In “Thoughts for your journey” I present some ideas that try to simplify life in our complex and troubled world. The book contains 366 thoughts, one for each day of the year. It is a small hard cover book, with silk paper and a blue ribbon as a marker.
Each thought in the book is only one page long, but each one is written with the intention of inspiring, encouraging, consoling or bringing a vision of happiness, hope, peace and optimism to the reader.
The 366 reflections come from what I have learnt during a lifetime of working with people who are marginalised, troubled, suffering from a disability, addiction, or living on the fringes of society.
These are all positive thoughts, reflecting how people deal with different circumstances with courage and dignity. The book also encourages readers to think about how nature and its beauty can bring solace and peace, when we recognise that all this magnificence is there for all of us to partake in.
Some of the thoughts have been heard on “Thought for the week” on Tipp FM every Monday on the Keith Fahey Afternoon Show and at night on the Tony Brooks show. The resulting feedback has been truly amazing. Thank you to all who wrote, texted or telephoned.
I hope that “Thoughts for your Journey” will be a book you will want to keep close, and perhaps a book you will open in the morning and last thing at night.
It is my wish that every reader, young or old, rich or poor, might find in the “Thoughts for your Journey” reflections that will touch a chord, help to make lives more positive and happy, and help people to live in a more peaceful and tranquil way. Is this not what we all yearn for every day?
This book will be launched on the 3rd Dec in St. Patrick’s College, Thurles at 7pm.
This is a book that you can read an essay and leave it down. There are many inspirational essays suitable for both old and young and incorporate many thoughts that challenge your thinking and give new ideas and ways of changing thoughts and actions. It was sold out in the first week. A reprint is now available as well as on Kindle. There are many essays suitable for students doing projects and writing on social justice issues and bring a wealth of the author’s experience on subjects sometimes shoved under the carpet. An honest and sometimes controversial view is given and encouraged by the author.
Religion and religious beliefs have been around for a very long time and, like it or not, will survive for a long time to come. The fact that we live in a Catholic country where 84% of people proclaim to be Catholics (last Census) is testament that people want to belong in some faith system even if they do not practice. When our Minister for Education, Rory Quinn, said that religious teaching should not take place in classrooms and should no longer be the responsibility of schools. He says that school time should be about maths, reading and writing and that teachers should be left with the professional business of “educating” children within our schools.
Making a statement saying that knowledge about religion is irrelevant as to how we educate our children is short-sighted and stunted and tunnelled vision. To deny the next generation the opportunity of accessing knowledge and make up their own minds in an educated way is to deny the reality that we all need our spiritual life to be nurtured. Some may disagree with the teachings and stance the Catholic Church takes, demanding a more compassionate attitude to those who are excluded by church teachings. All humans have a spiritual side that they want to explore and nourish. If we decide to remove religion in its many forms from the school curriculum we are denying that we are more than just flesh and ashes.
Our Minister for Education is trying to compress the human child to a physical entity to be prepared for the economic world at the expense of all the other factors that make up a human being. Just like the educational system is devoid of emotional intelligence, so too the effort here is to impoverish the child’s spiritual self. Like every subject, religious teaching provides an understanding and knowledge that goes beyond that which can be learned from books. It should continue to be taught the same way as History or Geography. It has the same importance and even more so, as it is a subject that will arise over and over again in our lives.
Religious education promotes respect for human life and as children grow older it covers ethics, philosophy and morals. It encourages discipline. If these values are not essential and important , what are?. What would we put in place of religious teaching that would help our young people to understand what life is about and to look at how we treat our fellow human beings. Integrity, ethics, honesty, and respect are all aspects of living and belonging to a religion and should be the basis of every learning process. These have longer lasting effects on our happiness and how we live our life than any other subject taught. Multi denominational schools teach morality instead of religion but this is just nit-picking as Catholic and Christian schools teach the same principles for how to live life in a decent and honourable way. Simple principles like humility and respect for another that are taught in religion classes, if removed, leave children with no tuition on the basics that create social conscience that all of society is urgently in need of.
Secularism, global influences and laws made by the European Union that cover human rights all impact on our educational system. 98% of schools in Ireland are termed denominational schools and are run by religious denominations. The Constitution deprives the State of full control of education but the State, as guardian of the common good as in Article 42.3.2, is required to ensure that children receive a minimum education, moral, intellectual and social as part of the State curriculum.
