An underlying sorrow weights down the Western culture. Our civilization is blanketed with a light melancholic fog of neuroses and mental pain.
However, sexual liberation and abandonment of the duties of conscience are not the solution, as Sigmund Freud once suggested. What is the reason for the constant suffering of our material civilization?
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In the industrial use of steel, there is a phenomenon called material fatigue. When steel is subjected to strains greater than it is designed to endure, damage occurs. If this strain continues, the steel will fracture or break.
To avoid material fatigue the steel part must be constructed to tolerate the elements that it will normally experience, for example wind and temperature, and it must not be repeatedly exposed to greater strains than it was designed to endure. To regain strength, damaged steel parts are often treated with heat or sanded down so that the steel becomes sufficiently strong again.
On the offshore industry’s oil platforms steel parts are designed to tolerate the stress limits associated with the aggressive ocean environment. Storms and strong winds affect the oil platform and it also must tolerate a constant rocking motion. Flexibility in the steel, strength in the connecting joints, and the steel’s toughness are critical. Otherwise over time the steel can fracture under stress and cause extensive damage. When steel constructions are repeatedly subjected to stress greater than they are designed for, unexpected failures can occur.
The 1980 capsize of the oil platform Alexander L. Kielland was an example of a typical fatigue failure. The dramatic consequences, especially in the number of lives lost, shows how serious the phenomena of material fatigue is.
The loss of hope in secularized, atheist West
The former central bank director in USA, Alan Greenspan, speaks in The age of turbulence about our time being marked by turbulent challenges, both on the individual and the social level. The problem is that today’s Western society has severed its relationship with traditional values of benevolence and decency, values that laid a foundation for toughness and stability, both for the individual and society.
Modern society finds itself in a condition of cultural fatigue. When people are subjected to mental and emotional strains greater than we are designed to endure, we too experience fatigue failures. The biased focus on material and scientific self-realization has led to spiritual and communal poverty. Society needs an ethical heat treatment. It must be popular to care for each other again.
Not just self-realization, but also self-limitation in relation to others, are important qualities in an empathetic society. If egoism leads to hedonism and lack of consideration for others, our society also fractures in the connecting joints.
Cultural fatigue is a sign of our postmodern society. Early in the 1900s the West was already characterized by cultural pessimism. The Age of Enlightenment’s belief in the rational man was about to crack severely. In the wake of industrialization’s exuberant optimism on behalf of modernity, the reactions first appeared when it was apparent that many important social issues remained unsolved. Modern existence with its scientific and technological progress solved some problems, but the hectic urban life and break with the old collective family structure and its traditions created new difficulties.
The French sociologist Emil Durkheim wrote at this time the book. Durkheim’s initial goal was to investigate the reason behind the many suicides in modern states. After thoroughly studying the phenomena, he reached an unpleasant conclusion. Especially in Protestant countries where the worldly process had made greater strides than in Catholic countries, he found disturbing trends in society. The strain on an individual’s identity inflicted by the dissolution of traditional family structures and social frameworks leads to what Durkheim termed anomie. The term attempts to describe the identity confusion that denotes modern people.
The pillars of culture were already under considerable stress early in the 1900s. Religion’s great meta-stories concerning the meaning of life and man’s association to God the Creator were shoved in the background. God’s very existence was questioned. People were increasingly skeptical to faith in God’s love of man and God’s devotion to man.
Atheist movements defined people as alone in the universe and God was proclaimed dead. Concepts like life has no meaning and the afterlife does not exist circulated. A kind of cosmic loneliness swept over people. The key was to take care of yourself. A gloomy feeling of futile emptiness lay like a shadow over culture. People stood alone and unprotected in a dark and dangerous world.
Durkheim’s analysis of the social conditions for suicide have today become a sociologic story that measures the temperature of the dangers of focused individualization. The degree of solidarity in society was related to the rate of suicide. Where solidarity was strong, Durkheim found low suicide rates. Today many are critical to parts of Durkheim’s analysis, but it remains a study that documents the serious consequences of a break with traditional social systems.
Psychiatry and suffering
Frustrations with identity and lack of belonging are major problems in modern society. Psychologic and psychiatric illnesses have infected society at epidemic levels. Psychiatric suffering is a characteristic of our modern society. The statistics are alarming.
On an annual basis a country like Norway uses about 25 billion kroner on mental health. The Folkehelseinstitutt recently published a report that shows a disturbing development. People living in cities have a greater chance to develop mental problems than those that live in rural and peripheral regions. This is attributed to factors in urban life like higher stress levels, loneliness, and lack of social network. One third of all adults in Norway experience psychic suffering in the course of a year.
Approximately one half of the population experiences anxiety and depression in the course of their life. More and more are disabled due to poor mental health. SSB, the Norwegian Patient Register, and the Psychology Association constantly publish numbers that show an alarming development of social need in Norway.
OECD statistics show that Norway, continually voted the best country to live in by the UN, has the world’s highest percentage of ill and disabled. 7% of the population are constantly on sick leave. The European Pain study shows that 30% of the Norwegian population experiences pain on a daily basis, while the European average is half of that.
One of the reasons that Norwegians can be called a completely therapeutized population, is that the social system treats illness with benefits, rather than encouragement to master and resume work. The ever compensating welfare state guarantees the lazy and lethargic a salary equivalent to the creative and industrious. But there are additional explanations that help to illustrate the social challenges that apparently crest in materially prosperous countries.
Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell is one of America’s leading spiritual leaders, voted by Newsweek as one of the 100 most important persons to watch in the 21st Century. Click on the picture and watch The Herland Report TV programs with Caldwell.
Sexual liberation: who really became free?
The Catholic Archbishop in Brussels, Godfried Cardinal Danneels, reminds us in Handling on the Faith in an Age of Disbelief that until the 1700s neuroses were unknown in Europe. He offers a possible explanation. Prior to the Age of Enlightenment people lived in a collective culture where traditional authorities were accepted and everyone found their place. The individual was surrounded by a socially well-functioning network based on duties and responsibilities, where religious ethics and faith provided the social adhesive.
After the 1700s dramatic changes occurred. Psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud and Carl F. Jung argued that people were sexually oppressed. Naturally inherent aggressiveness was inhibited. They attributed the Western world’s neuroses and mental illnesses to religion’s oppression of the individual. Both Freud and Jung believed that it was important to allow people space to externally express their natural drives.
Danneels claims that psychoanalysis had a constructive influence on the lives of many, leading to liberation and increased self-knowledge. However he makes an essential point: Sexual liberation has not resulted in less mental illness in industrialized market-capitalistic states. In fact psychological suffering is more widespread than ever before. Why is Western culture still characterized by a vague melancholy?
An underlying sorrow weights down the Western culture. Our civilization is blanketed with a light melancholic fog of neuroses and mental pain. However, sexual liberation and abandonment of the duties of conscience are not the solution, as Sigmund Freud once suggested. What is the reason for the constant suffering of our material civilization?
Danneels refers to the Dutch psychiatrist J. Van den Berg who believes that the new godless culture has oppressed an important part of being human: consciousness of God and recognition of the transcendental. There is a notable silence that today accompanies discussions of the spiritual dimension. This dimension is laden with taboos. What is the explanation for the indefinable sorrow that so many young people feel, a sorrow that leads more and more into chronic unhappiness and depression?
Modern society often marginalizes moral questions The consequence of culture’s over-idealization of intellect and the material dimension is spiritual hunger and poverty. The depressing collective denial of essential aspects of being human weigh heavy on such societies.
Psychology and faith
Within professions such as physician and psychologist in extreme-secular countries like Norway, there is a marked lack of respect for and knowledge about man’s spiritual dimension and the influence of religion on the individual. Professor emeritus in Social Medicine, Per Sundby, sparked considerable debate in the 1980s with the book Medisin, moral and det gode liv, a book that he intended as a counterargument to radical forces in the moral debate.
Sundby maintained that positive, old-fashioned moral attitudes sustained good health conditions in the general population. The main point was that family disintegration, substance abuse, and abandonment of old moral virtues are usually considered high risk factors for poor health – especially mental health. Sundby is an expert in the field and has observed social development and its concomitant effects on the health of the general population over several decades, and he makes a vital point. There is a clear relationship between people’s morals and their medical and mental health.
Research published in the Norwegian Journal of Psychology showed that even if most Norwegians had faith, faith is not emphasized in the education of psychologists. 93% of those interviewed said that there was no focus on religious faith in their education. A third indicated that the discipline employs stereotypes and shows a general lack of respect concerning religion. 92% agreed that a focus on religion would improve the profession. 15% felt that the faithful were directly ridiculed in lectures.
The study marvels at these negative numbers and states that 84% of Norwegians actually belong to a denomination. It is very strange that the relationship between religiosity and mental health doesn’t receive more interest, since a person with psychic problems should not be seen just as a patient, but as a whole person with body, soul, and spirit. The spiritual, biological, and social needs must be met.
A recent analysis documented the relationship between positive emotions and mortality. People that often use positively charged words like hope, gratitude, and love lived longer than those that were negatively programmed. In its November 14, 2009 edition, Aftenposten cited numbers from a study that was first published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. The results were based on a comparison of biographies written by young Parisian nuns in the 1930s.
These biographies were penned prior to their final vows, and were compared to their situations sixty years later. The results were dramatic. Those that used positively charged words in their self-biography lived nine years longer than those that used negatively charged words. Since then many studies have been performed on this theme. These studies largely confirm the study of the nuns.
Research shows that it is just as important to do good as it is to have a good life. Clinical psychologist Torkil Berge points out that genuine positive emotions influence the body’s biochemistry. By being active, grateful, and forgiving your enemies you strengthen your experience of social cohesion.
Hilde E. Nafstad and Rolv M. Blakar recently published Felleskap and individualism, a study that follows changes in language in Norwegian media from 1984 until 2007. Their results are alarming. In an interview in Aftenposten they said that use of the word “solidarity” decreased 60% and “I” increased by 45%. A word like “self-realization” increased by 240%, while “satisfaction” and “modesty” decreased by 75%. The phrase “wants more” increased by 140%. Norwegians are demonstrably preoccupied with themselves and materialism. An unhealthy individualistic greed is pursued at the cost of a healthy community.
The positive influence of faith on health
Time Magazine recently referred to an international study that also confirms that spirituality can be beneficial to your health. The myth that there is an automatic conflict between science and religion is woefully out-of-date. Since the year 2000 over 6000 studies have been published that concern the constructive influence of religion on illness. Especially the study on the influence of prayer on the psyche is persuasive. In How God changes your brain psychiatrist Andrew Newberg explains how the parietal lobe, a structural area of the brain, is highly activated during prayer or meditation. Activity in this part of the brain has several positive effects on people, among other things increased memory. Fasting, practiced by Muslims during Ramadan, and also Jews and Christians, has specific health benefits that can strengthen the brain’s ability to think clearly. Fasting also causes pleasant, harmonious emotions.
94% of those interviewed in Newberg’s study expressed a sincere wish for physicians to show more interest for their religious belonging, which the medical profession seldom does. At times physicians recommend alternative medicine like acupuncture and zone therapy. Why not also recommend prayer and laying of hands, people asked? Another American study showed that regular Church or prayer house attendance increased life spans by two to three years. The coupling between participating actively in a social community and mental health can be much more real than many think.
Psychiatrist Gail Ironsen has studied the relationship between faith and health for many years. She says that in work with HIV patients, those that emphasize spirituality and prayer have better control over their illness than others. HIV patients that believed in God and the spiritual dimension produced on the average more CD4 immune cells. Even more importantly, prayer and meditation led to the production of fewer stress hormones, which again reduced patient’s blood pressure, regulated blood sugar, and improved immunity.
Regardless of faith or denomination, religion clearly has something constructive to offer scientific thought when it comes to human physiologic and psychic health.
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