The Search for Happiness
The search for happiness often ends up at the door to organized religions.
Why do people think that a religion will bring them happiness? What is happiness, anyway? Everyone defines that term in a different way. Some people think that they must “feel” happy to be happy. Others think that by doing something or accomplishing something, that would bring happiness. Some say that it is a healthy state of being. Some think that money will buy happiness yet others think that giving money away brings happiness. Every person must define the word “happiness” for himself or herself.
Religion can provide a community and identity for people. I have always envied people who could go anywhere in the world and find a religious community in which they were comfortable. (Of course, I am being idealistic here, because being a member of a community automatically means that there would be different points of view.) I hired an electrician once who told me that I should join a church. He said that he belonged to two and it was good for business. Religious communities can be a real source of practical and emotional support. Many people are lonely and a religious community serves that interpersonal need of communication with others.
People wear clothing or jewelry or employ symbols so that you know with whom they are associated. They are really shouting “I am a Jew, a Muslim, of the Amish, or Wiccan.” Or some religions refrain from wearing makeup, or cutting their hair, so that they make a statement about who they are and their beliefs. Most people need to be a part of “something,” — to have an identity.
Religions answer the basic questions in life that are sometimes unanswerable, such as; what is the meaning of life? Who am I? Is there a God/Divine? What is God or the Gods like? How should I live my life? How did humans find their way to earth? Is the Divine in my life now, or in history, or on vacation most of the time? Can the Divine help me? Will the Divine make me rich or give me advantage over my friends?
Sometimes people think that if they can obtain help from the Divine, their careers and fortunes will be better. Some religious leaders preach that if you are a member of their group, the Divine will shine on you with dollar bills.
Like Elvis, many people want to change their lives, but seem incapable of doing it on their own. They search out a religious community to support them in their change. Others hope for a measure of security in their lives. They want to be protected and cared for and they find it in a community.
Some believe they are perfect and look for a religious community who is perfect so that they can fashion a life of perfectness together. These people often create dogmatic and legalistic rules which they impose upon those around them. For them achieving perfection is following the rules without exception. And following those rules– being perfect– is the ultimate happiness.
Others seek out religions in their quests for social justice or equality at home and around the globe. Large organizations foster peace movements and feed and clothe the world. They bring medical help to those in need and many want to be a part of this life-saving effort.
There is research that suggests that belonging to certain religious communities produces both physical and mental health and a sense of well-being. But there are also studies that suggest that religions encase and imprison people and lead to violence and injustice as well as oppression.
Importance of Religion
In my many years as a professor, I found that other academics often wanted to downplay the influence of religions in our lives. (This was certainly the case with those that surrounded Elvis too.) They wanted to ignore it or place it on a back burner. They were intelligent beings and intelligent beings did not have anything to do with superstitions. It was difficult for them to confront the reality that religions influence us almost every day of our lives, whether we are within or outside of a religious tradition or community. Then there were other academics that argued that the only religion that should be taught on campus was their religion. Those responses to discussing religion(s) are typical. People don’t know what to do with the topic of religions, because they don’t know enough about it to discuss it intelligently.
Religion could be the single most important influence in a person’s or a nation’s life. You might be a Roman Catholic or a closet Atheist, and you might deny the effects of Religion, but all the same, it is always there. You can’t pick up a newspaper or a book or a magazine without finding evidence of the influence of religion on our lives.
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge