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Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD Headshot

The Psychology of Religion: Why Are Some of Us Attracted to It?

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The psychology of religion is a much needed area of research and study. Why? And if we need it, why do some feel anxiously attached to it while others completely detach and avoid it?

Why is there so much separation between religious groups while there seems to be enough God for all of us to share? These are all questions that need to be answered by experts in the field rather than a visionary without information. No matter how much good intention one has, if s/he is misinformed and conditioned, there is danger of misguidance.

A recent report on CNN stated that more than half of Americans have switched religions and their beliefs in 2009. There was no specific trend but a "free for all" kind of a pattern. Is it because they found answers in a newly founded religion or believe system or is it because they could not find answers in their original one and decided to try a new route. In other words, is it a sense of curiosity or avoidance because the first is a source of expansion while the second could be limiting. Is it that the more we develop and open up our mind and the more informed we become, the less the need we have to be institutionalized and restricted with our believes. Are we finding the need to expand our grounds while still keeping it?

The history of how religion spread and why and which era it started are subjects of another article but for sure worth learning about. It seems like religion has its own evolutionary path with each having its own unique message and rules of conduct that seemed proper for the time it was formed and the place it was created for. History shows that the major religions of the world have all contributed positively and have made constructive shifts of consciousness at the time of their creation. But at the same time history also indicates that many of the concepts changed afterward, some for the worse because of the inability of its interpreters to bring out the true message therefore creating confusion and chaos. The same mean that was once intended for bringing unity and self growth seemed to have become a tool to do the opposite of that.

But when it comes to the root of it, our lack of knowledge about other religions brings misunderstanding, mistrust, tension and separation none of which are productive for any of us. Therefore, some of us get overwhelmed and decide to walk away from it all because we know that we are living in a phase of great change and we need as much unity we can get.

Going back to the essence, what all authentic religions of the world seem to have in common is one message: know yourself. This simple fact is being ignored by many of us. Many join religious groups for a sense of security or support or a form of reward rather than to find a way to grow. When we know who we are, we understand our potential and we can take the role we are good at. When we find who we are and detoxify our mind of misinformation and heavy baggage, we can connect to our purer conscious state and with that comes a sense of awareness that is truly liberating. This may sound philosophical but is as scientific as could be. For those of you familiar with the science of consciousness whether through psychology, quantum physics, or even neuroscience; this makes more scientific sense.

We humans have some primitive emotions like fear and aggression that have been with us as long as we can collectively trace them back. While we are evolving and are expanding in the way we experience and respond to your emotions, but every once in a while our primitive side gets the best of us and fear and aggressive tendencies get in our way. When we respond to the world out of fear or aggression, we are really reacting not productively responding. Why? Because when we react, our logic is not functioning, when there is no logic, there is usually no realistic solution but an idealistic views of how things "should' fit us.

Now what do we need to do? We need more centers and leaders that advertise co-existence and a true sense of spirituality and empowerment that comes from inner work not outer oppression. We need to allow everyone to accept their believes not to avoid it. Acceptance of something brings about necessary change and the ability to grow but avoidance creates repression. And none of us want to have a society and ultimately a world full of repressed individuals. It becomes a viral infection that affects all of us since we are a part of one body. We all have to have a ground to be able to become free spirited and need to encourage each other to find that. Also, we need to be careful with being free spirited, if we aim too high without finding that solidity first, our definition of free spirited may become boundless but in a delusional way.

How do we build this solid ground? With identifying our values, shedding the old skin if we have to and replacing it with new ones, challenging the values that are outdated or not functional, becoming flexible and knowledgeable about why we believe in what we believe, and becoming well informed of our beliefs and other peoples'. We need to add to what we know every step of the way. There is a world of learning out there, we need to get more curious. The more we know, the less anger, judgment, and hate we feel. When that baggage is gone, there is more space for truth.

We need to start questioning things more even our own values. Why do we have them? Where did we get them? How valid and factual is the source. How progressive is our value system? How much we stand our ground and how solid is our ground? Is it solid enough to hold us but yet not so solid that it glues us and blocks us from moving forward? There has to be a balance. Life works where there is a balance, the middle road, the happy place where we can observe the roller costar that is happening outside but will not get on the ride of emotions. This is where we learn to feel content no matter what is going on outside, growth comes from a content place, a center point.

When it comes to religion, some leaders need to focus less on satisfying their own ego, whether it is monitory gain, a thirst for power and attention, a thirst for status either here on earth or a heavenly sense of status, and a thirst for image and quantity rather than quality -- all of which are ego's way of wanting more and using religion to get it. They need to focus more on uniting people, building bridges, destroying walls that blind us, bringing knowledge and understanding of not just what they believe in but other believes and teaching respect. There has to be a lesson of goodness not just toward whoever is similar to us on the surface but unconditional respect for humanity regardless. There needs to be an expanded sense of identity.

