November 8, 2005

THE MEANNESS OF A LIFE WITHOUT MEANING:

Personal values can serve as tonic to relieve stress (Jennifer Harper, November 8, 2005 , THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Thoughts about God, deep personal convictions and social values -- it does a body good. Literally.

"Reflecting on meaningful values provides biological and psychological protection from the adverse effects of stress," states a report released yesterday by psychologists at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

"Our study shows that reflection on personal values can buffer people from the effects of stress," said Shelley E. Taylor, a psychology professor who led the research, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

No wonder secular Europe is so unhappy.


MORE:
Happy people make the world better (Dennis Prager, Nov 8, 2005, Townhall)

It only takes a moment's thought to realize that while most unhappy people don't engage in evil, most evil is done by unhappy people. This is true on both the macro and the micro levels. We all know how much more likely we are to lash out at others when we are unhappy and how much we desire to make others feel good when we feel happy.

Given this association of evil with unhappy people, it is quite remarkable how little attention is paid to happiness as a moral, rather than only a personal psychological issue. Too often the pursuit of happiness (not the pursuit of fun or excitement) is regarded as a selfish pursuit, when in fact it is one of the best things a person can do for everyone in his life and for the world at large. The Founders of America were brilliant in many ways, not more so than by enshrining that pursuit alongside the pursuit of life and liberty.

It is therefore worth noticing how little thought is given to the question of happiness in attempting to understand the roots of evil and in seeking ways to improve the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 8, 2005 6:02 PM
Comments

So, good red wine does not completely ameliorate the corrosive effects of existential angst. Damn.

Posted by: ghostcat at November 8, 2005 7:23 PM

A thought for all the atheists and agnostics, especially the militant ones, who like to suppress and/or denigrate religion: Suppose, just suppose, that all the God stuff is made up. But wait. Belief in the myths nonetheless both makes people healthier and benefits society as a whole.

What then is the reasonable course of action? Don't pretend that the run of humanity may dispense with myth and be as happy and as cooperative--we all know that is not so.

Let us raise the ante. General belief in the supernatural leads to greater freedom and therefore greater material prosperity. Those who believe that Big Father is watching them do not need Big Brother to fulfill the function.

Now then. Can any serious person maintain the secularism is the better path for humanity? Should we dispense with the foregoing benefits so that the unbeliever and the doubter might feel more comfortable in his unbelief and doubt?

BTW, this argument is from somewhere in the works of Cicero, who doubted the customary gods and augurs while acclaiming piety. Forgive me if I do not recall the precise text: it has been many years. Very, very little is new under the sun.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 8, 2005 7:46 PM

Sorry, but I disagree with Prager. To paraphrase Robertson Davies, happiness is a feline condition. If you seek it out directly, it runs away everytime. Ignore it and it has a habit of curling up beside you unexpectedly. Better to focus on purpose and to seek wisdom. With breaks on weekends.

Posted by: Peter B at November 8, 2005 8:38 PM

Peter:

Sure, appiness is an effect, not a cause--you find it coincidentally.

Posted by: oj at November 8, 2005 11:39 PM

Mr. Gots;

That's actually a subject I've been pondering lately. One might take it a step further, to the Orrin level, and ask "what if the long term survival of the species requires religious belief?".

On the other hand, I've always found militant atheists very odd. Either God exists, in which case they're wrong, or he doesn't, in which case who cares?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 8, 2005 11:46 PM

The religion doesn't actually require the species.

Posted by: oj at November 8, 2005 11:50 PM

Lou and AOG:

Simply, the 'militant' atheist argues that religion, contra this article, has historically tended to create misery, division, inquisitions, hatred and suicide bombers, rather than happiness and wellbeing, and is thus generally an all-round Bad Thing.

Alternatively, others think that harsh truth is preferable to comfortable illusion.

(Personally, I'm not a militant atheist, so I'm ambivalent. It's quite obvious that millions of people find solace and a kind of happiness in religious beliefs, and so long as they also find toleration from somewhere, why not?).

