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.

The beginning of a new year is when most people set goals for better health and fitness habits. The end of January is when most people give up on those goals! How can you make this one the year of change?

 The Challenge: Small Steps for Big Changes

Start by setting goals you can keep. Instead of diving in with an intense work-out plan, try setting the smaller goal of walking 30 minutes every day.  You’ll feel better and increase your chances of success. Once you have the habit firmly established, start adding a few more small steps such as a stretching break instead of a coffee break. Or, add 5 sit-ups and 5 push-ups first thing in the morning. As you meet end goal and keep the routine for 2 weeks, add a little more.

 Replace a Bad Habit with a Good One

The substantial changes we want to make to our diet, fitness level or overall wellness start with an ending – the end of a bad habit. When it comes to bad habits, the best strategy is to replace to eliminate. Replacing a bad habit with a healthy habit will not only increase your chances of success, it will help you break the bad habit in a matter of weeks, and sometimes, just a few days.  Here’s how you swap out the bad with the healthy:

Identify your triggers – Habits are behavior patterns you practiced often because they helped you feel better. Each of these patterns formed for a good reason, usually to combat stress. Once the stress is gone, the bad habit remained.

Identify one behavior that you want to change, such as snacking while you watch TV. Look for the “triggers” that signal it is time to engage your habit. Your trigger may be feeling stressed. It might be you have programmed yourself to grab a snack whenever you watch TV.

Choose a healthier behavior habit – Once you know your triggers, choose a new healthier habit you can substitute for the one you want to eliminate. Whenever you would normally engage the old habit, make a plan to use the replacement behavior. Choose a new habit that is interesting or exciting to you. Make it something you can look forward to doing, or something you can enjoy eating.

Visualize success – Remember who and what you were before you picked up your bad habit. Recall all of the things you used to enjoy and imagine yourself doing those things again.

Bad habits are behavior imprints that have been used often. Your behavior is the result of your thoughts. When you visualize, you prepare your brain for a shift in your behavior. The desire to use the bad habit lessens with thoughts of more enjoyable activities.

Plan for failure – If the stress that started the habit pops back up in your life, you will be tempted to return to your old habit. After all, you started that habit because it felt good. Expect that you may have a slip or two. When it happens, remember that failure is the starting point for a new opportunity to succeed. Avoid negative self-talk about your failure and just start over the next day.

Find a support team – Find a new group of buddies who have a similar goal and support your new healthier lifestyle with like-minded friends.  Many fitness programs also offer support services with on-line forums or social gatherings to help you stay focused on your new healthy habit.

Romantic Guidance from the Enneagram

My parents were married for 60 years. My father remarried recently, three years after Mom’s death. He and his new bride, both in their 80’s, had long, successful marriages and felt their life would be happier using those relationship skills again. They’re right. Most people are much happier when actively engaged in intimate relationships (romantic, family or close friends).

At the wedding, I was speaking with some of my nieces, who told me that it is nearly impossible to find a “good man” capable of the commitment my father has made twice in his life. A few days later, I heard the same complaint from some young men, who told me that there just aren’t any “good women” who are interested in marriage and raising a family.

The Unhappiness Myth of the Soulmate

Oh, the tortured quest for one’s soul mate that plagues young people. I’m glad those days are behind me.

I must confess. After being happily married for 32 years myself, I think the idea of a “soul mate” is a limiting, and in my opinion, a very silly belief. This happiness myth suggests that someone will swoop into your life, strike you dumbfounded, and magically complete you, filling all of the lonely corners of your soul.

Don’t misinterpret what I am saying. Marriage has been a wonderful experience for me and I can’t imagine my life without my husband. But, I think there are some strong misconceptions about how successful relationships work. These misconceptions will prevent you from finding and keeping a life partner until you decide to release them.

Marriage is about building a life together. It’s not some kind of emotional ATM that dispenses attention and devotion on demand. What people who have long and successful relationships know is that before you can be part of a happy couple, you must first be reasonably happy with yourself. In other words, the only person who can complete you, or fulfill you, is you.

Finding a Romantic Partner

That’s a nice thought, but most of us, both men and women, want to be part of a romantic couple. It’s no fun being complete all by your lonesome. When the relationship is good, we are happier being coupled with another. So, how does one go about finding the right romantic partner?

