Author Topic: Religion is about emotion regulation  (Read 255 times)

Offline GSOgymrat

Religion is about emotion regulation
« on: October 11, 2018, 10:07:00 AM »
Apologies for the length but I think this is a good article and didn't want to condense it.

Religion is about emotion regulation, and it’s very good at it

By Stephen T Asma, aeon.com

June 5th, 2018

Religion does not help us to explain nature. It did what it could in pre-scientific times, but that job was properly unseated by science. Most religious laypeople and even clergy agree: Pope John Paul II declared in 1996 that evolution is a fact and Catholics should get over it. No doubt some extreme anti-scientific thinking lives on in such places as Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky, but it has become a fringe position. Most mainstream religious people accept a version of Galileo’s division of labour: ‘The intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.’

Maybe, then, the heart of religion is not its ability to explain nature, but its moral power? Sigmund Freud, who referred to himself as a ‘godless Jew’, saw religion as delusional, but helpfully so. He argued that we humans are naturally awful creatures – aggressive, narcissistic wolves. Left to our own devices, we would rape, pillage and burn our way through life. Thankfully, we have the civilising influence of religion to steer us toward charity, compassion and cooperation by a system of carrots and sticks, otherwise known as heaven and hell.

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim, on the other hand, argued in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912) that the heart of religion was not its belief system or even its moral code, but its ability to generate collective effervescence: intense, shared experiences that unify individuals into cooperative social groups. Religion, Durkheim argued, is a kind of social glue, a view confirmed by recent interdisciplinary research.

While Freud and Durkheim were right about the important functions of religion, its true value lies in its therapeutic power, particularly its power to manage our emotions. How we feel is as important to our survival as how we think. Our species comes equipped with adaptive emotions, such as fear, rage, lust and so on: religion was (and is) the cultural system that dials these feelings and behaviours up or down. We see this clearly if we look at mainstream religion, rather than the deleterious forms of extremism. Mainstream religion reduces anxiety, stress and depression. It provides existential meaning and hope. It focuses aggression and fear against enemies. It domesticates lust, and it strengthens filial connections. Through story, it trains feelings of empathy and compassion for others. And it provides consolation for suffering.

Emotional therapy is the animating heart of religion. Social bonding happens not only when we agree to worship the same totems, but when we feel affection for each other. An affective community of mutual care emerges when groups share rituals, liturgy, song, dance, eating, grieving, comforting, tales of saints and heroes, hardships such as fasting and sacrifice. Theological beliefs are bloodless abstractions by comparison.

Emotional management is important because life is hard. The Buddha said: ‘All life is suffering’ and most of us past a certain age can only agree. Religion evolved to handle what I call the ‘vulnerability problem’. When we’re sick, we go to the doctor, not the priest. But when our child dies, or we lose our home in a fire, or we’re diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer, then religion is helpful because it provides some relief and some strength. It also gives us something to do, when there’s nothing we can do.

Consider how religion helps people after a death. Social mammals who have suffered separation distress are restored to health by touch, collective meals and grooming. Human grieving customs involve these same soothing prosocial mechanisms. We comfort-touch and embrace a person who has lost a loved one. Our bodies give ancient comfort directly to the grieving body. We provide the bereaved with food and drink, and we break bread with them (think of the Jewish tradition of shiva, or the visitation tradition of wakes in many cultures). We share stories about the loved one, and help the bereaved reframe their pain in larger optimistic narratives. Even music, in the form of consoling melodies and collective singing, helps to express shared sorrow and also transforms it from an unbearable and lonely experience to a bearable communal one. Social involvement from the community after a death can act as an antidepressant, boosting adaptive emotional changes in the bereaved.

