It's A Matter of Faith: Mental Health and the Holidays
I was having breakfast in a restaurant when a man who was over-heard talking to his friends that although he is Catholic he goes to Church because he "should," even though he does not believe in most of the teachings of the Church. That was his opinion.
The fact is that people who attend religious services derive a lot of comfort from their religion. Psychological studies show that those who attend services experience less depression, anxiety and stress as compared to those who do not. It is not entirely clear why this so except that religious affiliation may provide a healthy amount of reassurance, group belongingness and meaningfulness to life. None of this is meant to imply that those who are not religiously minded are destined to be depressed or anxious. People find many different routs to mental health, including participating in community activities other than religious.
On the other hand, I was recently told a story about a woman who is convinced that only by belonging to her religion can salvation in the after-life be attained and that even those who are faithful to their other religions are damned to hell. Of course, it never occurred to her that people of those other faiths hold the identical belief. One wonders how God resolves such conflicting convictions.
At this time of year it's important to remember that there is plenty of room for people of all faiths to live and enjoy their religious freedoms, whether they are Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Buddhist, Muslim or any other religion.
I remember a story told of an elderly Catholic and Jewish woman, neighbors, walking together, each morning, to their church or synagogue. After services, they would walk home together. It did not occur to either of them to try to convert the other. Instead, they were able to derive the full benefits of their respective religious observances while enjoying one another's neighborliness and friendship.
Psychologically speaking, it is much healthier to be tolerant, empathic and compassionate to all people. Hatred and intolerance represent deep psychological conflicts and disturbances.
I want to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season filled with lots of mental health.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD