A Place For The Church After All!

Posted on: August 30, 2018, by :

Ross Gittins, Economics Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, reflected in a recent article on the latest research by Hugh Mackay. Says Gittins, “I know I’m supposed to be banging on about the urgent need for economic reform but, although as a nation we’re better off materially than ever before, I doubt we’re the happiest, most contented or most fulfilled we’ve ever been. While I was on holidays a few weeks back, I read social researcher Hugh Mackay’s latest book, Australia Reimagined, and it occurred to me that we seem to be paying quite a price for our economic success. Mackay says that two seminal facts about Australia suggest we are in urgent need of some course correction.

First, thanks to our rate of relationship breakdown, our shrinking households, our busy lives, our increasing income inequality and our ever-increasing reliance on information technology, we are a more fragmented society than we have ever been. Social fragmentation is the opposite of social cohesion. Our fragmentation has been exacerbated by rampant individualism and competitive materialism, whereas social cohesion is grounded in compassion and mutual respect and is the key to true greatness for any society.

Second, we are in the grip of what he insists is an epidemic of anxiety. “Two million of us suffer an anxiety disorder in any one year and the closely related epidemics of depression and obesity swell that number even more.” [SMH 25 July 2018]

These two facts are so closely linked, Mackay says, we should think of them as two sides of the same coin. “Heads we’re more fragmented; tails we’re more anxious.”  Mackay admits there’s nothing new about people feeling anxious, but argues there’s a lot more of it today because we’ve been neglecting the four strategies we’ve long used to minimise it: the magical power of faith, the secret power of community, the restorative power of nature and the therapeutic power of creative self-expression.

Let’s look at faith and community. Research by the leading American psychologist Martin Seligman led him to conclude that faith in something larger than the self is the one absolutely essential prerequisite for a sense of meaning in life. And the larger the entity, the more meaning people derive from it.

Most of the research showing the health benefits of religious faith and practice is actually identifying two influential factors: not just the faith, but also the “fellowship”. Church or mosque goers are members of a community of like-minded people who, at their best, are characterised by mutual support, kindness and respect. The less obvious benefit of social engagement is that “belonging to a community keeps us in touch with people who might need us, and nothing relieves anxiety like a focus on someone else’s needs”. It is “the exercise of compassion – not merely the experience of belonging – that is the great antidote to anxiety”.

And the therapeutic value of creative self-expression?  Well we have just spent a month celebrating just that! Sounds like there’s an important place for communities of faith like The Avenue after all!

David Brooker

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