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Religion and spirituality both facilitate and frustrate us on our way to finding meaning in life. They promote a solid foundation for a person to stand on, yet can we stand firmly on belief alone?
Ancient people created Gods and Goddesses in order to explain things they did not understand. Storms, childbirth, death, disaster, art -everything was explained through higher beings. Science has since pushed these deities further into the abyss. In the 21st century there are still things we do not understand such as death, suffering, and the meaning of life. For this we still rely on religion and spirituality for explanations. Religion and spirituality can be frustrating because it is difficult to find meaning in something that we cannot prove exists. We are, after all, somewhat rational beings.
Many people fear death because it is something we do not understand. Without religion and spirituality death would be nothingness—something to be truly feared. Religion and spirituality give us hope that our “souls” will live on after we pass. Without religion and spirituality, where suffering exists without purpose and death leads to an unknown darkness, some would find that life would have no meaning. If we are all here on Earth to suffer for no reason, only to die for nothing after struggle, then what is the purpose of life? Religion and spirituality facilitate meaning in life and suffering, and ease some of our fear of death.
Religion and spiritualty also help create structure through moral guidelines. Without virtues and moral laws—without consequences coming from a higher source in this life or the next—what have we to fear? Spiritual and religious guidelines may be one aspect of what separates us from the animals and our natural instincts to procreate, survive, and thrive by any means necessary. Perhaps religion and spirituality are the necessary chains we place on ourselves in order to avoid inhumane chaos. Government provides us with the laws of the land, but religion and spirituality provide us with the laws within ourselves. These inner laws can also be the foundations of self, facilitating meaning in our lives.
Religion and spirituality can facilitate goodness in others, and produce monumental moments of realization—epiphanies about life that move us to deeper meaning. Religious and spiritual gatherings usually take place in group settings. Feeling like we are a part of a group has been proven to breed happiness, as we are social creatures by nature. We may find meaning in these groups through being a part of something bigger than ourselves.
In Professor David J. Bryant’s, “Faith as Trust” we see how religion and spirituality can frustrate our search for meaning. Wars are fought for religious purposes. There is bloodshed in the name of peace. We could say that suffering is a way to meaning, but it feels like an excuse for wrong action that can also alleviates guilt over not taking action. In my opinion, many people seem all too eager to show their virtues in order to prove that we can be unwavering and loyal in the face of uncertainty. Even if it means killing ourselves or other innocents in the process. It is difficult to find meaning through a spirituality or religion that encourages murder in the name of ego, and other seemingly “unholy” thoughts and actions.
Some cultural and family “norms” may make it impossible for a person to consider anything other than what they are told. In this way, meaning in life is forced on us as opposed to being discovered. In my opinion, the mind should be free to explore all faiths, not as an insult to a God, but as a way of understanding other cultures, and in turn becoming a better being. Some religions teach peace through understanding. Religion and spirituality can give meaning to our lives by expanding our knowledge and opening doors of the mind—allowing us to find a deeper connection to the world and everything in it.
In James Stockdale’s, “The world of Epictetus,” the author discusses how some people are so in need of love and attention that they are willing to sell their souls to others to get it. In a way, we are giving our souls up to a higher power we know nothing about. We give our souls to something based purely on faith. Trusting that “God” will provide us with a wonderful afterlife if we follow orders. It is frustrating to see people depending blindly on something or someone for their happiness and meaning.
Stockdale believed that education and an understanding of history was a way of understanding the world and knowing how to live. Stockdale saw education as a refuge much the same way people view religion and spirituality as refuges. So, religion does not have to focus around a “God” per say, but rather a belief in something. Thus the foundation of religion and spirituality can be based in anything. I have known men who proclaimed electronics as their God, along with knowledge, money, and nature. If I build a religion or spiritual belief around money or a God will it guarantee meaning in my life? No, because I am the only one who can find and give meaning to my life.
“Moral Man and Immoral Society,” by Reinhold Niebuhr, brings about the most basic idea—that man must find himself by getting himself lost in something greater. This is a general statement as we can get lost in many things. For me, these words speak of exploration. If we choose to be selfless and focus on simple moral virtues, allowing ourselves to let go of where we think we should be, and allow ourselves to simply be, we can find meaning. Letting go and becoming lost in life can be rewarding, just as suffering can be rewarding. We do not have to suffer because a higher being is testing us. We can suffer because it is a part of this life, and how we choose to rise or fall from suffering helps define who we are and can be. We can each find meaning for ourselves without any preconceived notions.
Religion and spirituality facilitate many things—hope, power, inspiration, strength, moral guidelines, structure, love, and community—all of which can lead to a meaningful life. The question I am left with is, do we need religion and spirituality to find meaning? Or just a belief in ourselves—our personal strengths, determination, and uniqueness in order to thrive?
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