Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why Religious People Are Happier: A Jungian Explanation

Religion and happiness collage

Social science research has provided ample evidence that religious people report higher levels of happiness than non-religious people (see studies here and here for example). For the most part these findings are quite consistent and undisputed. The real issue is in understanding why this is so, in trying to untangle the link between religion and happiness. Nigel Barber, a well-known  advocate of atheism, argues here that the data implies that religious people are happier only when they are in the majority and that there is a correlation between poverty and religion, so that poorer people are miserable and religion comforts them. Barber argues:
In the grand scheme of global differences, religious people are actually quite miserable. Yet, thanks to religious beliefs and practices they are less miserable than they would otherwise be.
However the relationship may be the reverse: people are poorer and have a lower quality of life because material things are less important to them than religion. Such an unmaterialistic point of view seems beyond Barber's grasp, but this is certainly the case, for example, among ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel.

Another explanation, given here by Emily Sohn, is that the link between religiosity and happiness is mediated by social connectedness. In other words, going to a place of worship and praying together, making friends, and being part of a community is what makes people happy. Yet, religious people who have a high rate of connectedness are still happier than comparable atheists:
The researchers also found that if you compare two people with the same number of close friends in life -- both inside the church and out -- those with stronger relationships in church report being happier. In other words, people get more satisfaction out of their church friendships than they do out of other friendships in their lives.

Some claim that religion gives more meaning to life. Pastor James Ramsey says that:
"There is power there that gives meaning to life, and it also helps people as they get older with their self-identity and aging," Ramsey adds. "It makes you feel like you are part of an ongoing relationship that is bigger than yourself." In her research, she adds, being in a religious organization was not more beneficial in this regard than being spiritual but not active in an organized religion.
However, as professor of sociology Scott Schieman points out in the same article, attributing happiness to belief in God 
is much harder. "You have to break it down into components and look at religious activities and religious beliefs," he explains, "and you have to look at them during times of stress. Is it the activity? If so, which kind of activity? Is it the belief? If so, is it [a belief in] life after death" or some other belief?
The idea that belief in God can be related to happiness is of course ridiculed by atheists, such as the aforementioned Barber, or Terry Sanderson, a leading UK secularist, gay rights activist, and president of the National Secular Society, who has concluded, a priori, that any study describing a link between happiness and religion is "meaningless". In the same vein, LiveScience happily titles its report Why Religion Makes People Happier (Hint: Not God) and immediately informs its readers that:
Religious people are more satisfied with their lives than nonbelievers, but a new study finds it's not a relationship with God that makes the devout happy. Instead, the satisfaction boost may come from closer ties to earthly neighbors.
One can hear the sigh of relief floating through the ether.

As I was writing this post, I also came across this study (HT +Michael Lederman) Atheists Become Emotionally Aroused When Daring God to Do Terrible Things, which shows that although atheists say they don't believe in god, they are still scared of Him:
We examined whether atheists exhibit evidence of emotional arousal when they dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates. In Study 1, the participants (16 atheists, 13 religious individuals) read aloud 36 statements of three different types: God, offensive, and neutral. In Study 2 (N = 19 atheists), 10 new stimulus statements were included in which atheists wished for negative events to occur. The atheists did not think the God statements were as unpleasant as the religious participants did in their verbal reports. However, the skin conductance level showed that asking God to do awful things was equally stressful to atheists as it was to religious people and that atheists were more affected by God statements than by wish or offensive statements. The results imply that atheists' attitudes toward God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response.
Yes, the sample size is very small and this proves nothing conclusively, but it's still hilarious.

Anyway, religion makes people happier and this happiness is linked to social connectedness, though not entirely. Religious people in many cases are poorer and enjoy a lower level of living than atheists, yet they are still happier. Is it just a shield for the ignorant and miserable, a mere "opiate of the masses", as Marx famously put it? What if it's a choice: to forgo material wealth for something else? What is that "something else" and why does it scare atheists, who say they don't believe in a make-believe god?
One more thing: how is it that religion, after being declared dead and buried throughout the 19th and 20th century (by Weber, Marx, Voltaire, Freud, and Nietzsche among many others) just doesn't seem to go away, not in the United States or in other parts of the world? In an article titled God Still Isn't Dead, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge point out that:
In 1880, Robert Ingersoll, the leading atheist of his day, claimed that "the churches are dying out all over the land." In its Easter issue in 1966, Time asked "Is God Dead?" on its cover. East Coast intellectuals have repeatedly assumed that the European model of progress, where modernity equals secularization, would come to the U.S. They have always been wrong.
What can explain the amazing persistence of this "fairy tale"? Perhaps it is more than just a fairy tale? Jung certainly thought so and I agree with him.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Neat Book Review #16 Psychology and Religion by C.G. Jung

cover of book review jung psychology and religion
Plot summary
This is a short treatise, based on lectures that Jung gave in 1937 at Yale University. The book is divided into three sections. The first one describes basic tenets of Jungian thought and defines several important concepts - such as religion - in layman's terms, more or less. Thus Jung lays the foundation for understanding the rest of the book. The second section describes the treatment of a  patient. He is a completely "enlightened", secular professor who has no connection whatsoever with religion or God, yet he is extremely neurotic and he is constantly disturbed by hundreds of odd dreams. Jung describes some of these dreams and interprets them to show how they relate to his concepts of religion, god, self, and conscious and unconscious, which were explained in the previous section. In the third and final section Jung concentrates on one central symbol that appears over and over again in the patient's dreams: different forms of the mandala and tries to explain their meaning using, for the most part, texts of medieval alchemy.

