Friday 27 July 2018

Is Christianity 'therapeutic'? Does 'being a Christian' make someone happier? The mediating role of the real-self

The answers to such questions vary extremely widely; from those who say that being a Christian is strongly associated with greater happiness, more hope, love and courage; through those who say it has no necessary effect either way; to those who emphasise that to be a Christian has often been to invite isolation, persecution, suffering, and a miserable existence.

There are several reasons why the answers vary - the first is that there may be a big difference between what happens-to a person and how they feel inside. There is no necessary correlation, positive or negative, between the external conditions of a person's life and their inner state. Some of the happiest of people have been among the poorest and weakest and most despised; and many of the most prosperous, comfortable, powerful and high status people are utterly miserable.

Another reason is that there is a kind of here-and-now surface pleasure or misery; but there is also a deep, tidal happiness or despair. To put it differently, life can be seen as bounded by birth and death; or it may be known as extending across infinite time - and the infinite perspective recontextualises the ripplings of immediate positive and negative emotions.

But there is a deep reason for the variation in effect that becoming a Christian, or being a Christian, has on people - and this relates to the variation in 'the self' they inhabit.

Most people in the modern Western world identify with a false self in themselves (a superficial, fake, socially-inculcated, often labile 'personality') - and this also applies to most Christians. But some Christians live (some or much of the time) from their real self. The real self is the divine within us - God-within-us, by which we are children of God. The false self is false, but the real self is true.

Probably nobody lives all the time from their real self; and this state is usually something intermittent and partial. But when a Christian is living from their real (and divine) self; he will be happy - even when he is also suffering.

Because to live from the real self in knowledge of the truth of Jesus is to be happy.

I think many Christians miss this fact and necessity; because they neglect the extent to which the modern world alienates us from our real self - that is what such phenomena as the mass media, bureaucracy, totalitarian monitoring and control are all about. And an alienated Christian - a Christian living from a false self - is probably unhappy even though he is a Christian.

In conclusion, Christianity IS therapeutic, and DOES make a person happier WHEN that person is living from his REAL self - but not necessarily when they are not.


William Wildblood said...

This is absolutely true. The point of Christianity, or any real religion, is to reorient us away from the happiness-seeking, pain-resisting lower self, and towards the soul or real self. If you take to religion expecting the false self to be made happier, your motive is self-centred and wrong. It´s not about your feelings or even about you as you normally conceive yourself to be, but about correctly aligning yourself with reality which means God and the soul.

Of course, the only true and lasting happiness is to be found in this soul or spiritual self.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Glad you agree! A point I wanted to make is that Christianity does tend to make you happier, but only when you are 'doing it right'; and that is a long term project, never fully attained in mortal life except by those we call saints. But progress towards that goal is possible for anyone.

Chiu ChunLing said...

As wretched as Maslow's Hierarchy is in theoretical details, the reference to qualitatively different kinds of satisfactions, with some being more important than others, is the part of the theory that sells because it is intuitively true (the great error is in the assertion that the higher satisfactions are somehow founded or predicated on the lower satisfactions, which Brecht pithily summed up as, "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral").

Any non-Marxist will realize at once that Brecht has it precisely backwards, it is by morality that we are able to feed ourselves and others, not the other way round. And this completely inverts Maslow's entire hierarchy.

The confusing part is that the morality of one person can and does feed others as well as or even better than the self. Thus the authentic and deeply spiritual happiness that Maslow thought exceptionally rare (because he discounted explicitly religious experience as a matter of course) is the source of esteem (for self and others), esteem is the source of social acceptance and belonging (FSAO), social acceptance and belonging is the foundation of safety (FSAO), and safety is crucial to pursuit of base needs.

"Love" can be a reference to our attitude towards goods offering satisfaction of any of these levels. One can love God, Truth, and Justice, one can love other people and their achievements, one can love social interactions and connections, one can love safety and security, and one can love food, drink, clothes, houses, and so forth. The quality of love is determined by the actual object of love, the quantity is a matter of intensity of the motivation.

Because all of us start out as "others" dependent on a self operating from a higher level of satisfaction to be able to produce the satisfaction which interest us, we seem to develop through the stages in reverse order of their actual importance. When our mother is safe, she provides all our basic physiological needs to us in the womb (as well as being able to provide her own). When we exit the womb and have to deal with having safety as well as our lower needs met, our parents provide that safety from their social community for us as well as themselves. After that, the individual history becomes less certain, humans can't live long without physiological needs and safety, but they can struggle a life-time without achieving social station or any higher good.

But those goods don't have to be achieved in order from lowest to highest. It is merely the accident that we can no longer perceive the selves who lacked base needs of survival which makes that appear necessary to any others.