Psyche and Spirit
by Paul Werner
5. The Psychology of Religion
Our Search for God
The Meaning o f Religion
The Law of Indemnity
Our Bond with God
Psychology of Religion
Both psyche and spirit are invisible and intangible. Whether or not a person realizes it, both are personal belongings to be prized and cherished. Are they different, or the same? Even though some people have no idea what these entities are or how they function, each is probed and prodded every day of our lives. Although we may be unaware of it, our psyche and spirit are dually affected by our behavior, the words and actions of others, and even environmental conditions.
Their inter-relatedness addresses some noteworthy questions: What bearing do they have upon the value and quality of man's life? Do psychological factors generally associated with human personality and behavior in any way relate to the nurturing of the spirit? And when someone speaks of "spirit," does it refer only to the "soul" of a deceased person?
Man has little understanding of what makes his life meaningful, and therefore, might "experiment" to find the right solution. Assuredly, he needs nurturing and thus looks for guidance. Where he searches is an important factor, something which will determine the outcome of his findings. He can turn to an array of possibilities from kindness to Christ, from television to talk. While one individual might work hard to satisfy his ego, another could be desperate to find spiritual solace. Rather than becoming satisfied at pursuing only one or the other extreme, man should attempt to find a balance.
Our Search for God
From ancient times until now man has searched for God. There is a definite reason, a definite "psychology" -- if you will -- of why man turns to religion.
The religiously oriented person is often captivated by incidents which seem to blend both the physical and the spiritual. The story of the vision of Fatima, for example, has captured human interest and spawned speculation as to the contents of what the letters reveal. Likewise, upon its discovery, the phenomenon of Lourdes highlighted tremendous religious fervor, and still today attracts both attention and pilgrims alike. Man has an innate curiosity, and an intense desire to know about the unseen world-how and why it makes an "appearance" in this world. Although some people do not equate the supernatural with religion, others tend to feel there is a definite connection and relationship between the two.
Man is fascinated, if not fearful, about what comes after death, and his stance on this issue certainly determines, at least in part, his religious posture. He may well be apprehensive about the unseen world, and therefore filled with certain consternation and awe. But these factors often present him with the impetus to adhere to his religious doctrine. Still others are entranced by the possibility of spiritual healing. With conviction of faith they attend healing meetings in the hope that their affliction will be taken from them.
What is esteemed by some, others consider religious paraphernalia. People are intrigued by the shroud of Turin; for example, while some believe it is authentic, others have scrutinized and even attempted sabotage to "prove" it is fraudulent. There are people who claim to have seen statues of the Virgin Mary weeping. Is what they have professed feigned, or a valid spiritual experience?
Our Search through Reform
The Reformation initiated by Martin Luther came as a relief to some, as anathema to others. Nonetheless, the impetus behind that new concept and vision was virtually stretched into a doctrine many believers adopted with eager willingness. To them, Luther's ideas and contentions seemed more plausible than anything they had experienced for quite sometime. Faith was rekindled, hope ran freer, and for some, religion once again became a great stronghold.
Forward thinking men of every age needed at least a trickle of new hope and inspiration before a resurgence of the faith emerged. As religions change, so do certain systems of belief. In the early sixties, the Roman Catholic Church appealed to its young people to make a deeper commitment. Yet many felt a certain discontent with attending a service held mainly in Latin and based quite heavily on rituals. Change seemed imminent, and change came. But in many communities, so did a waning of faith. Today, the Roman Catholic Church faces problems of a more serious scope. Catholics are speaking up, and from the ranks is heard demand for reorganization. Clergy and laymen alike are asking for abolishment of the celibacy law, and relaxation of the abortion stance taken by the Church. There is also a cry that women be allowed to enter the priesthood. Those demanding innovations are answered with a firm, "NO!" While the present Pope, John Paul II, is well liked, his unyielding position on some issues is not well received by many adherents of the faith. It seems almost a psychological battle. Some people are fighting back: they simply refuse to abide by the rules. Thus, many are departing to other religions, and yet others have confirmed quite an opposite stand by living a life devoid of organized religion.