The way to attract someone to share your life is to develop good relationship skills. I know. That’s not a very sexy answer and it sounds a lot like work, but it’s true. When you fill yourself with fantasies of what should happen in a relationship, you overlook the genuine opportunities for commitment and companionship that come into your life. Before you can make room in your life for a mate, you have to be willing to give up the myths that interfere with successful relationships.

The Enneagram Guide to Avoiding Romantic Misery

The Enneagram offers guidance for building relationship skills. Many people read the Enneagram profiles to see how they match up. You can also use the defensive behavior patterns described by the Enneagram to observe your choices and actions. Each of us has the same psychological defenses described by the Enneagram Stress Arrows. Some are more dominant in your personality that others. You also have the seeds for all of the higher qualities of the Enneagram. By observing your defensive attitudes and behaviors, you give yourself the opportunity to choose a better, healthier way to develop relationships.

Here’s the nine ways we doom our relationships before they have a chance to grow. Does any of this sound familiar?

Ennea-Point One: The Myth of a Perfect Mate

Give up the idea of a perfect match. Finding a life partner does not involve a shopping list of “perfect” qualities to fit your fantasy. In reality, successful partners accept the weaknesses in themselves and their partners as part of the bond they share. Flaws are an opportunity to grow closer.

Ennea-Point Two: The Fulfillment Myth

Give up the idea that anyone will fulfill all of your desires for now and forever. Desires change as you grow. In mature relationships, partners share their dreams and desires, but it is your responsibility to fulfill your desires, not your partner’s.

Ennea-Point Three: The Myth of the Perfect Couple

Give up the idea that a relationship has anything to do with appearances. Successful partners focus on the priorities of the life they build together, and don’t worry about their image as a couple.

Ennea-Point Four: The Emotional Support Myth

Give up the idea that a life partner will always be there to help you manage, control, sort or otherwise handle your emotions. Successful relationships offer support, but the only person responsible for your emotional mastery is you.

Ennea-Point Five: The Best Friend Myth

Give up the idea that your mate must double as your best friend forever, sharing every moment of your life. No one person can fill all of your companionship needs. Successful partners have many friendships and support the friendships of their mate. They don’t limit their interests and growth to only what can be shared with their partner.

Ennea-Point Six: The ‘Monogamy is Unnatural’ Myth

Give up the idea that you can achieve intimacy with your mate if you are not willing to commit fully to the relationship. The happiest people are in healthy, successful long-term relationships that are based on trust and a shared commitment. Most humans, along with many other species in this world, fair better with monogamy.

Ennea-Point Seven: The Supportive Partner Myth

Give up the idea that your partner must be 100% supportive of everything you decide to try. Successful relationships thrive on respect and that includes differing perspectives. Support often means pointing out the flaws in your flight plan before you go jumping off a cliff.

Ennea-Point Eight: The Leadership Myth

Give up the idea that one partner is always in charge and the other follows. In successful relationships, both partners take the lead sometimes based on their strengths and skills.

Ennea-Point Nine: The Comfort Myth

Give up the idea that your mate will always make you feel safe and comfortable. No one is able to compensate for all of the unsettling things that happen in your life. In successful relationships, partners offer the help that they have to give without any expectation of being able to “fix everything.”

Cynical Romance

Romance is one of the great joys we experience in this life, and yet, I believe it is undervalued. We tend to focus on the flaws of our partners and how they don’t match up to the expectations we imagine in our fantasies. We talk about the 43% of first marriages that end in divorce, but what about the 57% who get it right? We cling to our relationship failures as evidence that “the good ones are all taken.” What about people like my father and his new bride who decide to find the good in another person after losing a long-term mate?

The Joy of Romantic Reality

Romance is much better in reality than in the realm of fantasy. It can make all of the difference to your happiness on days when life seems to be picking on you. It gives you someone to share the best moments of your life with someone who will genuinely rejoice with you.

However, no one is going to sweep into your life and take away all of your unhappiness with nothing but the sunshine of their presence. Next time you are watching a romantic movie, notice how the romance doesn’t really get started until both people give up their unreasonable expectations and start to connect to each other as people. Love has room to grow when we release all of our expectations of what should happen, and connect to the real opportunities for love that enter our life.

Next month, how the Enneagram can guide us through the troubled periods in our relationships. 

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