some religious people really do benefit from aspects of their religion/belief structure, no question in that.  But does it have to be that belief that offers them the benefits they see? I say no, but I want to explore it anyway.

What got me thinking about this was stress.  Or dealing with it anyway.  I have practised a non religious form of meditation in the past called 'mindfulness meditation'.  It doesn't even go near any kind of spiritual mentality.  But it worked, very well! I have also heard of secular approaches to the power of positive thinking etc

I would love to, if you will join me, explore as a group what it is that people claim their respective 'god(s)' give them, the feeling, the buzz, the confidence, the morals and all that.  I want to, regardless of our beliefs (so a believer can join in to) look at these things in a way that is neighbouring to scientifically.  So, for the sake of argument, lets rule out divine power, and for the sake of exploration, this only use the word placebo if absolutely necessary.

I would love for you to expand on these but a provisional list positives presented by people experienced during their religious practices are-

  1. Morality. (this will be a fun one, we've all been asked where ours comes from after all)
  2. Peace / Relaxation / contentment etc. (My favourite to explore I think)
  3. Healing (Ok, more than likely most cases are placebo or adrenaline, any positive thinking approaches to it though?)
  4. Belonging / Sharing life. (yes, its not the only way to socialise, but lets hand it to them, its beyond meeting a couple of lads at the pub for positive effects)
  5. Acceptance of illness, death etc. (probably one of the best to explore in terms of group benifit.)
  6. Mental resistance to temptation. (Ok, so there's a lot of things that religious people swear off that they are just nuts to do, safe sex before mirage for instance.  But some of it is generally bad for you, smoking, junk food, hard drugs. Damnation is a pretty good motivator, but how else can you kick the bad habits?)
  7. Meaning. (I get by just fine for it, but am aware that peoples religion gives them meaning, so why should they not be scared to drop the religion and start enjoying their life with all new meaning?)

That's some to get started with.  For each, think about how they get their 'fix', how do you get yours, is there anything we can learn/adjust from theirs, is there anything you think you can already do better by not being restricted by 'beliefs'. But comment whichever way feels naturally and on whatever points you feel you want to.

Remember, this post isn't about the countless reasons why religion makes no sense at all, we have enough open conversations on that.  Its about realising that sometimes religious people have good ideas to, its just up to us to cut out the mumbo jumbo and find the real reason it benefits them, so we can get in on the action to.

I look forward to reading the posts, but more than that, I'm hopeful that someone will just read the headline and, assuming it religious propaganda, come in all guns blazing.

Tags: Acceptance, Belonging, Healing, Meaning, Morality, Peace, Relaxation, contentment, religion, temptation

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I am an athesist who, for reasons too long and complicated to go into, regularly attends the local Salvation Army services [altho' there are hymns or part thereof that I find myself unable to join in with] I find myself enjoying the socialising and the sense of camaderie (in fact I was recently informed that I am now "one of us")
I should perhaps emphasise that if anyone were to enquire I would declare myself an athesist but so far no one has

Thats pretty cool for a number of reasons.  The fact that you arn't scared to go to such places being among the top of the list.  Also, the face that you can be there, humble enough not to argue and confident enough that you wont deny your atheism.

Well, I hope you continue to get positive effects from it, and hope that when the topic of beliefs is raised that you are still accepted to the same level.  I'm sure you would be, but it could become a topic of fixation very quickly.

If I was to envisage myself in your position though, I don't think I could handle it.  I went to a church a few years ago after being told that thousand of people attended.  I had never see anything like that so went to have a look.  It was educational, but wouldn't go back.  Asides from that, funerals and weddings is about as much as I can stand.  I don't think I'd find it relaxing in any way even if I shared their beliefs.

Anyway, very interesting to hear your story, keep us up to date on the reaction when your atheism comes out.

The community aspect of religion is one I can understand - most of us enjoy spending time with other people and sharing ideas . My father, a very literal atheist, used to mow the local church gardens as a volunteer and spend his evenings at the church bar sharing a pint with the rector and telling him why he was wrong.

My own view of where we find our peace and contentment is by feeling comfortable with our place in existence. Religion provides a ready made picture; as atheists ( or agnostics) we have to find our own. I have always liked Douglas Adam's Total Perspective Vortex from H2G2 - being ' an invisible dot on an invisible dot' works for me.

Yes, very good points.  As I never was religious and never went to church I never had the transition of leaving such an organisation.  I would imagine it would be more a way of life rather than a group of people.  The only thing I can relate that to, would be moving out from your parents house if you had a massive family.

I think a church and a congregation would be an amazing thing if it wasn't for all the religion though.  As you say, the community aspect there would be strong.  I guess a good circle of friends along with a hobby club would fill that need to socialise, but would it be as good, reliable or secure?

"Acceptance of illness, death etc."

A bit of a misnomer, I think. Religious people use God, not to help in accepting the death of a loved one, but entirely the opposite - to reject the notion that they're dead and gone - forever. Death is not supposed to be a positive aspect of life - it hurts, and quite naturally so. To me it's healthier in every respect to accept death as final (rather than just advance recognizance over to the land of Uncle God).

The sooner the pain of a death is accepted and born (if I can use that word in this context), the sooner the pain dissipates and ceases to affect one's life negatively. The living can live and the dead can fade into respectful memories.

I would completely agree with you.  In fact, I would say religious people have just as hard of a time as us at accepting death.  I think its more the sympathetic people in the congregation that would help more than the notion of an afterlife or even the religions leaders.