Our Search through Pentecost
Again, there is a definite "psychology" as to why man turns to religion. The martyrdom of the early Christian era, for example, is a case in point. Those such as St. Stephen who was lapidated for his faith, had such strong religious fervor, nothing seemed to bother them-even death. Likewise, according to the accounts written in the Bible, Pentecost was an incredible phenomenon to those who experienced it firsthand. Although the Bible records that the numbers of those involved grew, it is evident that given the state of Christianity today, at some point there was a decline in the spiritual power and force which originated with Pentecost. There is no doubt that such an experience with the Holy Spirit as described in the Acts of the Apostles is spiritually regenerating, but one which should happen on a daily basis. The Christians of that day fasted and prayed together, and as a community set many conditions to invoke the spirit of God to dwell with them. The freshness of faith gained through the experience of rebirth is overpowering, something from which a believer could acquire greater inner strength and heightened spiritual consciousness. Unfortunately, such vibrancy of spirit is hard to sustain, and is not something one is able to bequeath to others. Thus, many Christians have found it quite difficult to practice to the letter the teachings of Jesus, and therefore the passionate religious zeal felt at the time of Pentecost has dissipated.
Throughout the years, Christians have become more secularized, and their espoused conviction to live a life of faith, has weakened considerably. People tend to focus more on their jobs and families, on getting and staying ahead, acquiring material possessions, and the like than on practicing love and serving others. They consequently place little emphasis on spiritual growth as an important factor in daily life. Although many complain that church officials have become too focused on materialism, their loss of faith does nothing to nurture their spirit.
Our Search for God in the Family
In earlier days, so much human misery was generated by sexual ignorance, prejudice, and religious dogmatism. People suffered under guilt and self-reproach. As a result, man's psyche and behavior were most definitely affected. Yet a great deal of the sexual repression so prevalent in times past has now dissipated. We have undergone a sexual revolution and sexuality is generally discussed with much greater openness. However, this switch has placed a different pressure upon the individual, for regardless of his personal scruples, he is expected to behave according to what has become an almost accepted norm or dictate of his society. From wife swapping to sexual rites practiced by tribesmen, people throughout the world today suffer under a diverse bondage, one that surely damages the psyche, and is especially unhealthy for the spirit. Man's instinct toward religion has been restrained and subdued. It is as if man has become embarrassed about his need for God. In many circles, he is expected to quell his impulse to turn to faith for the comfort and answers he is desperate to attain. Further, it is suggested that he do whatever possible to gain material wealth, and put aside his need for spiritual fulfillment and happiness.
To a great extent, the ethics and morals held by a certain nation or culture are based upon the predominant religion of that area. Man's intellect, emotion, and will -- which are to some degree expressed within the mores of society-all seek resonance. The norms for both the individual and the family are most important, as they form the backbone for that which is used by the society and nation.
What mankind must realize is that the standard originally established by God was distorted and decayed, and that the world has suffered as a result. Since that goal was foiled, there have been no common absolute values by which all people live. Segregation and even animosity exists between people based upon the system of beliefs a particular group holds dear, but which may conflict with the creed highly regarded by others. For example, the beatitudes imparted by Jesus were meant to be the basis for Christian life. Yet the word "charity" holds a different meaning to the Greek, the Jew, and the Christian. Because no true standard has been agreed upon, people continue to search for it.
Culture is changing; so much is in transition. Open marriage, marriage contracts, and even "marriage" between homosexuals all exist within modern society. The relationship between parent and child is also in transition, and in some societies, has practically been redefined. According to God's original ideal, the family unit should be the nucleus of society, yet in many areas, the close-knit family has deteriorated. Despite its orientation toward an individual commitment of faith and the quest for personal salvation, in the past, religion held a prominent place in family life. In many families today that position has been uprooted, sometimes by disinterest, and in others, due to disbelief.
