On religion and its misuses

The neurotic uses of religion have one thing in common: they are devices by which the individual avoids having to face his loneliness and anxiety. God is made into a “cosmic papa,” in Auden’s phrase. Religion in this form is a rationalization for covering up the realization – a realization which contains a good deal of terror for those who take it seriously – that the human being is in the depths of himself basically alone, and that there is no recourse from the necessity of making one’s choices ultimately alone. …

But if the need to escape terror and loneliness are the main motives for turning to God, one’s religion will not help him towards maturity or strength; and it will not even give him security in the long run. Paul Tillich, writing from the theological view, makes the point that despair and anxiety can never be worked through until one confronts them in their stark and full reality. This truth is obviously just as valid psychologically. Maturity and eventual overcoming of loneliness are possible only as one courageously accepts his aloneness to begin with.

Spinoza gives us a statement which blows like a fresh and cleansing wind through the foggy, morbid swamps of clinging dependency in religion: “ Whoso loveth God truly must not expect to be loved by Him in return.” Here speaks, in this shattering sentence, the brave man – the man who knows that virtue is happiness, not a claim check for it; that the love of God is its own reward, that beauty and truth are to be loved because they are good, and not because they will redound to the credit of the artist or scientist of philosopher who loves them. Spinoza of course does not at all mean to imply the martyr-like, sacrificial, masochistic attitude for which his sentence might be mistaken. He rather is stating in its most unequivocal form the basic characteristic of the objective, mature, creative person (in his words the blessed and joyful person), namely the capacity to love something for its own sake, not for the sake of being taken care of or gaining a bootlegged feeling of prestige and power.

On the significane of being aware of ones body

The ability to be aware of one’s body has a great importance all through life. It is a curious fact that most adults have so lost physical awareness that they are unable to tell how their leg feels if you should as them, or their ankle, of their middle finger or any other part or the body. In our society the awareness of the different parts of the body is generally limited to some borderline schizophrenics and other sophisticated people who have come under the influence of yoga or other Eastern exercises. Most people act on the principle, “Let hands or feet feel as they may, I must get off to work.” As a result of several centuries of suppressing the body into and inanimate machine, subordinated to the purposes of modern industrialism, people are proud of paying no attention to the body. They treat it as an object for manipulation, as though it were a truck to be driven till it runs out of gas. The only concern they give it is a thought each week as perfunctory as a phone call to a relative to ask how he is, but with really no intention of taking the answer seriously. Nature then comes along, if we may speak metaphorically, and knocks the person down with colds or the flue or more severe illnesses, as though she were saying, “When will you learn to listen to your body?”

Many disturbances of bodily function, beginning in such simple things as incorrect walking of faulty posture or breathing, are due to the fact that people have all their lives walked, to take only one simple example, as though they were machines, and have never experienced any of the feelings in their feet or legs or rest of the body. The correcting of the malfunctions of one’s legs, for example, often requires that one learns again to feel what is happening when one walks. In overcoming psychosomatic ills or chronic diseases like tuberculosis, it is essential to learn to “listen to the body” in deciding when to work and when to rest. It is amazing how many hints and guides and intuitions for living come to the sensitive person who has ears to hear what his body is saying. To be tuned to the responses throughout one’s body, as well as to be tuned to one’s feelings in emotional relations with the world and people around him, is to be on the way to a health which will not break down periodically.

We are proposing welcoming the body back into the union with the self. This means as already suggested recovering an active awareness of one’s body. It means experiencing one’s body --- the pleasure of eating or resting or the exhilaration of using toned-up muscles or the gratification of sexual impulses and passion --- as aspects of the acting self.  We propose, furthermore, that illnesses, whether physical or psychological, be taken not as periodic accidents which occur to the body (or to the “personality” or “mind”), but as nature’s means of re-educating the whole person.

Using illness as re-education is illustrated in a letter a patient with tuberculosis wrote to a friend: “The disease occurred not simply because I overworked, or ran athwart some T.B. bug, but because I was trying to be something I wasn’t. I was living as the ‘great extrovert”, running here and there, doing three jobs at once, and leaving undeveloped and unused the side of me which would contemplate, would read and think and “invite my soul” rather than rushing and working at full speed. The disease comes as a demand and an opportunity to rediscover the lost functions of myself. It is as though the disease were nature’s way of saying, ‘You must become your whole self. To the extent that you do not you will be ill; and you will become well only to the extent that you do become yourself.’

When one looks at the different illnesses from the perspective of the self, he sees that physical, psychological and spiritual (using the term to refer to the despair and the sense of meaninglessness in life) diseases are all aspects of the same difficulty of the self in finding itself in its world.