I keep coming back to the thought of the people in the church and the social/supportive aspects being of its most beneficial.

Wow, where to begin: Morality, I have experienced several groups, christian and non-christian, and I think the common core is basically empathy, or, in the language of religious tolerance.org, reciprocity. Think about the effects of your actions before you do something- Do unto others. Harm none and do what you will, etc. The rest is fluff. But some religions really obsess about the fluff. Especially the sexual fluff. But if I can get to the empathy I can usually find common ground. 

peace/relaxation: I think the eastern religions have a head start on this one. I practice meditation and yoga and just suck it up with the chakra talk if I am in a group, but personally I do better with some generic relaxation/visualization/deep breathing exercises, or just a walk. I am generally mellow anyway. I don't understand the comfort of the rote prayers-rosaries and mantras, maybe I am missing something, but a lot of people seem to find some comfort in that.

healing: this is a tricky one for me. I personally think the mind is a lot more powerful than people give it credit for, and I have done a lot of research on placebo effect- Ben Goldacre is my hero for this, since I am in the pharmacy area, but it can be taken too far. I can't dismiss "the power of prayer" entirely, and conversely I have seen people deteriorate rapidly once they decide to give up, regardless of medical intervention. 

Belonging: Yep, they have it. Neo-Pagans and southern baptists tie for the best fellowship: music, food, common message. Best I have come up with is lurking in the community theatre: music, food, drink, and common cause within the bounds of a show. 

Acceptance of illness/death. I think we win this round. There is a lot of worry about heaven/hell, and alternately either refusing conventional treatment or testing the limits of the term "extraordinary measures".

Mental resistance to temptation: I don't know anyone who has a corner on this market. Religion has an out in confession or testifying for personal failings, sin, confess, lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe eastern religions again with mindfulness. Cognitive behavioral therapy seems to be the evidentiary winner though. 

Meaning: I think the basic human need is to be involved in something greater than yourself, to have some legacy-or immortality. God/divinity is a pretty easy answer to both-greater than human, and eternal life. Losing that can be pretty frightening, especially if humans and earthly things are viewed as  something "less than" or profane, falling from grace, as it were. Personally I have this one life, and I am doing the best to enjoy it, and with any luck leave it in better condition than I found it. 

some very nice points of view there.  I would have to agree on the mental resistance to.  Many religious people who have quit smoking etc would tell you they couldn't have don't it without their 'god'.  Personally, I think its a little sad that they take the credit they themselves are due, and pass it on to something else.  I've been off the smokes for about 2 years, and I did it with mental re training.

Again they do have a lot in the social aspects.  But when I think about it, they really do need it.  To reassure each other that they are doing the right thing, while getting their weekly top up of non sense.

Good on you for quitting smoking-I have seen it being a tough habit to break-my sister died from lung cancer and had her last cigarette 6 hours before she passed away. Good point on the blame/praise for accomplishments. I have friends who are remarkably talented, but if something goes right or wrong in their life it is their imaginary friend who did it. Not their extra hard work when they accomplish something or the fact that they went on a bender the night before their audition/test/interview. I think it would make it hard to make changes if the cause is removed from the effect. 

Socially, there may be some reassurance needed-or like a cigarette, they just need the habit. I see people who get anxious if they don't attend church for whatever reason and "make it up" through a mid-week service or bible study-guilt perhaps. But there is a community built around the congregation and it is a pretty strong bond of mutual help. I know of people in small towns who will join a church just for that community, even though they are not believers for that reason. 

I'm sorry to hear about your sister.  its amazing the hold something like that can have over us.  I tried quitting a number of times with the will power method and failed every time.  For anyone that's interested in quitting, what worked for me in the end was Allen Carr's book The Easyway to Stop Smoking.

Morality.

          a) I allow theist concepts of 'morality' to inform some decisions, but not all. Watching many theists in my experience, few seem to have much of a true grasp of 'honesty', or 'independence of thought'

Peace / Relaxation / contentment etc.

          a) Getting some control over personal impulses and guilt has helped reduce my emotional pain, and add to my sense of peace. Sadly this is not a perfect state of mind. 'Reality' still offers many opportunities for unsettledness and disapointment. The absence of consistent 'logical thinking' has been a great source of disapointment. 

Healing

         a) I take care of myself as best I can, and seek help when necessary. Since I am not 'super-man' I take responsibility for how I feel, and track my 'choices' as to exercise, food, pleasure, exploration, and relaxation.  

Belonging / Sharing life.

         a) Not all persons make life 'better'. Not all groups are 'healthy'. Not all perceptions of 'reality' are sensible. Choosing our social connections ' wisely', is a good mindful pursuit. I try to 'love' well, because I find that loving another helps to deeping the soul, and sharpen our mindfulness. 

Acceptance of illness, death etc. 

         a) I have faced 'death' a few times. I find it to be less scary than my phantasies might suggest. I will deeply miss being in the 'world', for a few seconds, as my mind fades, and hope is released...

Mental resistance to temptation.

         a) Most of culture seems to consist of seduction and addictions. Life seems rather simple once most of the crap is no longer pursued, and one 'defects' from the distracting petty games. 

Meaning. 

         a) I have meaning when I discover and maintain my ' wonder'. I find that I rediscover my youth when I grasp my wonder, and hold on with the good mind I have. I can still see 'beauty', even in a mulch pile. I am struck dumb by complexity, which tells me that my mind is still young enough to not take too much for granted.

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