The personages of Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed exemplify an individual's pilgrimage to discover and live with God. These were individual men, men who surely did much to yield respect and generate a following. Despite their purity and holiness, none were able to teach the true pattern of family life. The concept of family salvation, therefore, is an unusual one. People who cling to religion, though, have tried to emulate the individual whom they felt most closely aligned himself to God's providence, and have in this way advocated their religious identity. Psychologically, then, man has seemingly had to fend for himself. The unfortunate thing is that he has come to believe this uphill battle must be fought unaccompanied, and that the members of his family do not play a role in his salvation. Working on familial relationships, though, is crucial to our spiritual maturity, and hence, is a major factor in our salvation. Since most religions place the family in high regard, it seems logical that God would desire to manifest through a family, not simply an individual.
The psychological difficulties experienced in the dynamics of family relationships are numerous. It is clear that man has not yet discovered a total picture of God's nature. What is missing from the concept emulated by many people is that God is our Parent. There needs to emerge, then, a true example of God the Father, and God, the Mother. Man needs to follow the substantial manifestation of God as his parent, his paragon. According to the law of resemblance, every individual could then mirror his unique character against that image. This would help build a healthy self-image, as it would also promote greater health to one's spirit.
Searching the World
Because of its pronounced exclusion of a "religious" or God centered lifestyle, humanism is not as much a philosophy or "religion," as a condition negatively affecting the human heart. Humanism promotes man as the center of the universe, and in a sense, advocates that the world revolves around him, for it claims that human knowledge exclusively can define what is good and what is evil. But a God-centered spiritual perspective is most essential to impart those aspects of life the pure sciences simply cannot adequately teach us.
Because mankind is primarily oriented toward the temporal rather than the eternal, it is difficult for him to believe in a world he does not easily perceive. On the whole, science seems unable to comprehend metaphysics, and consequently might fear and ignore the spiritual world. That is why the majority of scientists deal with the tangible realm; whatever cannot be detected physically, to them, does not exist. Based on the claims of scientists, people generally believe in the concept of a light year. But what really is a light year? And how did scientists actually determine the speed of light? Most people have not dedicated themselves to researching such scientific theories, and instead accept them as "facts." By the same token, few people have dedicated themselves to researching the unseen world, and have either believed or disbelieved its existence based on someone else's opinion.
Many people accept the way the world is today on simple faith, saying it is "supposed" to be this way. That whatever happens is just part of the evolutionary process, and little can be done to change it. On the other hand, many people who have turned to religion are waiting for their resurrection, waiting to be saved from this "veil of tears." Others are desperate to change the face of this planet and then work toward that end by investing themselves in ecological pursuits, and the like.
One basic premise must be set forth: God exists, and the world was not created at whim or for a random purpose, but according to a master plan. Based upon this assumption, man can begin to discern the way God analyzes the state of the world today. In viewing the social evils, we can start to comprehend that His master plan became distorted and destroyed, and that in fact we human beings were also "destroyed," and that as individuals we must refashion ourselves and again work toward the goal God originally ordained for us.
In this way, we can view psychology as one means by which we can scrape off the invisible "dirt" that still hampers each of us from becoming a true human being. From this vantage point, then, we should work on perfecting our love. We must realize world restoration is partly the responsibility of man, and that it is not only God who must work to bring about a unified world. To fulfill our part, though, we need to view life as more than human tragedy or human comedy. We need to put it in perspective-to recognize it is also a divine tragedy. What we often forget is how man's failure adversely affected God and His plan for mankind. We look toward psychology as a cure-all, but it cannot root out all those ills that extensively damage man's psyche and spirit; we must look deeper.
The Meaning o f Religion
While we may consider God to be the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus, we must realize He is just as alive today as He was in their lifetimes, and is just as able to reach man. We might feel that while He was active throughout biblical history, for some time now He has been happily tucked up somewhere between the clouds, and watches us play at life. How wrong we are! God is desperate to change our concepts of Him, and to realize how much He needs our cooperation. If individuals could see things as God does, they would be much more motivated to work at putting this world back in order. But it does not start out as a group effort it is ultimately up to each individual to begin. And that is the challenge each of us faces.
