on trying to show me 'the error of my ways' and how Jesus loves me.
I tend to shy away from people too far on either side of the spectrum - those that marinate in religion and those that vehemently rubuke it to the point of fanaticism.
“What are you looking at, sugar-tits?” - Mel Gibson
Sluce - speak for yourself. I don't believe that any one belief, not even my own, is more "true".
I don't really know why I believe in God. I just do. It's not something I was raised with strongly, it's just been something I've believed since I can remember. Trying to figure out why is like trying to figure out why someone believes in whatever morals or ethics... usually, you just do. It's a gut feeling that you strongly think is correct.
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