Loneliness

I read an article yesterday on loneliness in general and more specifically on the physiological impact of a state that was conventionally thought to be purely psycholgical. The biological and genetic basis of loneliness and its impact on the body.

It was a total eye-opener for me. I thought I should put down my thoughts on some of the subtler aspects of this terrifying state discussed in the article.

The essentially subjective nature of this feeling

Loneliness is a subjective experience. This was totally understandable for me. I am a person who enjoys solitude at times and need a certain amount of time everyday away from everybody and everything. I don’t see being alone as a necessarily bad thing. But, an enriching experience when enjoyed in adequate amounts. Always being with people and engaging in group activity has the effect of normalizing our personality and dulling our individuality. But, sometimes you really do feel alone and scared.

This state is not something that can be diagnosed from the outside. The most interesting thing about loneliness is that you can feel it when you are surrounded by people and friends or not feel it at all when you are in the middle of a dessert all by yourself on your cycle. I have experienced both, so I know.

The essentially subjective nature of this experience does not in any way blur the clear and identifiable consequences to our physiology, brain function and even brain and body anatomy(when the condition is chronic). This insidious effect is explained in terrifying detail with facts, scientific experiments and observations.

Solutions

But what most caught my attention is the last para which seemed to suggest that faith in God, joining a church, religion etc. can all help people who are battling loneliness. This was something that made me think a bit. The foundations of any religion are false. But, the comfort and solace it can offer embattled individuals has a measurable impact on them. Is this the reason some people believe so strongly in the power of faith despite the apparent hollowness of the faith itself?

The promise of a silent and watchful guardian, a protector, an all-pervading and all-powerful consciousness that values you and takes note of everything you do and go through. A lot of people consider this to be a fanciful notion. But, for someone deprived of company and emotional intimacy, it might be just the thing that can save them from the abyss of feelings of emotional isolation.

The testimonies to the healing power of faith can have a scientific explanation though the faith itself is built on shaky foundations. The relief from the constant pain and torture that loneliness inflicts on someone can do wonders for a chronic sufferer.

As a critic of religion what do I say to this?

The human mind is a wonderful thing. But, it has its weaknesses and I might have fallen prey to a certain lack of sensitivity to the ways in which people can be affected by their experiences and behave in ways that may seem inexplicable to someone not acquainted with their background and its impact on them.

There is a true need here that needs to be addressed to ensure the holistic health of our society. Just like food, water, air and shelter, intimacy, both physical and emotional with either imagined or real entities is a real need. Religion has managed to step into a vacuüm generated by the growing isolation and selfishness of our society. It has offered to satisfy a human need… at a cost. The suspension of logic and critical thinking. The acceptance of dogma and hierarchy. And ultimately unquestioning faith.

Whether the price is worth the product is something everyone has to figure out for themselves. But, is there a way in which help can be more directly delivered to those in need of it. Can’t community and connection with others be nurtured through means that don’t involve indulging in common delusions? Should one reach for the quick-fix solution that religion offers or aim for a higher and more total solution to the underlying problem.

Society and by society I mean children should be conditioned from a very young age to be caring and sensitive to other people’s needs so that in the future the net of social safety becomes denser and stronger and fewer people fall through it.

We should in some way be sensitized to the variety of human experience and thought and be conditioned to respond with understanding to every sort of people. Some people have a natural knack for this. Some don’t. But everyone should be aware of this. So that the world can be a less lonely place for everyone in it…

Advertisements

What do atheists do in a crisis?

I was watching this video posted on a popular blog. It is about what atheists do when faced with a crisis warning? David Silverman brought up a point during the discussion(well, sort of!!) which is one that I use often but haven’t up until now witnessed being used in a debate.

A lot of people argue for religion saying that the prayers and rituals are a great source of comfort for a great many people. A last hope, an ultimate consolation it seems. This is one argument that I have never been able to stomach and for all its superficial appearance of being one that a kind and understanding person would espouse, I feel that at a deeper level it is sad, pathetic and cruel. The strength of the argument lies merely in its wording and it’s use of the words comfort, solace etc. along with the condescending tone of the voice that makes the argument. It could be restated this way.

“Hey, people are really stupid and some people don’t know how to deal with their problems and even if they do, they needlessly worry about whether the measures they have taken are adequate. In such situations a little lying to oneself is helpful. There is a tsunami coming? Tell him that the God who didn’t care about stopping it is going to protect him from it. There, now he is relaxed and peaceful! See? Religion is so beautiful.” If a person is indeed helpless, then how is it kind to him/her to ask him to turn for help to non-existent things? What if there are still things that you need to/can do? Why is it that most people have such a low opinion of other’s coping capacity? If the uncertainty is unbearable, is irrational hope the only answer? What would you think of a grown up guy believing in Santa Claus? Sad or beautiful? Why think differently of someone who believes that someone up there is waiting for the right moment to jump in and help him?

Of course you could say that there is no harm in a little solace. Yes, no harm! But, then, what is the problem with heroin, marijuana or alcohol? All of them give some level of comfort and make one forget his/her troubles for a while. Some of them are cheaper than religion. They don’t degrade your intellect, cause you to become judgmental or lead to you making decisions not based on fact when you are not under their influence.  At least, not to the extent that religion does. So, you should encourage their use by people for comfort, right? Well, no! We have an innate sense of what is right and wrong and somehow artificial reduction of anxiety and pain which is usually the sign of some deeper malaise doesn’t sit well with our conscience. One would feel that same way about prayer only if we can firmly remind ourselves that it doesn’t work. Once that concept is completely grasped, we will feel that same revulsion for prayer and religion that one would feel for drugs and drinking.