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You Really Should Go to Church


Last week I was in New York City. My first time. It is a massive place. Far larger than I imagined. I’ve been to “large” cities before. Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, but nothing compares to New York. From the ground it is a labyrinth of grey and black concrete that completely overtakes the sky. Oh the smells! Each step is new surprise. Halal Eats Street vendor cart, ganja smoke, truck exhaust, machismo cologne, something coming up from the sewer, each turn was a new sensation.

 

While walking around I noticed there were very few churches. Most of the “churches” we passed were more cathedrals than church. Some were national or city historical sites. There were posters for Times Square Church, inside a theatre near Broadway, the only typical church we passed.

 

New York City is not a miserable place. People aren’t malicious. Crime is not rampant (despite what you may hear). However, it’s not exactly a pleasant place. There are pockets of poverty and bleakness. Everyone is in a hurry. Even on vacation I felt like I should be working. There is little stopping to smell the roses. Just moving. Thousands of people, going, somewhere. It has a sense of loneliness to it. A bizarre place. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back.

 

You probably didn’t know that New York City has more therapists per capita than any place in the world. It is also low on the churches per capital scale. I once got into a twitter spat about church.  The counter party argued that it was a money-making pyramid scheme selling false hope to naive uneducated victims for the purposes of transferring wealth to church coffers. I argued it is the only widely available, scalable, inexpensive form of mental health services that exists. It is much more than that. But for the purposes of this essay, this will be my focus.

 

It may surprise you to know that early humans did not believe in religion for the same reasons we do in modern times. Gods were originally crafted to help explain the horrible things that happened to us. The Gods were inaccessible. Separate beings from humans. Living in the sky, or on a mountain, testing, tormenting, and manipulating the world to their will. As we became more enlightened it made sense to believe in a higher power, eternity in paradise, to help us cope with the unbelievable suffering of this world, which combatted the ultimate degradation into nihilism. We can debate whether this enlightenment was spontaneous or divine intervention, but that is for another time. I believe it was most likely divine. As we became more educated through science and mathematics, there were fewer mysteries in the world. Somewhere a couple hundred years ago we understood enough about our world to question the necessity of God.

 

New York is full of educated people. Probably some of the smartest in the world. It’s true, religion deals in the mystics. It’s difficult to prove the most important aspects of it, leaving room for faith. This is key to its success. The downside to education is it strengthens the ego.  When you become educated in the workings of the physical world, you believe in your capacity to figure things out. Not just the basics, but literally anything. If you can’t prove it, then it doesn’t exist. Science is the biggest ego stoking discipline. You have a theory, then you attempt to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Scientists, and most moderately educated people, tend to shun mystics. Some to the degree of atheism. Religion is a fantasy to control populations on a massive scale to be civilized and not question authority. Scientists believe, if you can’t prove it, it’s not real.

 

The biggest problem with this mentality is that you are limited in your capability of observing reality. Some diehards are obstinate in their belief that everything must be proven. Some of us have resigned the fact that all the inner workings of the universe cannot be observed. Your ability to observe and sense the universe is predicated on your ability to simply survive on this planet. Much of that, that does exist, you cannot see, feel, sense, or measure. In the pursuit of truth, you discover there is a great deal of complexity that you simply can’t comprehend. Most philosophers eventually figure this out, if they are honest with themselves, and find religion and deities an invaluable service to civilization.

 

It’s no surprise Educated places have high concentrations of therapists.  Educated people tend to be unhappy, for many reasons, personal and existential. A therapist’s job is job is to focus on the inner workings of an individual’s mind. Go deep into “self.” Psychology caters to the belief that you can reconcile your shortcomings on your own, with some talking, and a prescription from your doctor.  As a physician on the front lines dealing with mental health issues daily, I can assure you, the prescription is only going to get you so far.  Same goes for your sessions with your therapist.

