Ache, angst and aspiration

June 18th, 2019

Do you ever find yourself waking up at night for no reason, and taking some time to finally fall asleep again?

And if you do, what do you think about? Do you focus on emptying your mind so you can fall asleep again? Or maybe you go through your plans for the coming day?

Or does this time make you feel reflective and a little negative? Do you feel a little ‘life ache’, a vague sense of your own shortcomings, or an apprehension about life or the future?

Or perhaps you have similar feelings about life and self at other times you are alone? Or maybe after finishing a good novel, watching a thoughtful film, or listening to a piece of evocative music?

All this is certainly familiar territory to me, and to many people apparently.

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Can life have meaning without God? Five views

August 2nd, 2018

Most of us want to be happy, and most of us want our lives to be meaningful. And psychologists confirm that we are happier when we feel our lives have meaning and purpose

But what gives our lives meaning?

It used to be that religion gave life meaning. Even if life was hard drudgery, or worse, dangerous and painful, the hope of a better life in the age to come gave meaning and purpose even to the suffering.

But with religion in decline in first world countries, what gives lives meaning now? Some say nothing can. But most say we can, and have to, choose our own meaning and invest our lives in that.

But does it work? Can life have meaning without God?

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Do we need God for life to have real meaning?

March 22nd, 2017

I’ve been reading a little about meaning in life. Psychologists tell us we need to have meaning and purpose in life for our psychological wellbeing. With a sense of meaning, we are more likely to be happy, have a positive sense of our own identity and be more resilient under stress

But what gives our lives meaning? What part does God play in this? And how do non-believers find meaning?

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When is it right to trust the experts?

October 22nd, 2016

Last post (I’m beginning to see a pattern here) I looked at a number of scientific and historical facts where a bunch of non-experts challenge the consensus of the real experts. These areas were:

  • evolution vs creationism;
  • whether Jesus was a historical person and Nazareth was where he lived;
  • climate change;
  • the medieval church vs science;
  • the beneficial effects of religious belief and practice

On all of these matters, there is substantial agreement among the experts (scientists, historians, psychologists, etc) but the consensus is often challenged and disbelieved by sceptics. They ask us to believe them rather than the experts, and tend to accuse the experts of some sort of conspiracy or bias.

We all know that experts are sometimes wrong (though more often right). And most of us like to feel free to go against the experts on occasion. So when should we trust the experts?

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Hugh Mackay on why people stop going to church

September 29th, 2016

I am currently reading Hugh Mackay’s book, Beyond Belief, which addresses the question of how people find meaning in life with or without religion.

Hugh is probably Australia’s leading social researcher and commentator, regularly appearing on talk shows and in newspaper article. He is neither a christian nor an atheist, probably best described as having an interest in a vague and positive spirituality, which he sees as the way of the future.

I don’t agree with everything he says, and I think sometimes his own opinions and beliefs may be speaking more than his social research, but the book has lots of good research behind it and lots of interesting things to say.

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Health, happiness and God

June 5th, 2016

Most of us have experiences, both positive and negative, about religion and God. In each of our lives there have likely been religious people and institutions that have left a positive impression, and others that have hurt us.

And if we look at the world around us, now and through history, we can easily form a positive or negative impression, depending on whether we focus on the crusades, pedophilic priests, televangelists and bigotry, or on the social welfare, peace-making, justice and personal development work of christians.

Personal impressions are inevitable, but really, if we want to know the truth, we need a larger sample and a more rigorous way of assessing the impacts of religious belief.

I recently updated the Life section of this blog – more than 40 pages – which required reviewing the content of most of the pages.

And I was struck again by some of the findings of psychologists, doctors and neuroscientists about what actually makes people happy and healthy.

It’s worth another look.

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Why your brain needs God

June 7th, 2015


faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain

Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman

I couldn’t resist ….

I am researching my next post on Choosing our religion, which is taking a bit of work, and I came across this quote by two neuroscientists.

Here is the quote in context (from Why Your Brain Needs God):

“A theologian will tell you that faith is essential to religious belief, but our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.

By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.

However, when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. Our research into how people describe their own spiritual experiences speaks directly to this fact. On one hand, it seems that people use a tremendous diversity of descriptions in recounting deeply meaningful, spiritual experiences. For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that). However, in spite of these many different descriptions, each person describes a transformative element that changes their mind, their health, and their life. In fact, our research shows that the more you engage all parts of your being, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, social interactions and spiritual pursuits, the more it enhances your brain’s function. But most importantly, this requires a focus on the positive — on love, forgiveness, optimism, and inclusiveness.”

What is says …. and doesn’t say

This quote doesn’t suggest that neuroscience proves God exists. But it does show that belief in God, and the attitudes and actions which should result, can make us healthier, happier and better people. Which of course is consistent with God really being there.

Picture: MorgueFile.

Do religious believers have better health and wellbeing, like, really?

March 18th, 2015


In my previous post I made the following comment: “Religious believers, overall and with many exceptions, have better health and wellbeing, are more prosocial and less antisocial than non-believers.”

A reader questioned this statement, in two ways:

  1. “I see that despite my previous prompting about the silly “religion is good for your health” surveys. You are still coming up with that rubbish.”
  2. “Perhaps you would like to explain why then the tables showing life expectancy by state in the US …. have a more or less reverse correlation with the tables showing degree of church attendance.”

I thought these suggestions merited some investigation and thought.

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Ways we can try to find happiness, but in the end they don’t seem to work

September 22nd, 2014


I’ve long been interested in the science of what makes people happy, and what doesn’t, and have written about it often on this blog and website. It’s a subject of important research, and new studies and reports are appearing all the time.

Here’s the results of some significant studies that have been reported in the last few years. This post: what doesn’t deliver lasting happiness as much as we’d like. Next post: what works.

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