Posted by: Brit at November 9, 2005 4:16 AM

Peter:

Yes. Bloody religious pleasure-seeking dilettantes....

Posted by: Brit at November 9, 2005 4:28 AM

AOG:

That is one of the reasons darwinists flounder when it comes to humans and end up relying on implausible and completely unprovable just-so stories. Just how does natural selection explain despair and alienation? They get all excited when they find a chimp using a twig as a tool, but I'm waiting for one of them to commit suicide.

Man seems to have evolved away from any coherent image of natural survivability.

Posted by: Peter B at November 9, 2005 4:39 AM

Brit;

Here we go again. Millions reject religion because they are appalled by the guilt-inducing doctrines and moral constraints on their freedoms and pleasures. Years later we find them musing on the solace and comfort it gives those they left behind.

How about trying an experiment? Find a group of modern young tendries. Try to convince them they should submit to religious truth and let their lives be governed by the Commandments and other moral dictates. Get back to us on how comforting they find the idea.

Posted by: Peter B at November 9, 2005 4:50 AM

Umm, that's "trendies".

Posted by: Peter B at November 9, 2005 4:51 AM

Peter:

The salient point about natural selection, which you seem to always miss, is that it does not produce perfection, only fitness.

Despair and alienation are no doubt 'harder to explain' than say, appendicitis or the daily risk we face of choking to death on our sandwiches, but they're probably of the same order: unfortunate negative side effects of a positive benefit that aren't important enough to convey a selective pressure.

(Re: the religious thing. I was speaking of your average flock, not your average monk.)

Posted by: Brit at November 9, 2005 5:00 AM

Brit:

Despair and alienation are no doubt 'harder to explain' than say, appendicitis or the daily risk we face of choking to death on our sandwiches, but they're probably of the same order

Oh, now there is an objectively well-founded assertion we can really get our teeth into. Like love, art, hate, betrayal, joy, guilt, duty, honour, faith, wonder, jealousy, freedom and many others. A little harder to explain than choking on sandwiches, but of the same order. Probably.

Posted by: Peter B at November 9, 2005 5:29 AM

Don't forget crude sarcasm, Peter. All offspring of the human brain in its wondrous complexity.

Posted by: Brit at November 9, 2005 5:42 AM

Brit;

You're missing the essential argument of the theists, which is: "on what basis can an atheist claim those things are Bad Things"? I mean, he'll be dead in a few years, cease to exist, passed on, become an ex-atheist. At that point, who cares? The entire species is likely to become extinct in a few million years and at that point, who cares? The sun will swell into a red giant in a few billions years, wiping out all life in the solar …

Peter;

I think you're being a bit harsh with Brit, who is quite accurate in stating the beliefs of the militant atheists.

On an ancillary point, have you not ever encountered bugs in any software you have used? What really distinguishes humans from other species is that ability to (in effect) use software rather than hardware for most of its activities. Your question therefore boils down to "so why are there bugs in that software?". That question seems to answer itself.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at November 9, 2005 12:56 PM

AOG,

Assume there are no bugs in the software. Then what would you have the humans do. Having the bugs in the software so that it is not perfect is what keeps humans striving toward a bug-free goal. Gives us something to do and thus allows us to feel that we are doing something worthwhile which leads to happiness.

Posted by: dick at November 9, 2005 1:25 PM

The harsh truth is that atheism is mere egotism.

Posted by: oj at November 9, 2005 1:44 PM

AOG:

Firstly, most atheists, even militant ones, are also humanists, and there is no conceptual contradiction there.

Secondly, the desire to leave a legacy is not exclusive to those who think they'll get their own reward in the hereafter.

Posted by: Brit at November 10, 2005 4:09 AM

Humanism is always exterminationist.

Posted by: oj at November 10, 2005 7:54 AM
« A DECENT LEFT WOULD BE GIVEN PAUSE: | Main | WHO KNEW THEY TOOK THIS SUNNI VS. SHI'IA STUFF SO SERIOUSLY?: »