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 725 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Can We Assess The Effectiveness of Religion in Containing the Impulse Toward "Sin"?

Copyright : Katarzyna Białasiewicz :

I’ve been thinking about religion as a form of discipline. For some people a central part of their religion is rules and regulations and a strong belief in reward or punishment to help them abide by those rules and regulations.

This aspect of religion can be a cause for conflict between some religious people and some atheists. A religious person for whom this aspect of religiously-reinforced discipline is very important may ask an atheist what is to stop them from committing terrible violent crimes if they don’t believe there is a God who would punish them if they do. The atheist may point out that they don’t want to commit terrible violent crimes anyway. The implication is that the religious person is either making up the whole issue or is a terrible person because they feel they need some form of faith and discipline to keep them from committing acts of rape or murder.

There is a very serious issue here which needs close examination. It is important that we don’t arrogantly jump to conclusions about other people’s psychological state, about the role that religion plays for particular individuals and whether we have something to offer which would work better for them.

The containment of the impulse towards sin is one of the central roles of religion. In order to assess how successfully this goal is met in any particular individual we have to first consider what we mean by “sin”. Sin is the religious word for selfishness. (Religions sometimes consider some things sinful which those of us who do not share their framework of belief would, quite reasonably, not consider to be selfish, but the principle still holds because these are things which seem selfish to them within that framework. If they believe that God forbids something then clearly anyone who does it is putting their own desires before God’s wishes and is thus being selfish.)

Selfishness can be inwardly directed or outwardly directed. Greed and gluttony are examples of inwardly directed selfishness, while outwardly directed selfishness covers hostility towards others. This runs all the way from deliberate rudeness and attempts to dominate all the way through to rape, torture and murder.

Let’s simplify things for the moment by ignoring the distinctions between different kinds of selfishness and the fact that each of us differs with regard to which forms we are most prone to feel or act upon. Let’s reduce this all to a single factor - the impulse toward sin.

The strength of the impulse toward sin is bound to vary enormously across the range of individuals. Selfishness originates in suffering and in the insecurity of the ego. Some of us have suffered tremendously and others have not. Some of us are secure in our ego and others are not. What are the key factors? Experience and the conceptual framework - to what degree we have been loved or abused and the way we think about our experience and life in general. In reality this is very complex. Some experiences wound us and others encourage our healing, and our conceptual framework changes through our life. The key point is that nobody is to blame for the strength of their impulse toward sin and we cannot know what lies in the psyche of another.

If someone suggests that belief in God is the only thing stopping them from committing rape or murder, there are a number of possibilities :

1. They may be deliberately exaggerating the seriousness of the battle in order to make a point. 

2. They may fear that they might commit rape or murder without their faith in God because they feel the impulse toward sin so strongly, even though they wouldn’t actually act this way if their faith was to disappear. (This is like my experiences with OCD where anxious thoughts that I might do great harm to myself or someone else were part of the mechanism of repression of my angry feelings.) 

3. They may genuinely sometimes experience a powerful impulse to rape or murder. We shouldn’t discount this possibly. If we look at the incidence of rape and murder across cultures and across history and consider that the number of times when someone experiences the impulse to commit that act is bound to be far greater than the number of times that impulse is actually carried out, we should not be too quick to dismiss a person’s assertion that they need their religious faith to keep them from committing such an act.

To give a very simple example of the importance of the conceptual framework, two individuals may both be subjected to mistreatment by the same person - one may have acquired a stoic philosophy in which his self-image is dependent on showing himself to be unmoved, while the other may feel that his self-image is dependent on getting revenge. The person who sets out to get revenge may find that the effect of the original offence magnifies over time as the revenge, even if successful, brings with it other problems and, perhaps, other emotional wounds. Again, this is ridiculously simplistic, but that is necessary to see the issues at the heart of infinitely complex experiences.

A person’s religion is a major part of their conceptual framework. There are different religions of which there may be different variations, and everyone has their own personal framework which may take some bits and ignore others, interpret things differently and place different emphases. 

If we are really going to assess the success of an individual’s religion in helping them to contain their impulse toward sin, or make progress in healing the wounds which lie at the root of that impulse, we first need to know how strong that impulse is in them. And we are unlikely to find this out because admitting to having a particularly strong impulse toward sin means opening oneself to criticism as a bad person, something which is completely unjustified.

Those who’ve followed me for some time will know that I have been influenced by the ideas expressed by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith but that I am also a trenchant critic of those ideas. One of Griffith’s strengths is that he acknowledges this key question. He uses the term “upset” for what I have described as “the impulse toward sin,” but he makes the point that none of us wants to think of ourselves as a “bad person” or be perceived that way by others, therefore the whole issue of how screwed up we are inside is off-limits. And, yet, this off-limits problem is our most important one.

To be fair to the atheist critic of religion, it is possible that many, even all, religions might be essentially destructive conceptual frameworks. Rather than helping us to contain our impulse toward sin, or heal it, they may amplify it.

I can think of a couple of examples of how this might happen. Take sexuality. Some religions tend to encourage sexual repression. To a degree there is good reason for this. Promiscuity and infidelity can bring problems for the individual and for the wider society. But repress sexuality in the wrong way and erotic urges can be transformed into sadistic ones.

One thing I’ve talked about a lot is how idealism tends to undermine self-acceptance and with it the capacity for feelings of love toward others. This can be a major part of religion. The religion says we shouldn’t be so sinful. This makes us feel guilty. Our feelings of guilt make us self-directed and sap our capacity for generous feelings toward others.

There are other aspects of religious belief though. Faith can be a comforting influence and many no doubt find a supportive community through religion.

It is hard to assess the effectiveness of religion because we don’t know what it is working with. If we see a religious person behaving badly, how do we know whether the religion has turned a person with a low impulse toward sin into a person with a high impulse toward sin or whether it has taken a person with an extremely high impulse toward sin and succeeded in turning them into a person with a moderate impulse toward sin?

Another problem is that religion is a massively complex and diverse social phenomena. When we look at it it is a bit like looking at a blot test. A person who thinks religion is evil will see all of the wars and intolerance and hypocrisy and won’t see the individuals who have been spiritually enriched, inspired to community service or redeemed from a destructive lifestyle. And the religious will likewise tend to see the positives associated with their own brand of belief and few of the negatives.

I would like to think that the philosophy I express in How to Be Free can help us to achieve a conceptual framework which, with or without religion, enables us to heal our wounds and reduce our impulse toward sin. It may be too hard for us to talk about our own personal battle for fear of judgement, but we can still benefit from anything that helps us with it.

Copyright: twinsterphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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