Never talk about religion or politics, right? I broke that rule last week when I chatted/ranted about why I hate politics. Now it’s religion’s turn (not that I hate religion). The reason I feel a need to discuss this topic is that this blog is a subtle/part-time ‘mental health’ blog, and religion and spirituality is just one way that some people cope with mental health issues. Therefore, I thought it was a subject worth exploring.
Some background first. I am from a family of Atheists, Agnostics and sceptics. Parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins; not one of them is remotely ‘religious’. Not one ‘God Bless’ or ‘Let’s say grace’ has ever passed their lips. At school, I also never had a single Christian friend. Not by choice, but by coincidence. Consequently, I have gone through much of my life as an Atheist. I am ashamed to admit that I used to be one of these people who held a severe view of organised religion, and was one of those irritating Atheists who felt the need to debate with people on the internet or on the street.
My mother, although she’s an Atheist, has always been interested in spirituality, history, mythology, and archaeology. Anything to do with people and culture, essentially. Our holidays have always been jam-packed full of visits to museums, temples, mosques, synagogues and churches. And she’s passed these interests onto me. I’ve always love learning about religions. I once got a book out on Judaism at the library, just because I was interested. I’m fascinated with Greek myths. Our house has a Buddha room, with an altar and a bookshelf full of books about all things Zen-like.
Essentially, my mother and I are hippies. Sceptical hippies.
But my views have started to change recently.
I’ve started to redefine myself. I no longer consider myself an Atheist. I’ve started to feel more ‘spiritual’. I don’t believe in a God. I think that whatever is driving the universe is something much more raw than a God, more lacking in rules, more a force of nature. But I do think there is something driving the universe, whether it be a spirit, an energy, or a concept that humans cannot even fathom or define. And I think that every culture, or country, has felt this spirit in a different way and expressed it in a different way e.g. Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism.
So what does this have to do with mental health? Although I don’t follow a religion or a set of beliefs, my realisation that I am a Spiritual Agnostic (or possibly a Pantheist) has been some sort of comfort to me. Some hardened Atheists would argue that any type of spirituality, no matter how subtle, is just delusion. What I say to that is; so what if it is? For the same reason that people read books or watch a movie, they are looking for escape, a source of comfort. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that.
Recently I watched the film ‘Life of Pi,’ based on the best-selling book by Yann Martel. I won’t give any spoilers, but it was a film that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after I watched it. Essentially ‘Life of Pi’ is about stories, fiction and God. The message of the book/film is basically; ‘God might not exist, this story might not have happened, but does that make either of those things any less important?’ I suppose in a way it’s saying ‘just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s not real.’ That holds a lot of truth. Humans invest so much emotion in fictional characters, (e.g. crying or getting unnecessarily angry when yet another ‘Game of Thrones’ character drops dead). Those characters don’t exist. But they are real, because they exist in our mind.
My head is starting to hurt now.
What I’m trying to say is that although religion and spirituality have caused the world a lot of upset and wars, it’s also done a lot of good for people on a more personal level. I think we should remember that before we start tutting at the preacher in the street. And from a mental health perspective, whatever works for that individual is surely a good thing (as long as it’s legal).
I think I need to lie down now. I’m not used to being this serious. I’ll try and make my next blog post as silly as possible.