The Mr Quinn when Minister for Education questioned the time spent on the preparation of children for Sacraments. He claims that the severe decline in literacy levels in our schools as is evidenced in the recent OECD and PISA league was as a result of religious education and the time given to it in an overloaded curriculum. Where is the evidence for this? John Bruton, former Taoiseach, rejected that notion out-of-hand as only 30 minutes a day is given to Religion classes. and has not increased since the last tests took place. Is our minister enforcing his own values on the children of the nation?
Religious Education is a compulsory subject in England and schools there are required to teach programmes that are in accordance with local and national guidelines. So why are we trying to get rid of teaching religion? Does the Minister want to reverse an accepted fact that religion must have a place in our schools and if so for what reason is he so adamant?
70% of the world’s population follow some kind of religion. Beliefs in any religion enhance and harness the goodness in every human person. Religion reinforces qualities of love, friendship, care and compassion for the common good. It keeps society stable, keeps us all in check and brings solace and comfort, as can be seen daily during sickness, deaths and times of trouble. It provides strength during tough times, gives conviction and motivation and personal fulfilment. Reducing or abolishing the teaching of religion and taking it away from core education will have a detrimental impact on the religious education that our children need and are entitled to.
It will not improve society now or in the future. People all the over the world, whatever their religion, say that their beliefs give meaning to life and gives them a reason to carry on living when challenges arrive on a visit. So why would anyone in a leadership role deprive the children of the future and the adults of tomorrow, the tools to live lives that are fruitful, meaningful, happy and with a Higher Power to cling to in times of adversity. We need to be careful of changing what works, even if it is not perfect. Faith is a gift, not given to everybody and without hope life becomes dark and depressed with no hope for the future. Is this what we want to pass on to the next generation?
By Catherine McGovern and compiled and edited by Peg Hanafin.
This is a book that recalls some of Catherine’s pathway through sickness and challenge. Her family and friends were invited to submit testimonials about their thoughts on Catherine and to give an insight into how she overcame all difficulties and how they viewed her as a lady with the motivation and love of her family to fight for her life. It was a challenge and a privilege to have it launched before the bell tolled.
Thank god she got that pleasure as it was her dream to leave such a legacy for her loved ones. I am thankful to the Lord for achieving that and her story will be read and remembered forever by those who look for solace and courage in the midst of sickness.
The book was compiled, edited and launched by Peg Hanafin in December 2014
Defending the indefensible
Government ministers speaking on TV programmes and on radio, would have us all believe that they have the interests of the poor and deprived at the centre of their concerns. They constantly tell us that core social welfare payments are being maintained but the evidence shows that nothing could be further from the truth. So here are some facts to ponder and examine and find where the truth really lies.
This week, the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions published the following harrowing statistics and data. One in four families with children in Ireland is a one parent family. That is over 500,000 people. Of these one parent families, trying to rear children, 66% or over 320,000 live in deprivation and suffer the highest consistency rate of poverty. On top of that 800 lone parents care for an adult family member and those lone parents, already disadvantaged, are set to lose 86 euro per week from July when new rates become applicable. Austerity has impacted on everyone but how much more can these vulnerable citizens suffer? To continue to target those lone parent families even further is injustice at its best.
Deprivation was experienced by 30% of the population in 2013 and this was an increase from 26% in 2012. This is a damning indictment on those who have the power to make such draconian cuts in income. They have inflicted a terrible poverty on those who were already poor and vulnerable.
The facts show that the gap between rich and poor is widening every year so for the government to continually tell us that the nation has started to be in recovery belies the true facts and statistics available. The government knows perfectly well they are reducing social welfare income to those who are in most need. They also know these people are voiceless and helpless in the face of these cuts. As far as the Government are concerned the figures must add up and rather than cutting the incomes of those in secure jobs and those with huge incomes, they focus in on the people who are least able to afford it. Those in power continue to ignore the cruel living conditions imposed on the voiceless and they are less than honest about how the current policies they implement are impacting on children and on low income workers.
In July of this year more changes are being made to social welfare payments and it is likely that at least 39,000 lone parents will lose their one parent family payment and be forced to move to Job Seekers Transitional payments. This will inflict further hardship on households already overburdened and overstretched and it will, without a doubt, leave children more poverty stricken. The excuse for this change is that it will allow women an opportunity to return to the workforce. That would be great if work was available and structures in place for flexi hours that would accommodate the caring of children.
Constant worry and anxiety is not conducive to an energised return to any kind of work and when every day is a nightmare – trying to pay ESB, fuel and grocery bills – life is very difficult. The threat of homelessness hangs over many families and this is another shameful indictment on those who are very well aware of the thousands of homes boarded up and the ghost estates that are lying idle. The authorities argue that “bust builders” are responsible for their completion and it is not their job to sort it!. This is fantasy and is simply a dereliction of duty to support families who urgently need homes. Placing families in hotel rooms at enormous costs is not an alternative. Public representatives need to bring a bit of logic and common sense to bear and it is unfortunate that it is pretty short in supply.
According to regular surveys carried out by the Central Statistics Office show that we have unacceptable poverty levels and these levels are being escalated by Government decisions. No improvement has been found in the levels of poverty in Ireland since 2006. Each year the rates for poverty increased, with children suffering from cuts to education, benefits and grants.
We are constantly being told that the economy is in recovery and that the “green shoots” are well on the way. The minister for Social Welfare, Joan Burton, states in the Dail that poverty will be reduced to 4% by 2016 and eliminated totally by 2020. What a flight of the imagination! She also stated her concerns for children being reared in jobless households and admitted grave social and economics risks in letting a quarter of all Irish children grow up in jobless households. These include child poverty, limited educational achievements and intergenerational transmission of unemployment and poverty. The Minister also stated in the Dail that she had included and provided for financial support in budget 2013 for the elimination of child poverty. The latest SILC report for 2013 published recently shows that these promises, not alone were not achieved, but conditions for low income families have worsened. What kind of a fantasy world is she living in? and what kind of an indictment is this of her understanding of the true scale of the poverty suffered by our citizens?.
The St. Vincent de Paul have stated that the effects on the lives of hundreds of thousands of low income families is devastating and there are many impacts on people’s lives. Debt, unemployment, educational disadvantage, poor health, relationship breakdowns, addictions, violence are all worse. These impacts lead to many inequities and our elected leaders need to wake up and start looking after the vulnerable and weak in our society.
The increasing gap between the rich and poor coupled with our high living costs compared to other European countries, all point to the lack of response to the demands by the Society for a more equitable and fair distribution of taxpayers money. The unnecessary suffering and hardship being caused to the elderly, our rural population and our children by those who manage our finances, who incidentally are four men from well-heeled backgrounds, shows a lack of basic Christian values and a disregard for the lives of those who placed their trust in them to better their lives and opportunities.
Peg Hanafin, MSc. Psych/ Couns/ Rehab.
We look at and ponder the lives of women who lived to tell the tale of the psychological and emotional abuse perpetrated on them whilst young and vulnerable and which has now come home to roost for our nation. Those in power stood over and remained determined to ignore the plight of those women abandoned to the Magdalene Laundries over many decades, right up to 1996. The pain, the tear stained faces, the destruction of lives , abandoned by Church, State and family are all evidence of the long-term and deep wounds that remain forever in the lives of those who suffer emotional and mental abuse and the rejection, fear and exploitation that accompany those who suffer psychological trauma. Even though our leaders now know the damage that cannot be repaired by those who suffer like the Magdalene women did, we still have institutions of the state continuing to inflict emotional and mental abuse on some of our most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately the home is where most emotional abuse is carried out that scar and damage children for all of their lives.
What is emotional abuse?
Studies have shown that the residue of emotional abuse of children who suffer rejection and a range of other abuses that effect their emotions are more likely to exhibit hostility, aggressive behaviour, are emotionally unstable, have negative feelings about themselves and the world around them, are likely to suffer delinquency, interpersonal problems, violent behaviour, and a diverse range of personality disorders. Other forms of emotional abuse include degrading, terrorizing, isolation, exploitation, denying emotional responsiveness or love and bullying. More subtle forms are insults, put downs, denial of previous abusive incidents, and the modern forms of cyber-bullying and abusive text messaging. Other forms of psychological trauma and emotional abuse include sexual abuse, employment discrimination, bullying, domestic violence, being the victim of alcoholic parents, extreme poverty, verbal and physical abuse, name calling, and intimidation. All have long lasting and negative consequences that last a life time and destroys lives and the happiness of the individual.
Emotional and verbal abuse permeates all of society and its effects are often silent and leaves wounds that change a child’s life forever. Emotional abuse is often overlooked, unnoticed, or confused with other causes. In the 1950’s our legal system recognised that words uttered can do injury and harm and today the law remunerates people who feel they have been injured by words. That’s alright when you are an adult with the resources to use the law, but children that suffer abuse have no redress, especially if that abuse is in the home, where the vast majority of emotional abuse happens which leads a child to think and see themselves as unworthy of love and affection. When domestic violence is present in the home with yelling, shouting, screaming, insulting, punching, kicking, pulling of hair, etc. demeaning remarks, cursing and sarcasm, these are all the stepping stones for children to suffer long term effects to their mental health. These incidents lead a child to believe that they are unloving, worthless, undeserving and set the stage for full blown depression and anxiety in later life. The results of verbal abuse and emotional trauma are considered to last longer as verbal and emotional damage to a person’s self esteem which is consistent especially in the home leave an indelible negative mark.. As children grow older and their coping skills are unable to cope with painful memories, instead of addressing them and seeking help these lead to a complexity of disorders, mentally, emotionally and has consequences for the acts of self harm and suicide, paranoia, obsessive and compulsive disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, addictions and depression. As teenagers they find it difficult to trust, achieve happiness with their peers and resolve the complex feelings left over from their childhood.
Long term effects.
Parental verbal and emotional aggression all have serious consequences and leave intergenerational problems where male children learn violent and abusive behaviour and where girls may learn that such abuse is a normal part of relationships. Many end up having a lifelong pattern of depression, estrangement, anxiety, inappropriate or troubled relationships and lack empathy with family members. As parents they may then have difficulty recognising and appreciating the needs and feelings of their own children and emotionally abuse them in the process. Most of the time people on the outside are completely unaware of signs and symptoms that may lead to suicide, the worst possible outcome for people who suffer the irreparable damage of emotional despair.
Children who live under the constant erosion of their self-esteem end up with poor educational achievement, poor social skills, destructive behaviour like self harm, and an internal anger that is difficult to control thereby leading to all type of aggressive and violent acts and juvenile delinquency.
All acts of abuse towards another comes from an imbalance of power, be that in the home, in school, in the workplace, or in institutions. Dominant or jealous behaviour is nearly always preceded and accompanied by emotional abuse. Men and women emotionally abuse each other at equal rates and both men and women who abuse have high rates of personality disorders. Rates of personality disorders in the general population are roughly 15%-20%, while 80% of abusive men in anger management programmes have personality disorders. Emotional and other types of abuse often begin by controlling practices like controlling the finances, being manipulative, shifting the blame to the victim, and by humiliating behaviours leading to confusion and insecurity. These types of actions all stem from emotional abuse when children, and carried over into adulthood when not addressed . How severe the symptoms are depend on the person and the emotional support they receive from others. Many turn to alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs to escape these feelings. Upsetting memories, thoughts and flashbacks may haunt the person and nightmares may be frequent adding further to the distress that emotional abuse harbours for its victim. Insomnia may also occur as lurking fears and insecurity keep the person vigilant and on the lookout for danger both day and night. Repressed memories can lead to the traumatic events being constantly relived and this leads to mental exhaustion When this sets in, clear thinking is impossible and emotional detachment as well as “numbing out” occur and can produce a pattern of being emotionally flat, preoccupied, distant, and cold. The person can become confused in ordinary situations and have memory problems.
Ultimately other people’s words have an incredible power to affect how we see and feel about ourselves. While positive words of encouragement can uplift and inspire our lives negative words cut to the core and resonate over and over again. Emotional abuse have long-lasting damaging effects as the past painful memories keep repeating in the victim’s mind, years and years after physical bruises have healed. When the old saying of “sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you” , people obviously did not understand the deep wounds that never heal as can be seen by the belated stories of the Magdalene women, which highlight the lifetime effects of emotional and verbal abuse quite clearly. Very often emotional abuse ends with the ultimate act of suicide and has implications for family, friends and the wider community. We should all be careful with our use of language and the eternal damage we can do to children and adults alike. Always remembering unresolved pain never goes away.
All research and data provided by many different organisations dealing with the causes of intergenerational poverty say that its elimination can be achieved by education and productive employment. At this moment in time, in Ireland, we have 137,000 children who live in consistent poverty, an indictment on the way our Governments have chosen to abandon a whole section of society with the policies they continue to pursue. We all know
families who are consistently poor from generation to generation and life appears to have dealt them a raw deal. They are excluded from society, are in constant difficulties, many have criminal inclinations, drug and alcohol addictions, gambling addictions, poor health and are lacking in literacy and numeracy skills. They pass on all of these disadvantages to their children and another generation remains poor.
A wide range of issues are associated with the inter-generational transmission of poverty from parents to children. A complex set of negative factors make up the package that is transferred from generation to generation. A poor child becomes a poor adult because of the way in which they were reared and the values given to them. If you come from a family where nobody works, have constant financial troubles and little motivation, the example shown by parents is how that child will live. Just like a household where there is a work ethos and education is of paramount importance, these skills will be passed to their children who will then have all the advantages and choices of having a successful way of living.
Discrimination and intolerance by society surrounding those who spend their lives “living off the state” adds to the problems of children from poor families. If you live in a home where early childhood education is taboo and going to school every day is not important, then from the start a child is disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Addictions, domestic violence, poor nutrition and healthcare, exclusion associated with class, ethniticy, gender or religion are all signs known to be the pathway to poverty. A poor child who is disadvantaged from birth will be more likely to eventually become a poor adult. This is what the statistics tell us.
Other factors that keep people poor are sickness, adolescent pregnancies, early school leaving, coping with family conflicts, household degeneration and mental distress. Those with little coping skills and low educational levels will find themselves poor and isolated and excluded from society at large when trying to deal with all these negative issues.
Household income and individual assets are another facet of intergenerational poverty. Where parents have no disposable income, have no assets and who continually struggle to pay the day to day costs of running a home, have no way of giving their children a helping hand when they need assistance. The breakdown in relationships with the resultant fall in income for the family all add to rates of poverty that is unacceptable for the children who suffer.
According to EU SILC 2013, we have 12% of children between the ages of 0-17 living in consistent poverty. How do those in authority condone such disadvantage that will have long-term negative consequences for other citizens in this country into the future? How can leaders and policy makers who know what the statistics say, as well as the numerous reports that Government agencies pay large sums to produce, choose to do nothing about the results?
The poverty figures surrounding children have doubled from 6% in 2008 to 12% in 2013 in spite of the fact that our minister for Social and Family affairs tell us differently. In July of this year all lone parents with children over seven will lose their lone parents allowance and the additional supplementary payments that they receive. Seeing that the figures produced show that 63% of lone parent households experience deprivation, it is inconceivable that further poverty will be inflicted on these children. These are the children of the future and to escalate their lives into a poverty trap belies the equality that we should be promoting. Down the road poverty will have to be addressed and the further escalation of children into a lifetime of being poor is a question that we should all ask ourselves. Is this how we want our country to progress? Education and gainful employment supporting a living wage is not too much to give the children of the nation, and bring a secure future which will benefit every citizen and allow a better standard of living to all, could be addressed if the will and the policies were implemented by government. Intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents to children, especially families where criminality is resorted to, interferes with the rights of every citizen. So why then do we condone the infliction of poverty on our most vulnerable
citizens when education is a basic right and equality is part of our constitution which we are supposed to uphold.
Until such time as government policy change in favour of a just income for parents with children and the educational system erases literacy and numeracy problems, we will continue to have intergenerational poverty. Intergenerational poverty affects us all either directly or indirectly and its consequences have far reaching circumstances for all of society. We need to address poverty in all its forms to make our society just and equitable and each one of us are duty bound to achieve this goal.
Everyone of us spend our time chasing happiness, it is our life’s goal to be happy and fulfilled. Where does money come into this?. Is it the most important factor in whether we are happy?. The research says otherwise.!
A seventy-five year long study on happiness carried out by researchers at Harvard University found that the only thing that truly matters in life, is relationships. Real happiness comes from having a meaningful life and in your relationships with family and friends. Several studies have shown that time spent with family and friends is the happiest way to spend your time. Looking at all the good things in our life, no matter how insignificant and being grateful for them boost our happiness. Spending quiet time for ourselves, sitting, relaxing and being aware of our breathing and living in the present moment all add to our feeling of happiness. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, surrounding yourself with positive people, good vibes and having close relationships are the way to be happy. His theory of building good habits into your life like exercise, healthy eating, lots of sleep and thinking positively and appreciating the little things in life will bring untold happiness. Laugh a lot, when we laugh we trick our body into thinking that this is a consistent thing and we release a chemical in the brain that makes us think we are happier.
According to a new book called “Happy Money- the Science of Smarter Spending” people all over the world reported being happier when they spent money on others, especially someone you care about. We live in a world of unprecedented abundance, having far more than our needs, so by giving and sharing gifts with others we find that by “doing things” instead of “having things” we are happier. Everyone of us spend our time and our lives wishing for happiness. But simple things readily available can bring enormous happiness to our lives if we recognised them and eliminate the “want” factor that puts so much strain on our everyday living.
Other things that help us to be happy include sleeping more. Sleep helps the body recover from the challenges of life and helps to repair the mind and the body. It also helps us to be more productive and focused. When you suffer from sleep deprivation you fail to recall happy memories, yet we can recall gloomy memories just fine. In an experiment by a scientist called Walker, sleep deprived students could remember 81% of negative words, but only 31% that had positive connotations – something that all students should be made aware of). Other research shows that a nap during the day reversed emotions like anger and fear, enhancing our chances of being happy. Exercising for even 7 minutes a day has a profound effect on happiness and has proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression.
The Celtic Tiger, took a huge toll on people’s happiness. Many people were forced into long and tedious commutes every day in to work. This has been shown to make life more challenging and to take a huge toll on our happiness. Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist said “Driving in traffic is a different type of a hell everyday”. The reasons why people do it are complex. Sometimes people do it to have a bigger house or a better job, but, these compensations don’t always work. Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness, found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by long commutes. Long commutes means shorter time with children, family and friends and fatigue plays a negative part in lives deprived of rest and sleep. Being deprived of spending time with family and friends is one of the top five deathbed regrets – nobody ever says, I wish I spent more time in the office!.
To return to Martin Seligman who is acknowledged worldwide for his positivity, he says that spirituality is closely related to the discovery of a greater meaning in our life and this, in turn, adds to a deeper happiness. Scientists who have also studied the link between religious and spiritual engagement have found that the cultivation of “sacred moments” in daily life, like praying and meditating, provide people with hope and a deeper sense of meaning. In 1991 a study by Ellison found that having religious/spiritual beliefs increased life satisfaction and personal happiness. This was further supported by Dr Goldstein in 2007 who reported that the psychological importance of cultivating sacred moments in daily life leads to greater happiness. A large body of theory, and organisations such as the World Health Organisation, all acknowledge the value of day to day moments of connection with other people that include caring, sharing, compassion, expressing gratitude and a range of other feelings that help people, and in that process makes us happier and gives us a meaningful life.
So why do we not look a bit closer to home and take on board all the research, data and facts and practice “sacred moments” when this is what has been proven to bring happiness to our lives? Out of 603 commands in the Old Testament only two were singled out to enhance our lives, “Love God and our neighbour as ourselves”. Not too hard to do for the price of happiness.
I watched a thought provoking priest giving a sermon recently on the television and when he said that the recession had increased the numbers attending special ceremonies at Christmas and Easter it made me think about how we feel about religion and its necessity in our everyday lives. He said we turn to religion when we are in trouble, sad or seeking some favour. He is correct of course, that is what we do. So what is religion? The definition in the dictionary says: Religion is an organised collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate to humanity to an order of existence. The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief systems, or a set of duties, the service and worship of God or the supernatural.
A global report in 2012 reports that 59% of the world population is religious, with more women than men having religious beliefs.
We live in a world full of mysteries and unknowns. Fear of the unknown makes people turn to religion and to God. It is this fear of the unknown that makes religion such an attractive alternative and is the root of all religious beliefs. Almost all religions are designed to bring about a packaged peace of mind and give us values and strong beliefs and an attitude to live by. Religion offers comfort and a moral instruction for how to live life and helps us believe in a life after death. We do not hear much preached about hell in today’s sermons, anymore than we hear about grave sins, but it is these fears that a strong belief in God eliminates and gives people hope for to receive the compassion of the Lord at the end of life. People do turn to religion in bad times and seek solace and answers to questions that are bigger and more complicated than they can understand, like when people have a terminal illness, but it is our own deep spirituality that sustain us eventually.
Freud’s view of religion that people use it as a way of reassuring themselves that their difficult, poverty stricken lives, either financially, emotionally, mentally or physically are worthwhile and tolerable in view of the benefits that may come in the afterlife or that people just go along with the philosophy, morality and instructions that religion or the church dictates in their daily lives. Some think that religion is only a crutch for those who are weak and have no strong opinions.
Well it may be true, religion is a crutch as many, many believers have difficult lives and turn to faith as a solace to the soul. Religion and the rules that govern a religion give a strong foundation upon which to build daily lives, stops people making serious mistakes and help them find ways to care for others, and puts boundaries and rules into a framework for living, which is of vital importance to our everyday lives. Crutches/religion are a useful tool, beneficial and helpful, but they must not be overused, or abused to a point where instead of helping to heal they cause disruption and damage. When we look at religious extremists and the damage they cause to the lives of others, we must accept that religion can and do harm to people in the name of whatever God they support.
Religion is often used to control and manipulate people and to keep the oppressed silent and the militant obedient. We should ask ourselves have we handed over our deep connection with God and have we outsourced our spirituality in a blinded way to external powers who decide the rules that govern religions of all hues.
The promise of life after death has kept many on the straight and narrow, and in recent years the damage done by the abuse of children and those vulnerable by church clergy, has left many questioning what they believed in and held sacred. There are no perfect people in this world so erosion of values and beliefs are a fact of life.
But overall religion can and do encourage positive changes in our lives. We have all experienced divine intervention in our lives in one way or another, even if we think it is coincidence. Our faith teaches us humility, patience, gratitude, to reach out to others in our family, community and to those that need a helping hand. It also encourages us to challenge abuse of power, to stand up for the oppressed and downtrodden, and to fight injustice at every corner. Faith and religious beliefs also allow people to be truthful and loving of others. It also encourages us to fight against greed, corruption, manipulation, deceit and the abuse of power by those in authority and in leadership roles. Every individual must rely on their own spirituality to trust in themselves to do what is correct and proper.
If we believe that there is a loving God who created us, cares for us and want what is best for us, then it follows that what is important for a happy life will have attributes or blessings showered on us and that we will practice love, care and sharing, all the things that will bring us closer to our God. Religion and how we practice it is the right path in life, some people may disagree, but as faith leads to hope which in turn leads to a life of happiness and fulfilment, even those that consider it a crutch for bad times will benefit from faith in every area of life.
Religion has always been part of humanity and has taken a central role in virtually every civilization and culture. Critics are continually telling us that religion is on the way out, but all we need is to look at the numbers climbing holy mountains, attending sunrise masses, attending novenas, thronging to holy places, all of which is a recognition that people want to be part of religious beliefs. It is a powerful and persistent part of our life and shows no sign of disappearing as the critics suggest.
Indeed that preacher was correct, since the recession we have seen a rise in churchgoers and professions of faith at every level. We are now facing a dwindling clergy and we must face up to the fact that we will have a society in the future that will be short of priests and religious to care for our needs. That is when we will have to resort to our own strengths of spirituality. When that time arrives and there are no clergy to conduct funerals, weddings, sacraments or be at a bedside as someone dies, we will then realise how precious their presence were in our lives and how we lived and needed the rites that they delivered.
Our faith, beliefs and inner spirituality encourages us to love God, love our neighbour and live within the commandments of the Lord. But we must also re-examine our dependence on external sources (church teachings) which may have been responsible for the abandonment of our own understanding of spirituality and escalating our fears surrounding the unknown. We must be able to accept that we are made in the image and likeness of God and trusting in His compassion and love and not feel ostracised by the choices we make in life. You can only feel outside the fold if you abandon your own nurturing of spirituality, which is unique and personal to every human being.