Religion also helps to manage sorrow with something I’ll call ‘existential shaping’ or more precisely ‘existential debt’. It is common for Westerners to think of themselves as individuals first and as members of a community second, but our ideology of the lone protagonist fulfilling an individual destiny is more fiction than fact. Losing someone reminds us of our dependence on others and our deep vulnerability, and at such moments religion turns us toward the web of relations rather than away from it. Long after your parents have died, for example, religion helps you memorialise them and acknowledge your existential debt to them. Formalising the memory of the dead person, through funerary rites, or tomb-sweeping (Qingming) festivals in Asia, or the Day of the Dead in Mexico, or annual honorary masses in Catholicism, is important because it keeps reminding us, even through the sorrow, of the meaningful influence of these deceased loved ones. This is not a self-deception about the unreality of death, but an artful way of learning to live with it. The grief becomes transformed in the sincere acknowledgment of the value of the loved one, and religious rituals help people to set aside time and mental space for that acknowledgment.

An emotion such as grief has many ingredients. The physiological arousal of grief is accompanied by cognitive evaluations: ‘I will never see my friend again’; ‘I could have done something to prevent this’; ‘She was the love of my life’; and so on. Religions try to give the bereaved an alternative appraisal that reframes their tragedy as something more than just misery. Emotional appraisals are proactive, according to the psychologists Phoebe Ellsworth at the University of Michigan and Klaus Scherer at the University of Geneva, going beyond the immediate disaster to envision the possible solutions or responses. This is called ‘secondary appraisal’. After the primary appraisal (‘This is very sad’), the secondary appraisal assesses our ability to deal with the situation: ‘This is too much for me’ – or, positively: ‘I will survive this.’ Part of our ability to cope with suffering is our sense of power or agency: more power generally means better coping ability. If I acknowledge my own limitations when faced with unavoidable loss, but I feel that a powerful ally, God, is part of my agency or power, then I can be more resilient.

Because religious actions are often accompanied by magical thinking or supernatural beliefs, Christopher Hitchens argued in God Is not Great (2007) that religion is ‘false consolation’. Many critics of religion echo his condemnation. But there is no such thing as false consolation. Hitchens and fellow critics are making a category mistake, like saying: ‘The colour green is sleepy.’ Consolation or comfort is a feeling, and it can be weak or strong, but it can’t be false or true. You can be false in your judgment of why you’re feeling better, but feeling better is neither true nor false. True and false applies only if we’re evaluating whether our propositions correspond with reality. And no doubt many factual claims of religion are false in that way – the world was not created in six days.

Religion is real consolation in the same way that music is real consolation. No one thinks that the pleasure of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute is ‘false pleasure’ because singing flutes don’t really exist. It doesn’t need to correspond to reality. It’s true that some religious devotees, unlike music devotees, pin their consolation to additional metaphysical claims, but why should we trust them to know how religion works? Such believers do not recognise that their unthinking religious rituals and social activities are the true sources of their therapeutic healing. Meanwhile, Hitchens and other critics confuse the factual disappointments of religion with the value of religion generally, and thereby miss the heart of it.

‘Why We Need Religion: An Agnostic Celebration of Spiritual Emotions’ by Stephen Asma © 2018 is published by Oxford University Press.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”

― Pema Chödrön

Offline Sal1981

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2018, 10:45:14 AM »
The factual errors of religion (Christianity) is what made me grow apart from it.


However, I don't see how comparing religious rituals with music does anyone any good. That's a matter of taste, as insofar music goes. There's plenty of religious rituals which have abhorrent effects on the individual, and these rituals should be cast away to memory, I think, because they're uncritically accepted as canon. Music is just a sense experience, some deemed good, some deemed bad, but none of the musical experiences people hold is uncritically accepted, I reckon, because musical taste varies so much between people. Plus, we don't hold it against someone for having a differing taste in music than oneself, for the most part, not so for religion.


As for religious rituals, as coping mechanisms and becoming civilized growing up, there are much better secular alternatives, I would argue. Not because they're good or whatnot, but because they make a factual statement about life after death, in the case of grieving family and friends that gives a perverse promise of seeing them again. And becoming civilized, there are so much better arguments for compassion and living together as a society on secular grounds that is lost upon a religious narrative.
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool" --- Richard P. Feynman

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2018, 02:02:10 PM »
I couldn't care less how people get their emotional regulation, as long as they keep their dogma out of my face, and my government. But none of them seem to be able to resist trying to take over, and rule the planet. At least the Abrahamic religions. They all seem to be trying to win by attrition, to out-breed the others, and thereby gain all the power. Just like any other corporation, religion is just another racket.
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"The Republicans went from Abraham Lincoln to Sarah Palin to Donald Trump. No wonder they don't believe in evolution."
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Offline Baruch

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2018, 07:31:08 PM »
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I couldn't care less how people get their emotional regulation, as long as they keep their dogma out of my face, and my government. But none of them seem to be able to resist trying to take over, and rule the planet. At least the Abrahamic religions. They all seem to be trying to win by attrition, to out-breed the others, and thereby gain all the power. Just like any other corporation, religion is just another racket.

Sorry, there isn't going to be a dictatorship by X minority.  No matter how self righteous that minority might be.  Unfortunately any government, is more or less tyrannical.  I prefer less tyranny.  Others prefer more.  But the views of 1-10% of the population won't sway the general direction ... unless they are millionaires.  All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
שלום

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2018, 09:06:47 PM »
Yes, religion and kind of spiritual things have no logical base and they cant be discussed on logical ground. They have to do with psycology and our emotional side.

I had some experiences and revelations. This is not directly understandable. And this said experiences and revelations showed me that there must be a greater power that directs our lifes...

Offline Baruch

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2018, 10:18:13 PM »
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Yes, religion and kind of spiritual things have no logical base and they cant be discussed on logical ground. They have to do with psycology and our emotional side.

I had some experiences and revelations. This is not directly understandable. And this said experiences and revelations showed me that there must be a greater power that directs our lifes...

A blind man can't see with his eyes.  But a blind man can see greater things than even eyes can see.

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« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 10:21:35 PM by Baruch »
שלום

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2018, 11:02:23 PM »
Yes, religion helps many manage some of the more difficult parts of life.  It feels good for many.  But then, if organized religion were never invented, other escapes or consolations would/could be found to function in the same way--music was one such suggestion within the article.  The problem with this little harmless side to organized religion, the rest is still very destructive.  One can sugarcoat organized religion any number of ways, but it is still a very, very destructive human invention.  The world would be far, far better off if it had not been invented.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent,
Is he able but not willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able or willing?
Then why call him god?

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2018, 11:08:22 PM »
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A blind man can't see with his eyes.  But a blind man can see greater things than even eyes can see.

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Arabs are muslim and have a belief in destiny.
Destiny is written by Allah and was determined even before a person is born.
This destiny-ism may lead a person to surrender his pre- determined destiny and to laziness... Now that destiny is determined before by the wish and will of God, there would not be a necessity to work to shape our life for there is no way to change it.

The ideas a greater power that shape and direct our life- that is' written destiny... and the atheist POV: nothing is written contradict...

Offline Baruch

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2018, 11:11:10 PM »
Fatalism isn't a consequence of religion, but of bad religion.  The only power that exists to change the circumstances of mankind, are men and women.  To resist fatalism, that is a hard thing to do, without imagination.  Because realism just says the day of your death is at hand.
שלום

Offline Cavebear

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #9 on: October 14, 2018, 06:16:26 AM »
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Fatalism isn't a consequence of religion, but of bad religion.  The only power that exists to change the circumstances of mankind, are men and women.  To resist fatalism, that is a hard thing to do, without imagination.  Because realism just says the day of your death is at hand.

Wow, you sometimes get it right!  I appreciated your post.
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

Offline Cavebear

Re: Religion is about emotion regulation
« Reply #10 on: October 14, 2018, 06:19:10 AM »
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Arabs are muslim and have a belief in destiny.
Destiny is written by Allah and was determined even before a person is born.
This destiny-ism may lead a person to surrender his pre- determined destiny and to laziness... Now that destiny is determined before by the wish and will of God, there would not be a necessity to work to shape our life for there is no way to change it.

The ideas a greater power that shape and direct our life- that is' written destiny... and the atheist POV: nothing is written contradict...

Destiny as you describe it is complete utter bullshit!  I wouldn't waste the time of flipping a coin to debate it.
Atheist born, atheist bred.  And when I die, atheist dead!

 

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