The Limitations of Atheism and Extremists

I was participating in a discussion group a few years ago about the question of faith and belief in God. Although most people, including me, do believe in a higher power, in this particular group, I was in the minority. One member asked me in an incredulous tone, “How can a person as intelligent as you, believe in a superstition?”

I was reminded of that conversation this morning as I was reading a host of year-in-review articles.  Because of the extremist religious groups in politics, and throughout the world, a belief in God has come to be equated with ignorance and superstition.  I disagree. While there are a number of ignorant and superstitious people who hide behind religion to promote bigotry and hate, it has been my experience that a belief in God has broadened my mind.

My friend in that discussion group listed the many sins committed in the name of God as a reason for his disbelief. I agree with him. I don’t believe in a vengeful or punitive god, either, but I still believe God exists.

I certainly don’t believe in a God that favors a particular religion, and then penalizes people for not being members. The great spiritual teachers of history used their teachings to empower their followers to end suffering, heal the sick, and care for the poor and the elderly.  These teachings were later interpreted by their followers and evolved into religions. Whether you are Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu the mission to end suffering is the same. The cultures that created these religions are varied, but the individuals genuinely practicing these belief systems are sincere in their desire to know God and help others.

Extremists do not negate the good religion does in the world, nor do they prove God is a superstition. They only prove they don’t understand the words they spout.

Atheists often demand scientific evidence of God’s existence and claim there is none. Some of the greatest scientists the world has known were men of deep faith. It was their faith that opened their minds and led them to the discoveries they made. There is no conflict between science and faith, but there is sometimes a conflict in the rigid interpretation of religious teachings and science.

The information I hold in my head is only a small fraction of the world’s base of data, discovery, interpretations and conclusions. How ridiculous is it to say that knowledge doesn’t exist because I am unaware of it. That’s the argument made by all extremists denouncing science.

It is also the argument made by atheism. It is just as ridiculous to say that if I do not understand God, God cannot exist. If God cannot fit into a set of facts I can understand, God does not exist.

There are many things I didn’t understand when I was in my 20’s. Thirty years later, things are much clearer. My knowledge of the world increased along with my understanding and competence.

A belief in God keeps my mind open to possibilities I am not yet able to see or know or comprehend. How limiting would it be to shut down any possibility, including God’s existence because I’m not ready to fully understand? It is just as limiting as demanding that God fit into the teachings of my culture and my religion. Both extremes are too limiting for me.

Does Religion Make You Happier?

Spiritual PracticesPeople of sincere faith, regardless of their religion, or lack of religion, are happier people. There are a number of studies that confirm that a belief in God makes you better able to handle stress, more content with life, and even lowers your blood pressure.

I know several atheists and agnostics who would argue that the happiness of a religious person is an illusion because it is not based in fact, but in a belief. I also know several religious people who believe happiness is only found in believing according to the teachings of their religion. I think both of these of views are missing the point.

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Nurture Your Spirit

Our brains are designed to have a spiritual connection according to Andrew Newberg, M.D, Director of the Center of Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. Whether that is a believe in a Higher Presence or simply that you are part of something more, you will be happier when you attend to your spiritual needs. Research shows that the happiest people have an active faith. Here are a few ways to connect to your spirit starting today:

Quiet reflection for a few minutes every day allows time for your mind to stop and process the day’s events and your reactions to those events. Take ten minutes daily to quietly reflect and you’ll be happier and sleep better.
Create a Happier Life
Meditation has been around for thousands of years. In recent decades it has been studied extensively and the benefits are astounding. You can lower your blood pressure, boost your immune system and add as much as 15 years to your life span. Psychological benefits include relief from depression, anxiety and increased emotional stability. Many yoga studios, wellness centers and cardiac rehab programs offer classes on meditation practices.
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Prayer has been shown to accelerate healing and has many of the physical and psychological benefits of meditation. This is especially true for prayers of gratitude.
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Listening to music can be inspirational and lift your spirits. It doesn’t have to be hymns or church music. Any style that sounds uplifting to you can lighten the darkest moods.
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While listening to that music, sing along, especially to inspirational songs or songs of love. Singing is another instant happiness-maker with the added benefit of feeling a deeper spiritual connection.
Create a Happier Life
Laughter heals both the body and the mind, boosting your immune responses and lifting spirits. When you least feel like it, this is the very moment you most need to break out into laughter. Better still, laugh will your friends and family today and no matter what is going on in your life, you’ll feel happier.
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Many religions use the practice of chanting to slow racing thoughts and refocus attention. Native Americans add a slow steady drum beat. A simple statement repeated rhythmically for several minutes can reset your body’s metabolism to a slower pace. An example might be, “I am grateful to God for all of my blessings.” Repeat this for several minutes and you’ll feel a little calmer, more relaxed and happier.
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Walking in nature is very calming and a way to remind yourself of the beauty that is always around you, if you take a few minutes to stop and notice. Many people feel the strongest connection to their spirit when they are in nature.
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Inspirational reading is another common practice of the happiest people. Filling your mind with positive, uplifting thoughts helps you see the world from an inspired perspective.
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Studying or just reading the sacred scriptures of the major religions of the world not only strengthens your faith, it can help you understand the perspectives of other people of faith. You might be surprised how much we all have in common and you’ll feel better about the world around you.
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The happiest people avoid negative and depressing media and books. They’re protective about what they put into their thoughts and choose only the things that help them feel good about themselves and their life. If you are feeling down, be careful about what you listen to, read and watch.
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Take a yoga class for beginners. This ancient style of movement meditation is good for your body and your mind. Movement meditations are good for people who have trouble sitting still. Aligning your body and mind helps you become more aware of the tension in your body. Concentrating on those tense areas can help you release the stress in your mind.
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Tai Chi is a martial art that originated as a practice for warriors to improve muscle memory for combat techniques. Its slow, steady movements are also an excellent movement meditation. Classes are available at community centers and martial arts studios.
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Qi Gong is another type of movement meditation that originated in China. It’s a practice that aligns your breath with the movement of your body. This practice is useful in lowering stress levels and blood pressure. You’ll find classes at community centers and the wellness centers of many hospitals, particularly cardiac rehab programs.
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Creative expression such as flower arranging, writing poetry or painting is considered a spiritual practice in some religions. This practice involves expressing your appreciation of God through art. Spend a little time getting creative to feel empowered in your life.
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Read the next chapter: Quick Happiness Makeovers


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