Christian and Spiritual Counseling Training: Religious Health
Do religious and spiritual people do better than non religious people in psychological and mental health? The question has waged for years between theists and atheists. The answer is not clear cut because in some cases religious and spiritual practices could be dangerous to one’s health. I would contend that in these cases it is more due to an “unhealthy’ and “misused” form of religion or spirituality, but still this allows the debate to continue because many atheists would contend anything with religion is misguided.
Is it better for your happiness and health to belong to an organized religion or to be “spiritual”? Does it matter?
Being religious refers to believing in a specific deity (or group of deities) and following the regulations of a particular religion. In addition, organized religion (as implied by its title) generally takes place in a relatively formal, organized context. In contrast, being spiritual may or may not involve belief in a particular god but does imply that the person is trying to follow a specific moral code, such as being loving and kind, and is seeking a meaning in life that’s bigger than him or herself.
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This article does an excellent job of defining the differences between spirituality and religion. Religion while it does define particular dogmatic codes of the individual does not necessarily dictate the spiritual willingness to accept them and incorporate them into the individual’s spiritual life. Religion while singular is also plural because it demands a social partaking to some extent. Spirituality can work in conjunction with religion but can easily be isolated from it.
While the article at the start clearly defines the necessity of church and Christian as not a pre-requisite, I feel this is where some trouble can erupt. I believe the necessity of the religious and spiritual form a healthy blend that is necessary to satisfy the social and private needs of the soul as well as an objective binding that is still yet open to compassion and subjective cases.
One who is only religious reminds me of the Pharisee. This type of person is only concerned with the Law and not with his own soul or compassion for others. Yet the same danger can erupt with the only spiritual who become like the gnostics who seek wisdom without a guiding principle and force. They can easily be swept away by whatever cafeteria spirituality fits them and not what God desires.
Both of these elements are of equal value to the soul but both must be counteracted by the other to prevent spiritual extremes. A balance of religious and spiritual allows for an vibrant individual to give to the community that frames its objective code of belief together in communal worship. The spiritual person then is able to leave that communal worship and apply the light of one’s faith to the marketplace and daily life.
There Is More to Religious Health Though
The article perfectly lays out the benefits of health that a religious and spiritual life can psychologically and mentally give to a person. One of the most important is coping. When loss or grief arises in one’s life, a person needs to know why or at least understand our role in the universe. Religion offers answers. Maybe not empirical answers to the irk of the atheist or agnostic, but for religious and spiritual people, real and concrete answers that are accepted via the virtue of faith. This type of religious coping enables the person to find meaning in loss and happiness in an afterlife where what was lost will again be found.
One cannot dismiss this personal reassurance but it fulfills its maximum potential within the worshiping community where beliefs are reinforced and emotional support is given. Prayer meetings, funerals and friendly smiles are important elements that are given within the religious community.
Religious coping can go terribly wrong though when an unhealthy approach to faith comes into play. One example of unhealthy religious coping is an ideal of contract over covenant. The person who perceives unanswered prayers as a failure by God of contract can have a variety of reactions. They can feel they are not loved by God, or did not pray hard enough. They may become angry at God as well. If one fulfills the ideal of covenant, then a person understands that God’s love and mercy is with them no matter the outcome and that despite this evil, which God despises, he is still with them. He suffers with them in their time of need.
There are other examples in the article that show also when religion can go terrible wrong. The article cites examples of cults and over-zealous religious fervor that leaves those in need isolated from you. It is most intriguing that in many cases, mystics of the Christian religion who sought to leave the world were always directed back to it by God. Yet there still remain many individuals who have no where else to go and over emphasize religion and their church as all they have–not so much for spiritual reasons but for social status. Pride and power can corrupt even the most initial sincere souls. We see this in the case of many individuals with Church authority. Somewhere along the line they lost their vocation.
Ultimately, a health balance of spirituality and religious faith are critical for a healthy soul. Yet one needs to show forth a proper understanding of where their faith is taking them spiritually. Are they reflecting what God wants or what they want. Ultimately is religion to them a self illusion type drug or a true healing agent in their lives?
Christian and Spiritual Counseling can play strong and pivotal roles in helping people balance their spiritual lives. Good spiritual counseling regardless of creed can also help prevent unhealthy religious beliefs from taking root in a soul.
In the meantime, thank you for your interest. Enjoy the blog and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask