This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Oppressive Religion Among the Poor

Reading the following article about an atheist man who has been granted asylum in the United Kingdom because of the danger that he would be persecuted for his lack of religious belief if he returns to his native Afghanistan led to me thinking about how the cultures of many nations where the people are mostly poor and the living conditions harsh have developed in a way which is so socially oppressive :

The first thing we have to take into account is that the evolution of culture is not linear. There is a chicken or egg element to it. At the heart of the evolution of destructive symptoms in the human system is always the negative feedback loop. So we need to look at what drives specific strategies and what negative effects they have without worrying too much about where it all started.

I don't know a great deal about the specifics of Afghani history and culture so I'm going to try to be very general. What I'm saying could also apply to other countries with other religions, such as a poor Catholic country in South America.

Most of the people who live in Afghanistan are very poor and their living environment is very harsh. One of the ways we humans have developed to bear our lives of quiet desperation is to hope for something better after we die. If our life on this earth is going to be overwhelming one of suffering, then way not just kill ourselves now? Because maybe this is a test we have to undergo to get a decent life after death. There is no factual evidence for such a belief, but it enables people to keep going and society to keep functioning.

Where there is poverty some people turn to crime. And the frustration of poverty can lead to political violence which, in turn, brings retaliatory violence in just one of many interlinking negative feedback loops.

The more desperation and resentment there is the more discipline is needed to hold society together. Religion, as well as holding out hope for something better beyond the grave, provides a structure of discipline for such a society. Where there is hope of reward if one obeys society's laws, there is also fear of punishment if one transgresses them. Many of these laws are about not compromising the religious coping strategy itself.

One element of this situation about which I won't go into much detail here, as I've dealt with it more generally in a number of other articles, is that of sexual repression. All hierarchical patriarchal societies have a fundamental fear of the anarchic power of the erotic. This fear preceded patriarchy and law-based religions, being a major contributory factor in their development. And the more discipline-based a religion becomes, generally the more sexually-repressive it becomes. If it is patriarchal then the emphasis is on denigrating and controlling female sexuality and homosexuality. There is also a focus on the difficulty for the male in restraining his sexuality (a struggle which is emblematic of the patriarchal society's struggle against its natural urges generally), and thus a tendency for some in such societies to excuse rape. (It should also be acknowledged that rape is itself a form of repression of the erotic, a revenge against the one who, usually unintentionally, disturbs the repressed individual's precarious equilibrium.)

Why is apostasy – abandonment of the faith of Islam – considered such a serious crime? Because so many Islamic people have no faith. What do we mean by "faith"? Faith is the kind of trust in something which lends confidence and minimises fear. Faith is not necessarily about believing in something for which there is no evidence. You may have faith in your ability to meet a challenge because you have met so many similar challenges in the past. The fact that you have done so is evidence of a kind, but this is still faith.

We can assess another person's faith by observing their behaviour. If someone makes a big song and dance about a belief this suggests that they are trying to convince themselves, that they are whistling in the dark.

A lot of religions have rituals. What are rituals? Sometimes they are ceremonies which provide the context for a shared and enriching ecstatic or cathartic experience which may be community-building and/or emotionally healing. But some religious rituals are more comparable to the rituals engaged in by those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder – strictly adhered to, often repetitive activities, the performance of which reduces anxiety.

When, through a negative feedback loop, a society's religious strategy becomes particularly oppressive – discipline leads to frustration leads to the need for more discipline leads to more frustration – it becomes a form of shared obsessive compulsive disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a pathological lack of faith. We may feel that a loved one will die if we don't obsessively tidy our home. Performing the ritual provides some temporary relief but only at the cost of increasing the anxiety when we are not tidying. By contrast, to have faith is to believe that, as long as we take due care of practicalities, things will turn out as well as they can. Faith is that which takes the pressure off.

So it can be seen that oppressive religion of this kind is defensive in its nature. It is both a response to fear and a generator of fear. It is cultural character armour. When criticised we tend to feel the need to cling to our character armour all the more tightly. No-one actually likes living an armoured existence. It's horrible. But we are only liable to come out of that armour when we feel reassured that it is safe to do so. And, in repressive religious societies, the weaker people's faith becomes, i.e. the more their religion becomes a desperate and insecure strategy rather than a belief capable of quelling fear and lending confidence, the more exposed they feel by those who may be walking around naked of such armouring. Such individuals are a constant reminder of their own state of sickness. This is why Jesus was crucified. This is why heretics were tortured to death by the Inquisition. And this is why this Afghani man is not safe in the home of his birth.

Who will bring to the people of Afghanistan the feeling of safety and reassurance which will allow them to come out of the oppressive religion closet?

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