Many people defiantly choose not to believe in God. They do not perceive Him, and therefore, refuse to accept His existence. What most people fail to consider is that we find it hard to understand Him because our spiritual senses are simply not attuned. We then fail to notice how God manifests in our life. Most people are ignorant of the fact that God has needs just as man does, and unfortunately, we do little or nothing to fill them.
What does it actually mean to lead a religious life? Religion is the vehicle to rebind man to God. Once our relationship with Him is totally reciprocal, we will no longer need religion. We will love with perfect love, just as He does, and our communication will be natural-with God, with each other, and with the creation.
Presently, such division and confusion exists between people because there is no true pattern of life. Religion presents the possibility to find such an example, for if all people would have a common understanding of God, much more harmony could and would be generated between them. Some have called religion a "crutch;" but those who frequent the offices of psychologists or psychiatrists could also be considered people who use "crutches."
Religiosity, though, is not simply a choice: it is an absolute necessity. Whether or not a person realizes and accepts it, each human being must walk home to God. Man is caught between two forces -- God and Satan, each pulling man in his own direction. Part of our human responsibility is to detach ourselves from the forces that keep us back from God.
Living an active faith and practicing religious rituals are vehicles which help separate us from Satan, bring us back to God, and will ultimately restore us to our original position and value as a true child of God. One particular problem of the religious life is that of becoming "dried out." Many people have given up hope and surrendered their faith to the secularizing forces of this world. Yet the Bible records, "But he who endures to the end, will be saved" (Matthew 10:22). How do we renew the conviction to live for God, especially if it means that people consider us different and inferior to themselves? Acceptance by others is important to most people, and it often overrides a tendency toward receiving the acceptance of God. The meaning of religion, then, must include the essential factor of adopting a perspective in which God plays the major role, and then concludes by aligning us to fulfill His will rather than our own.
The Law of Indemnity
The Principle expounds that restoration can be accomplished only on the basis of indemnity. It further explains that to be restored, fallen man must establish certain conditions, referred to as indemnity conditions. Because man left God, he must now be the one to make steps to return to Him. Many believe that Satan and the evil spiritual beings who do his will, actively endeavor to entice people away from the pathway leading toward God. They are convinced that the climb is arduous, and realize that few have the caliber to persist. Perhaps they rationalize their own behavior against the measure of such an idea, and therefore do not feel guilty about going their own way, even if it happens to separate them from God.
Indemnity definitely entails sacrificing. There is no argument: traditional methods of self-denial such as prayer, fasting, study, and service are difficult to practice. It is much simpler to live totally "free" from such disciplines. But as many religious zealots can attest, denial of a physical need makes the spirit stronger, and often assists in strengthening a person's determination. For that reason, many religions stress these methods as ways to grow closer to God.
At the same time, we must recognize that Satan continues to wield his power in an effort to contain mankind. Throughout the thousands of years since the Fall, he has gathered a tremendous following; a strong base of evil power and persuasion now exists and permeates the world. Yet we cannot help but also notice a rise in the incidence of psychological problems. Furthermore, we can clearly see there is even greater confusion about the existence of God, something from which religious people are certainly not exempt. Religions, too, must help man contend with any problems relating to both psyche or spirit which dissuade him from living for the purpose of God. Yet how do they most effectively go about doing this?
It is knowledge of the will of God and the purpose of creation which illuminates answers to profound questions such as: Who am I? Where am I going? What is my purpose for being here? Those are the questions directly related to personal restoration. Some people think if they act a little religious, pray a little bit, and love God a little bit, they will get to Heaven and everything will be fine. Psychologically, they are comforted by the thought that their "religious" behavior will get them somewhere. What man fails to consider is how God feels about a "little" commitment.
A comparison could be made of the investment required to maintain a life of faith with that of an athlete in training for the Olympics.
Any athlete involved in serious competition cannot afford to train only when he feels like it, but must exercise rigorously and keep a disciplined schedule and food regime, never allowing himself to get "out of shape." As well, a person who strives to live a life of faith needs to maintain sight of both his present and ultimate objectives, all the while cultivating his relationship to God on a daily basis.
Nothing comes without training or learning. If a person is diligent about exercising, he might eventually be able to control every muscle in his body. The more he does it, the easier it becomes, and those muscles will start to respond, expand, and maybe even ripple! If a person tries to lift a heavy load without first training himself, he might break his back. If he practices daily, he will find there is nothing to it. It takes the same diligence and perseverance to acquire spiritual "muscle tone."
One should train himself spiritually using the means of prayer to "exercise." Yet a life of faith is not merely a process of maintaining rigorous spiritual disciplines. A person must undergo a metamorphosis to become the best possible "me'" -- externally and internally. Meeting God once a week in church could hardly be considered living a religious life. Man needs to spiritually invigorate himself through constant communication with God.
The motivation -- the "psychology" -- behind living a religious life is not only to benefit ourselves, but should ultimately benefit God and all humanity. Religious tenets and practices can serve to remind us that we should not center upon our own problems, but rather consider first the needs of God and our fellow human beings. Religion, then, should not be primarily viewed as the practice of external rituals, but rather as a spiritual process of growth and evolution. To be religious -- truly spiritual -- one must concentrate on developing and nurturing his spirit, something which subsequently entails denying his physical self. There is no question that a person must invest in and indeed work at becoming a true son or daughter of God.
Our Bond with God
In the Western world there is ever greater emphasis on child-rearing practices involving bonding processes between parent and child. Other cultures, too, stress such bonding, and thus that "tradition" has simply become a natural part of life. For example, a mother may carry her baby into the field with her as she works, or offer the baby her breast whenever it is evident the child is hungry. Bonding, in its many forms, is an important tool in the developing relationship between parent and child.
What man must not forget is that just as important is his bond with God. Because many people have little concern for the spiritual side of life, the human condition is in large part spiritually "frail;" most definitely a factor deterring us from developing and strengthening that essential connection between God and ourselves -- between Heavenly Parent and child.
Relatively few people concern themselves about the spirit world, or even life after death. Instead they focus on how to make life here much more livable and pleasant, and in the process might toss aside the possibility that there is life after death. People wonder if the spirit world isn't just a spooky concept, or if it is indeed real. The education one receives in church may be inadequate to answer such a question or to prepare one for the afterlife. It is not stressed enough that our time on earth should be used in preparation for our life in the eternal world. Yet were we truly serious about spiritual growth, we would discern that to satisfy our earthly wishes or personal desires and dreams in favor of the expectations of God will not work. We must discover what is more important-God or our own aspirations. If we adjudge that indeed God is more important, then we should willingly surrender everything to follow Him. Only then will we be eligible to meet God, to bind ourselves to Him in a substantial way.
The psychology behind living a religious life should not be restricted to what can benefit us, but especially how doing so will profit God and humanity. Though rituals may help man better direct his devotion, a life of faith is in large measure a spiritual process, one which must first and foremost be directed toward bonding God and man together.
Human beings never seem totally satisfied in their relationships. We all seem to have an insatiable hunger for something more-more love, more understanding, more compassion. But unfortunately we are ignorant that God has the means to satisfy our spiritual craving, thus we often turn away from Him in lieu of other things.
One premise of this work is that Satan has kept his true crimes against God and man hidden, therefore, man is ignorant about who actually governs his life. He has no idea that even today Satan works actively to separate him from God.
There is definitely something lacking in the bond between Heavenly Parent and child. What should be done about it? We can follow the ways of the world, but if that becomes our choice, we must realize that we will not reach our ultimate goal of perfecting ourselves, and become true children of God. That goal is much more attainable if we follow the ways of God. The reconstructing of that union is the hope and the goal of religion.
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