One of the most emotive topics of discussion, religion, was again brought to the forefront recently when the latest Census results came in. The Census shows that the amount of respondents who see themselves as non-religious has increased to 25% and Christianity, the main religion of the country, has become less popular with the percentage of Christians reducing to 59%. So in our modern secular society, what are people replacing with religion with in order to achieve inner peace and emotional well-being? Is it more beneficial to not believe in a higher power? According to the Census, Norwich is the most godless place, with 42.5% of its population denying belonging to a particular faith. Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association, was surprised by the results but believes that the figures are still inaccurate, as they exaggerate the amount of Christians in Britain who actually believe in and regularly practice the religion. He also states how the amount of people who live their lives without the reference of religion, is probably much higher than stated. Despite the rise in non-believers the Census also proves how, in the words of Reverend Arun Arora, spokesman for the Church of England, the ‘results confirm that we remain a faithful nation’ with 2 thirds of the nation identifying themselves as having a faith.
The word ‘atheism’ comes from ‘a’ meaning without and ‘theism’ meaning belief in god/gods. So the traditional definition of an atheist person is someone who does not believe in any gods or spiritual beings. According to the BBC website, the main reasons for atheist’s non-belief in a higher power include; the insufficient evidence available to support any religion, they find it hard to make sense of certain religious ideas, they live in a non-religious culture, they used to be religious and lost faith for personal reasons, they are not interested nor do they feel religion has any relevance to their lives, religion seems to have caused more harm than good in the world, and they feel as though if there was a God the world would not be such a bad place.
One method people are using to gain spiritual enlightenment and inner peace without the aid of religion is meditation. The process of meditation began in Nepal many years ago after Prince Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) sat under a tree and vowed not to rise until he found enlightenment, after a long night, he declared that pain is subjective and can be reduced through self-awareness. This theory has since been used to help patients to eliminate stress and to cope with both physical and psychological pain. Robert Thurman (Ph.D. and professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University) explains that ‘meditation is the act of disidentifying from inner thought flow and concentrating on calming and healing’, doctors use it to help patients detach from their worries and pain so that they can create a connection between their mind and body. He talks about how meditation alerts the brain to quiet the body’s natural adrenalin responses which can be stressful, in order to create a feeling of relaxation that minimises the harmful effects of stress. The most common form of meditation is the mindfulness approach which involves sitting comfortably with your spine straight, closing your eyes and focusing your attention on breathing. Experts say that the aim of this practice is to teach meditators to pay attention to the present as a way of gaining clarity of mind, wisdom and peacefulness. Thurman supports this by commenting on how patients find an increased awareness and appreciation of their lives, no matter what their religious beliefs are.
Another non-religious method of finding guidance and self-understanding is communication with family and friends and in some cases through counselling. According to insightful.me.uk, counselling can, through sharing your thoughts and feelings with another person, relieve your sense of being isolated by your problems. By getting to know yourself better, through the comments made by someone trained to help identify your negative patterns of thought, you can improve your relationship with yourself and others important to you; which in turn will boost your self-esteem and give you choices in life. When you understand yourself better, you can in turn become more in control of your life choices and start to see life more positively, giving you the hope of a better future. For some people, this method of therapy is more effective than relying on a higher being, which you cannot see or interact with.
Ashley Davis Bush, psychotherapist and author of Shortcuts to Inner Peace, suggests some other ways to find inner peace without religion: Sound can be useful, if you stop for a moment when you are stressed or upset, and just listen to all that is around you, your brain gets a rest from all the incessant overthinking you have been doing and you instantly feel calmer. Personally, I find listening to music helps me; as identifying with certain lyrics can help you feel less alone, and can change your mood instantly by reminding you of happy memories, or even just by distracting you from your problems and allowing you to get lost in the song. Ashley also talks about compassion, and how knowing other people are going through the same thing as you if not worse, can make you feel supported and thankful. If escapism helps you feel better, Ashley suggests visualising yourself somewhere that you attach happy memories to, or just somewhere that you feel calm and relaxed, like a sandy beach in an exotic location. Positive affirmations, when repeated or left in obvious places around your home or workplace, can help redirect your mind to more positive thoughts, and help boost your self-confidence when you start to believe them.
