Saturday, September 7, 2013

Journal of a Soul 30

Beyond Debate II

Religion as a Psychological Phenomenon

Daffodils, Ardgillen Park
Once again, the psychology of religion, like the sociological dimension, is a factor often totally ignored by the learned debaters whom I alluded to in my last post.  That these debaters are in any way wrong is not the point at all.  In fact, within the parameters of their debates they are justifiably right.  My argument here is that the parameters of their debate are just so narrow.  They seem to forget that religions with their ceremonies and rituals often provide psychological support for their followers.  Adherents gain sustenance from the scriptures read and pondered, from the words of inspiration and healing proclaimed by their ministers and from the meal shared if the Eucharist forms some part of their worship.  They feel closer to their God or Maker whom they believe supports them all the day long and they also believe they can have a personal relationship with their God.  Without a shadow of a doubt such believers gain much support and no little direction for their lives from their religious beliefs.  So, on a purely personal and psychological level they feel more "at home" and more at peace with themselves and others.  Religion gives a pattern and structure not alone to their lives  but also a deep psychological support.

Once again, whether God exists or not, or indeed whether one can advance reasons for or against His or even Her or further even Its existence is in many ways quite beside the point. What I am arguing for here is that we just look on life objectively with no presuppositions and watch how religions of all hues offer both sociological and psychological support to their followers.  My own mother was a woman of deep religious faith who was a daily Mass goer and Rosary sayer for most of her long life.  That the Catholic Church provided her with something to do, somewhere to go, many friends, emotional and personal support and indeed gave meaning to her life is beyond question.  That she was of a more traditional era is perhaps worth noting as also is the fact that she died in her 97th year.  That other clubs could provide such sustaining roles I will, of course, allow.  It stands to reason and indeed to critical and objective observation that other organisations could possibly offer such support. Church attendance here in Ireland has now plummeted to practically meet the figures observable on the Continent of Europe.  Indeed, I readily agree that this is a very good thing as those who now attend are doing so because they want to and not from social pressure. That such clubs could offer the depth of meaning that religions might offer is, of course, debatable, but this argument is not ad rem here. 

Ancient tree, Trinity College, famous seat of learning, Dublin
In this regard, I recall the remarks of an outstanding academic, Sir Kenneth Dover, one time Professor of classics at Oxford, later President of Corpus Christi College and finally Chancellor of St Andrew's University, Scotland who succinctly told his interviewer, the late great Irish Psychiatrist, Professor Anthony Clare, that at a certain stage in his life he had "quite outgrown religion." For more information on my review of Clare's discussion with Sir Anthony see the following posts in one of my old blogs HERE  The point I wish to make here is that while Religion can and does offer psychological support, people can actually grow through and beyond that support when they feel they simply no longer need it.  And again here, I wish to underscore the point, needing or not needing religion are both fundamentally acceptable ways of being in the world.  As we grow we have various needs at various stages of our lives and to say one stage is better than another is quite ridiculous unless one is suffering or something during one or other period.  In other words, what really sane person would condemn a three year old for needing the support of a toy, a toddler finding it hard to separate from his parents on the first day of school, an eight year old for sulking, a ten year old for not being able to be independent and so on.  One is not necessarily stronger for not needing religion.  That's where I feel our debaters alluded to at some length in my last post have gone wrong.  Because the parameters of their debate are so narrow they do not leave room for the complexity of the human phenomenon.  Dawkins is a member of The Brights Movement who literally believe they have transcended as it were the childishness of religion and have embraced the clarity of the well-founded, the logically proved and scientifically justified conclusions that there is no God and that religion is just a load of poppy cock anyway.  See the following link for information on this movement of intellectual clarity: The Brights Movement.  Without a doubt they are somewhat condescending in their attitudes to believers.


In summary, then, my argument here in this journal of a soul is one which stresses that the human phenomenon is a very complex one which should never be reduced to any one dimension of its complexity.  In that regard it is quite like a diamond with hundreds of faces and each face, as it were, allowing a different avenue of exploration into the mystery of what the human phenomenon is.  This diary or journal, like my previous blog, Still Point, is essentially my way of exploring the mystery of who I am.  In that journey I have learnt to be suspicious of all who seek to offer simple answers to life's complex questions, no matter whether they are scholars of standing or not.  An old acquaintance of mine, long since dead, used quote an old Catholic saying attributed to St Thomas Aquinas: "Homo unius libri timeo" or "I fear the man of a single book." In other words, let us read widely, ponder deeply and consequently be enabled to argue well.  Another slant on what the Angelic Doctor (i.e., Aquinas) was getting at would be to avoid what we call "reductionism" today.  In other words, we reduce the mystery that the human being presents us with when we examine that reality from the narrow perspective of one viewpoint only.  There are many optics by which to view the human condition; there are many sciences to examine the reality of humanity; there are many voices of experience worth listening to; there are many insights we might dismiss to our detriment.  These pages, then; these considered thoughts and reflections; these insights of a one lonely soul offer a plea for expanding our vision of what the human being is and can be.  In that respect, religion and the spirituality it introduced this writer to, can never be summarily dismissed.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, I think you have said what I have also thought about this so-called debate. As to the Brights being condescending, maybe that's a backlash to the condescending attitude of many religious people who consider anyone not a believer damned. I guess they're doing the same in their own way.

    What bothers me about these debates is that Hitchens and the others focus much of their argument on the easy target of fundamentalist Christian doctrine and exploit it as if it is all religion. Religion has evolved just as science has evolved. The problem is that believers have been blind to this fact and stuck to outdated beliefs and doctrines. Science is important to religion. It will release religion from the clutches of superstition and unreasonable doctrine.