My opinion:
This is a relatively accessible book by Jung and not a bad place to start one's Jungian journey. Jung's basic concepts and assumptions are explained quite clearly, in my opinion, and his typical method of analysis is demonstrated throughout the book. This method consists of correlating symbols that appear in patient's dreams to symbols that appeared in other times and places in order to understand their meaning for patients who had no previous knowledge of these symbols. I found the first two sections to be most clear while the third, in which Jung takes the reader on a journey in time and space, was more difficult. There is some Latin and Greek in the text, but not enough to be bothersome or to prevent comprehension.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Psychologically Primitive Underbelly of Western Society

Niel Armstrong and Budhha Collage- Western Ideal versus Eastern Ideal
Western ideal vs. Eastern ideal

In some respects – technological and, perhaps, legal – the West can be considered very advanced. But in others it is woefully behind, backwards; even, I would say, downright primitive.
For example, here Jung is surveying the prevailing attitudes towards the unconscious in the 19th and 20th centuries, concluding that:
The psyche is the greatest of all cosmic wonders and the sine qua non [indispensable condition] of the world as an object. It is in the highest degree odd that Western man with but very few – and ever fewer – exceptions, apparently pays so little regards to this fact. Swamped by the knowledge of external objects, the subject of all knowledge has been temporarily eclipsed to the point of seeming non-existent…
With the discovery of a possible unconscious psychic realm, man had the opportunity to embark on a great adventure of the spirit, and one might have expected that a passionate interest would turn in this direction. Not only was this not the case at all, but there arose on all sides an outcry against such a hypothesis.
This is from an essay called "On the Nature of the Psyche", written in 1947, and as far as I can tell, nothing much has changed since.
Meanwhile, in the East, Buddha laid out a map of the psyche in the 6th century B.C., which was widely adopted and developed in surrounding cultures. But even before that, it was understood that "the subject of all knowledge" as Jung calls it, is really the most important thing to understand and that all other external endeavors are relatively meaningless in comparison to self-knowledge.
In other words, the unconscious was "discovered" in the West in the late 19th century and its importance is either ignored, belittled or disputed to this day, while in the East, its existence and crucial importance were understood and accepted 2500 years ago. The Western ideal became the explorer-adventurer, while the Eastern ideal was the introspective man, deep in meditation. Perhaps that is the difference between an essentially introverted culture (East) and an extroverted one (West).
In any case, can a society be called advanced when it has such a miserable degree of self-awareness? What do you think?

On that note, and just a few pages later in the same essay, Jung discusses the idea of "lights" in the unconscious. The idea of sparks of light glowing within the darkness of the unconscious and storing all worthwhile knowledge appeared to various figures throughout history (Jung cites Parcelsus and other alchemists) as well as in modern man's dreams and vision. Jung understands these ideas and metaphors of light in the unconscious to stand for the archetypes. What is interesting for our purposes is that in some of these descriptions, the dark psyche is likened to the night sky and the archetypes to the stars, shining brightly. According to Jung, Paracelsus:
beholds the darksome psyche as a star-strewn night sky, whose planets and fixed constellations represent the archetypes in all their numinosity and luminosity. The starry vault in heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected...the archetypes.
It seems that later on, Western man completely forgot this insight and, confusing the inner sky with  the outer sky, set out to find knowledge among the stars. However, according to Jung's theory, no amount of external knowledge will suffice for Western man, because the only knowledge that is capable of settling his anxious soul is knowledge of the unconscious - self-knowledge - which can only be found among the stars within.

Related posts:

Desiderius Erasmus: Reformer, Humanist, And The World's First Best-Selling Author

Neat Book Review #15 Answer to Job by C.G. Jung

Photos:  Niel Armstrong by NASA (in public domain); Buddha statue by Flicker user Joe Bennett de Melbourne, Australia, CC BY 2.0.  Collage made with ease in +PicMonkey 

About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

Follow me on:

Friday, May 2, 2014

Neat Book Review #15 Answer to Job by C.G. Jung

Cover of the book Answer to Job by C.G.Jung

Plot summary
In this book Jung attempts to explain God's vicious, immoral behavior towards Job, his finest and most loyal servant, by understanding it as a change in the relationship between God and man. Half the book deals with this change which, according to Jungian theory, is actually a most significant change in the relationship between consciousness (man) and the unconscious (God). Jung argues that Job proves man's moral superiority over God, who now wishes to become man. In other words, the Book of Job is seen as a precursor to the appearance of Christ – the embodiment of God in man. The second part of the book discusses a major error in Christian dogma: the identification of God and his son with the good – God as summum bonum. Jung argues that this idea once again ignores the evil side of the unconscious. Such psychological one-sidedness eventually - and necessarily - brings about the visions that John experiences in his apocalyptic Revelations. These are discussed and analyzed at length. Jung then discusses the adoption of the dogma of Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1950 as a further step in the reincarnation of God in all men, which must be preceded by a heavenly (archetypical) hieros gamos - marriage of gods. In this case the marriage is between the two perfect and pure male (God) and female (Mary) elements, who eventually will produce God in real man (as opposed to god in Christ, who was not a real man). Finally, Jung briefly discusses the nature of God and the interaction between archetype and consciousness.

My opinion: This is a most difficult book, both in its psychological content and in its demands from the reader. First, Jung expects the reader to be familiar with the Book of Job, the dogma of Christ, and John's Revelations, as well as the basics of his own theory regarding the psyche and especially religion. Also, there are many Latin phrases strewn throughout the book, some of which are important to understand. From a psychological viewpoint, it may be difficult for some readers to accept God as the unconscious or as an archetype, or Christ as a psychological archetype of the self. In fact, I'm not too sure about this analysis either, especially as Jung does not bother to note when exactly he is talking about God as experienced by man or about God as an independent entity with a will of its own, a God who is described as blind, ignorant of Himself, amoral (if not immoral) and conflicted. This is not the image of God that I normally possess.