The Mirror of God by James W. Jones

The Mirror of God by James W. Jones

Author:James W. Jones
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781466889149
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

CHAPTER FOUR

Christian Spirituality and Modern Society

Spiritual Practice as Cultural Critique

So far we have discussed why it is important to think of Christianity as a spiritual practice. But, why should we, in this day and age, attend to the spiritual dimension of life and cultivate this sense of presence?

As a psychologist, when I attempt to answer a question like that, the first place I look is at the psychological research. Actually there is a growing body of research on the effects of religious practice on mental and physical health. This is a hot topic these days. Such research has interesting things to tell us and I want to briefly review it in terms of three areas: life satisfaction, mental health, and physical health.

Regarding life satisfaction, virtually all studies have found a consistent association between religion, defined in various ways, and a sense of personal well-being. Religious practice seems particularly connected to a sense of life as satisfying. This has been found true for African-Americans, whites, and other ethnic groups in the United States. A long-term study involving almost 2,000 middle-aged men and women found that the presence of religious beliefs and attitudes was the best predictor of life satisfaction and a sense of well-being. Another study of over 800 retired persons found that only physical health was more important than religious practice in predicting how well these people coped with the transitions of aging. As a recent survey concluded, “Faith in a supernatural order seems to enhance subjective well-being: Surveys generally show a small but consistent correlation between religiosity and happiness.”

Some, like Marx and Freud, might respond that of course religious people are happier, because they are denying reality. But that puts us in a peculiar position. Marx and Freud and others demand that we face reality. But it seems that part of “reality” is that in order to flourish as human beings we need a connection to things that are not a part of “reality” as they defined it. This puts us in a no-win or “double-bind” situation—a point to which we will return shortly.

As for mental health, of course, the question of religion’s role depends a lot on what one means by mental health. For example, if by mental health you mean the absence of outright psychoses like schizophrenia or paranoid delusions, the answer is clear: There is no demonstrable connection between religion and any psychotic disorder. Period.

For example, studies done on extremely disturbed populations show either no connection between religion and psychopathology or that the more religious are less disturbed. An early study done on disturbed, psychiatric patients in Manhattan showed less impairment among the more religiously active patients. A study of over 1000 people in the New Haven, Connecticut, area found that psychiatric diagnosis and difficulties were “negatively correlated” with religious affiliation and practice, meaning attendance at religious services and other spiritual practices were a significant predictor of the lack of psychiatric problems. A comparison of religious involvement of 100 nondisturbed people with 100 psychiatric patients, matching



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