Saturday, February 20, 2010

Worship and Body Image

I’m reading some interesting articles by Bucknell psychologist Chris Boyatzis on the relationship between women's body image and religion and spirituality. One of the take-away points is that “Research has confirmed a healthy link between young adults’ religiosity and body image.” Now, why would that be?

I have often observed that nearly everyone worships something, although the object of their worship may not be immediately apparent. In the case of women’s body image, women with eating disorders are often striving for a “perfect” physical self. Now, perfection is one of the attributes of divinity, and for people of faith, one doesn’t have to be perfect because divinity is. People can participate in aspects of divine perfection, but perfection itself belongs to divinity. Thus, living a healthy life, a balanced life, a life of service, etc., are ways to approach participating in various aspects of divine perfection. If one is without faith in an object higher than oneself, living in a materialist world in which there is no higher power and no higher order than everyday life, then the self may become the embodiment of perfection--we are certainly bombarded with a certain version of feminine beauty--and, in the world of appearances, physical appearance can become the pinnacle of perfection. Thus follows disordered body-image and self-concept, with eating disorders and the other problems that accompany them.

For religious naturalists, a concept of divinity isn’t necessary to have a relationship with something higher than the self. Constructs such as nature as a whole, humanity as a whole, evolution, the genetic code, and the universe, will suffice to call one to relationship with a higher order of life in which one’s healthy self-image and lifestyle are important parts of that relationship.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Knowing It All

There’s a lot of talk today about addictions of various kinds: to substances, gambling, sex, video gaming, etc. There’s some controversy about what constitutes an addiction and whether all of these behaviors really qualify as addictions. Whatever they are called, one characteristic that I’ve found among people with such fixations is a know-it-all attitude. You can’t tell them anything that will help them to change their behavior, minds and lives for the better, because they know it already.

It’s interesting to reflect on how this connects modern psychological and traditional spiritual values. What would be considered to be a kind of ego defense, in psychoanalytic terms, or cognitive rigidity, in cognitive behavioral psychology, equates pretty well to what would be regarded as arrogance in spiritual terms; meaning simply that the person thinks that she knows things that she doesn’t, and therefore doesn’t have important learning to do, including thinking about what is being said to her by someone whom might be saying something useful if listened to. Two qualities that are missing in such people are humility (without humiliation) and spiritual motivation (motivation for experience of relationship with divinity, higher power, higher purpose, etc.). Interestingly, these qualities are directly cultivated by 12-step programs.

It’s all about brain chemistry, at some level. Substance addiction alters brain chemistry directly, while compulsive gambling, sex, and video gaming alter it more subtly, as research as indicated. But so does humility and a proper kind of motivation for higher or deeper experience, even if we haven’t been able to measure that yet.

Paradoxically, we can know more by sincerely thinking that we know less, and identifying, with humility, with a higher power or purpose; although that involves a different kind of "knowing." It's interesting, to me, that such identification connects the individual brain with the brainwork, the thought and lives, of very many people, past and present; and, who knows, maybe future as well.