The April 13, 2015 issue of Maclean’s magazine features a cover story that is both thought-provoking and brave. Entitled “Jesus Saves!” the article written by Brian Bethune puts forward the theory that religious faith may ultimately prove to be the key to happiness. Since my own feelings on organized religion have undergone a major change in the last few years, I approached the article with a degree of skepticism.
Research by Lisa Miller, Director of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University in New York has shown a direct connection between the presence of religious belief or spiritual values in individuals and the lowered incidence of depression and risky behaviours, particularly in teenagers. While the article goes into detail about the definition of religion and spirituality, the ultimate conclusion is worth considering.
As Boomers growing up in the fifties and sixties, most of us went to church, synagogue, Sunday school or whatever our family’s religious background dictated. I clearly remember our Sunday school being packed with children every week and after I reached a certain age I became a Sunday school teacher. That’s just the way it was. Today, churches are being torn down or converted into condos due to a lack of attendance and I’ve often wondered whether this phenomenon is related in any way to the breakdown in family life, the increasing incidences of bullying, drug abuse and other social problems.
The Maclean’s article clearly addresses the many short-comings and hypocrisies of organized religion and Miller’s research confirms that a spiritual life does not necessarily include regular church attendance or literally adhering to religious dogma. A positive spiritual life can be as simple as meditating or practising positive values in everyday life. There are even atheist churches that support this philosophy.
Being a teenager is never easy but perhaps there’s merit in exposing young people to a value system that helps guide them through the difficult years. This sets the foundation for becoming a strong adult capable of making better lifestyle choices. Many Boomers have chosen to reject formalized religion as adults but we retain the inherent understanding of right and wrong, the value of community and the ability to explore our own minds for strength.
However we practise it, humanity is better served by each of us having a positive value system to guide us through life. It may involve organized religion but that’s not a requirement. Maybe those atheist churches have the right idea. Whatever path we choose, the work begins at a young age and it’s incumbent upon Boomers and other adults to ensure that young people receive whatever guidance and support they need to become better human beings whether it’s within organized religion, or not. We have the freedom to choose how to make this old world a better place for all of us.