 

It’s not that therapists are bad at their jobs. Cognitive behavior therapy, calming techniques, and trigger identification can be helpful, but there’s little reliability between therapists. Hijacking the chemistry of your brain with a pill may help as well, but it won’t get you all the way there. The variables that lead to the situation the patient is in, are too many. The response is too inconsistent. The enemy is far superior.

 

The enemy in this case is the proverbial “Self.” It’s you! David Foster Wallace said it best, “The mind is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.” Even Taylor Swift echoed this thought with her song Anti-Hero, “Hi! I’m the problem it’s me.” Psychology focuses on the Self. The inner mind. Watch out! It’s a dreadful place. Full of horrible self-defeating thoughts, memories of past transgressions, missed opportunities, and feelings of inadequacy. On top of that is the suffering from years of living in a physical world designed to beat you into submission. It’s all too much to bear.

 

Where does Christianity fit into the realm of mental health? Let me explain…

 

The story of Christ is a simple one, sacrifice, salvation, resurrection. This is a core tenant of Christianity. I’ll start with salvation. What are you being saved from? In the case of Christianity, it would be sin. Which is partially true. Actually, You are being saved from Yourself. Some christians believe you are born with sin. Which I find to be inaccurate. Children are mostly innocent. It’s only when you realize you can sin, that you become born with sin. From that moment, the battle with your primal instincts (sin) begins. If you routinely give in, typically you follow a path of misery.

 

So, what must you sacrifice? Yourself.  The person you were. When you realized you could sin. Just like Adam and Eve had to do when they were cast from the Garden of Eden. The lesson repeats itself throughout the text, and generation after generation.

 

It’s difficult to say, “I can’t figure this out on my own,” or, “This life is too difficult to bear. I need help.” That’s where faith comes in. You must have faith that the writings and teachings of someone a few thousand years ago, that did all this crazy stuff, is relevant in the world today.

 

Sacrifice the old you, have faith in teachings that have worked for thousands of years, and be reborn into something new (sacrifice, salvation, resurrection). The teachings of Christianity are simple. Believe God cares about you and has your best interest in mind. That’s why you were given a book of lessons to learn from and instructions to follow. Love your neighbor. Help others less fortunate than you. Don’t lie, cheat, steal, or kill. Marry one person and live in service to them. Have children. Teach your children the difference between good and evil. Live in service to your church, community, and mankind. Tell others what you have learned. That’s pretty much it. Turn your focus from inward, to outward.  That’s where you find meaning and purpose in a world full of suffering.

 

This message probably won’t change the mind of the individual I debated on twitter. However, Christianity, and its teachings, exist because it works. It has Lindy. The Lindy Effect is a phenomenon that states, “non-perishable things that have existed for a long time, tend to continue to exist, despite disruptive forces.” Think about all the things religion has survived. Roman persecution, the Black Plague (can you imagine?), the Renaissance, Naziism, Communism, and whatever threat it is facing today. After each movement, it dusts itself off, and keeps beating its drum.

 

I’m not saying Christianity is perfect, or that Christians are perfect people. Clearly, there are anecdotes in history in which atrocities have occurred in the name of God. We’re human. I’m not saying I’m perfect either. I screw up regularly. We all make plenty of mistakes. The important thing is to recognize the good you can do in the world and pursue it. In turn, the universe rewards you with a feeling of worthiness for the life you’ve been given.

 

Christianity may not be the only religion that teaches these principles. I’m not much of a student of other religions. If you are interested in religion, make sure you find one that teaches your purpose in life is to ease the suffering of this world, and not contribute to it. And don’t bother looking for inner peace. It doesn’t exist. Maybe on your death bed, for a moment, if you’ve lived an honorable life.

 

So, if you find yourself wandering aimlessly, making mistake after mistake, unsure where you belong in the world, and living in the ruins of several failed relationships, step into a church. Sit down. Listen to what they are saying. These teachings have helped many generations before you. They just might help you. Plus, it’s cheaper than a therapist, and probably better than anything I can order from your local pharmacy.

 

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