Politicians need to stop using religion to use people's sensibility for getting audiences. These personal agendas, hidden or not, are not productive. This, while a good source to attract audience but is a dangerous form of bringing politics out. Using one form of religion to bring a political message in a world that is becoming more and more crowded and a mix of everything like a salad bowl will create noting more than a sense of righteousness, divisions, and separations which result in conflicts within and between. That creates tension and at the end no system benefits when its participants live in an increasingly conflicted world.

There are 1.4 billion Muslims out there only some hold radical views and may act violent. But the same radical views and acts of violence can be seen in any other religion. It is not the mean but people who use the mean and how they want to use it. When there is less access to knowledge and unbiased and uncensored information, and where there is a sense of hopelessness and rejection, it may become easy to be manipulated. There are fantastic humans all over the world. The same goes with the more than billions of Christians, only a few of people who identify themselves as Christians are sexually or else abusing kids. But yet these are the images we see, Muslim-radical, Christian-child abuser. So, why do we associate?

Because the concept of religion is a perplexing concept that is engraved deep within our psyche. We get overly emotional when things have to do with our believe system. That same emotional response can blind us to the truth we so wholeheartedly are searching for. Therefore, we need to be aware and careful not to fall in the trap. It has been and will be our innate need to become self-actualized and find a focus to reach our center place, and when we get there, we will have the need to connect to the whole to a bigger picture. It does not matter how we define it, for some , it may be the meaning of life, for others nature, and yet some may call it God. Whatever our definition of it is, if we are using religion as a tool to help us get there, we have to have an open eye and a mind that asks why. Now, more than ever, we need to bring it out, learn it, discuss it openly and honestly, acknowledge it, know its roots, know why it was created, why/if we need it, and then if we decide to keep it or release it we can do so with knowledge. Access to free choice is possible with knowledge.

Now, doing research for the past two years about the psychology of conflict and separation, I have come to realize that if more and more of us take the responsibility of becoming educated and informed and building a bridge of understanding between groups and getting more involved with each other that this increasing suspicion between groups will vanish. Whatever we judge, we need to learn about. That is the best lesson of self-growth. The real evil at this time is any form of radicalism or believes that are rooted in a sense of superiority and exclusiveness, whether political, religious or else. Any form of authoritarian leadership that forms repression and encourages lack of knowledge, any form of misusing power, any source of unhealthy competition, stepping over others to satisfy self interest.

We have a variety that is the beauty of it. We have it to learn from each other. We just need to share what we have in common, communicate, connect, and reach out. The more we connect, the more we see into the game of life and mind's manipulation. We get to see how we can complement each other and live in cooperation rather than the other way around. If we all decide to do a conscious shift about how we want to see things, from limited to a broader. Our evolved mind is starting to realize that our self-interest mode of life cannot be fully satisfied until we learn to think in broader terms, without exclusions, separations, and egoistic sense of superiority. Whether we use religion or other elements to bring those elements of destruction or any other tool, we need to start realizing that more and more people are becoming aware and repulsed by any tool being used for separation because they can see the effect it may have on them and their future as a whole species. We want to replace a self destruction mode to a self efficient mode, globally and nationally. And the two go hand in hand. Rumi's poem may be relevant here, Rumi is a Persian poet who is very well known and read in U.S. and he says:

I am neither a Muslim nor a Hindu
I am not Christian, Zoroastrian, nor Jew
I am neither of the West nor the East
Not of the ocean, nor an earthly beast
I am neither a natural wonder
Nor from the stars yonder
My place is the no-place
My image is without face
Neither of body nor the soul
I am of the Divine Whole.
I eliminated duality with joyous laughter
Saw the unity of here and the hereafter
Unity is what I sing, unity is what I speak
Unity is what I know, unity is what I seek

This is a state of completion and wholeness that Carl Jung and many contemporary psychologists talk about. Experiencing all there is to experience and then moving above the conditioning. Let's all aim for that and let's realize that once highly accepted concept of survival of the fittest does not fit in our evolved minds. Now, we are finding a way so that most everyone can be a fit to survive except those whose intention is destruction. As always, I am adding one of my poems to this article to add a touch of art. It is titled "My God."

Don't limit my God
Don't give her a façade

My God is not a God of deprivation
He does not belong to one particular nation

My God is a combination
There is no separation

My God is an unrestrained totality
Anything lesser is just my reality

My God gave me an active voice
My God granted me free choice

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