The Gustavian Weekly

The Structures of Meaning

By Rachael Manser - Opinion Columnist | September 29, 2017 | Opinion

The Bible, the holy book in Christianity.

The Bible, the holy book in Christianity.

As humans, we have a psychological need to answer the big questions in life: Who am I? What is my purpose? How did I get here? What does it all mean? As humans, we have a psychological need to answer the big questions in life: Who am I? What is my purpose? How did I get here? What does it all mean?

This is where religion comes in and offers an explanation as to its prevalence and staying power in today’s scientifically advancing society.

Whatever your personal views are on religion, it’s impossible to deny that it provides some kind of answers to our search for meaning as humans.

If we view religion in this way, as a means for easing our natural human anxieties, we can remove for a moment the complexity and disagreements between religions by simply bringing it down to a human level which we can all understand.

A human is born into the world as the result of a well-understood and widely accepted biological process of reproduction.

I find meaning in exploring the options and reasons behind them; she finds meaning in believing and practicing one such option.

That answers the how, while the who, what, and where answer themselves based on each situation, but it does not answer the question of why.

Because of the nature of humanity to think about and reflect on our circumstances, the question of purpose and meaning will inevitably arise at some point in life.

While science can provide some sort of concrete answer in the necessity of reproduction to the survival of our species, that answer doesn’t even begin to scratch at the surface of the deeper meaning which we all seek.

It may satisfy the curiosity of the brain, but fails to fill the void of the soul.

Religion does.

In whatever way it satisfies, through a belief to hold on to, a routine to practice, or a simple foundation off of which to build and explore, there is no denying that it has proved essential for many people in living their lives peacefully.

But consider this: A mother raises her child in a particular religion in today’s increasingly secular society, but recognizes at a certain point that the decision to believe and practice that religion is up to the child.

This child grows up and has certain experiences with the church that are hard to reconcile and begins to question her belief.

She eventually decides to stop practicing.

However, her mother continues to do so.

She reads her devotionals while sipping on her coffee every morning, listens to the pastor give his sermon every weekend, attends weekly bible study with a group of friends, and prays diligently for the people around her.

Religion as a belief and practice is still an essential part of her life.

How can the disillusioned daughter understand her mother’s belief and practice in a way that respects it, but also makes sense to her?

By understanding religion as a response to human anxieties and as a reasonable form of comfort.

Now I have a startling confession to make: that hypothetical mother and daughter duo is my mom and me.

I struggled with my mom’s faith for a long time because I was struggling with my own.

But after studying religion for a few years, I’m now able to see it a little more objectively, and in a way that makes sense to me.

I’m now able to see the habitual practice of reading that starts the day on a hopeful note, the stories and experiences that help her make sense of her life in each sermon, the group of friends that root themselves in a sense of security that enables them to unconditionally support one another, and the daily thoughts for the people she cares about that give her a sense of agency.

The belief in and practice of religion brings peace and comfort to her life, so why should it matter whether it makes sense to me if it ultimately only needs to make sense to her?

I find meaning in exploring the options and reasons behind them; she finds meaning in believing and practicing one such option.

Either way, we’re both coping with the big questions of human existence in a comforting way.

 

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