Many studies prove how the emotional well-being of atheists can sometimes be a lot stronger than that of theists (believers in God) in relation to tolerance, open-mindedness and happiness. Concerning tolerance, one study published in 1988 showed that atheists were generally more politically liberal in their beliefs. Another study in 1950 showed that non-religious people tended to show much lower levels of racial/religious prejudice. Many studies have also shown that theists are less tolerant of social deviates, for example criminals, homosexuals and single mothers. Concerning happiness, a study in 1995 showed that atheists are psychologically healthier than religious people and this could be because of ‘a sense of personal competence and control, self-acceptance and self-actualisation and perhaps open-mindedness and flexibility’. A controversial study by Bruce Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer in 2002 examined the personality traits of non-believers and believers. Both categories scored highly when it came to dogmatism (believing your opinions are undeniably true regardless of evidence to support your opinion), but believers still scored considerably higher than non-believers. When it came to zealotry (excessive intolerance of other views), both groups were asked how they would advise a teenager on religion; the majority of atheists would want the teen to make up their own mind about religion, whereas the majority of religious people would try to impose their own beliefs. They were then asked whether religious beliefs or atheist beliefs should be taught in schools to influence the pupils; non-believers felt it would be a bad idea to pressure pupils into agnostic ideology, whereas believers felt it was a good idea to teach religion in schools. Theists also scored much higher in right-wing authoritarianism, low scores in RWA indicate a higher likelihood of; condemning unfair abuses of power, being against discrimination, supporting feminism, defend personal liberties, punishing criminals fairly, being against violence, being more wary of information given to them and thinking for themselves and not being hypocritical, to name a few. In 1969 sociologists Travis Hirschi and Rodney Stark reported no difference in the likelihood of religious/non-religious child committing crimes. There are also many cases which show that devoutly religious people often do not believe in modern medicine, contraception and abortion; which have led to the spread of certain diseases, prohibitions on important medical research and a rise in illegal dangerous abortions putting the mother at risk.
In conclusion, Britain is becoming less religious, as people are relying more on themselves for inner peace and spiritual enlightenment than a higher being. There are many ways to gain a better understanding of yourself so that you are more in control of your emotions and actions throughout your life; all of which have nothing to do with religion. This shows that there is no difference between the morality and emotional well-being of a believer and non-believer and that if anything religion can influence your thoughts and beliefs on life in a negative way. Personally, I feel that the move towards a less religious society is a positive one, and that everyone should be free to make up their own minds on the topic.
For those interested in spirituality and yoga: Top 5 Yoga retreats in England
- The Forge Yoga Centre, Devon – Classes include: Vinyasa Krama Yoga, this form uses a series of poses to bring breathing, body and mind into alignment, also available are yoga sutras, practical sessions on asana, pranayama and meditation. Both workshops cost £100 for the weekend but other classes are cheaper. http://forgeyoga.co.uk
- Yoga Jeanie, East Sussex – Seven classes in three days allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the yoga techniques. Instructor Jean Hall specialises in dynamic flow yoga encouraging students to meditate and use mindful breathing to make the most of their experience. Only 15 students per course, prices are £345pp including a twin room, meals and instruction. yogajeannie.com
- Yoga and Meditation Retreat, Kent – Countryside retreat that aims to detox and nourish you physically, emotionally and mentally. The programme includes asana, yoga nidra, pranayama, meditation for all levels of experience. Costs up to £325 for the retreat. http://www.yogam.co.uk/retreats/yoga-detox-retreat-in-kent/
- Aloha Yoga Retreat, Herefordshire – Weekend of yoga and massage to help you find inner peace, de-stress, rebalance your life and give you motivation and inspiration in your daily life. Practices include yoga nidra, massage and a wild food foraging workshop. Prices range from £240-295pp. http://www.swanseayoga.co.uk/flourishyoga/Summer_Aloha_Yoga_Retreat_2013.html
- Living Your Bliss Retreat, Shropshire – Retreat includes yoga, meditation, visualisation and deep profound healing workshops. The retreat costs £245 sharing with another person or £275pp. http://kimrossi.co.uk/workshopsretreats.htm
Yoga goes hand in hand with meditation, read here for a step-by-step guide for beginners.
The religious institution of marriage seems to be going out of style in this age of social media and the idolisation of celebrities. Here are my thoughts.