Our Search for Religion and Spirituality
New Agers are returning to church -- but keeping meditation and yoga classes on their schedules.
A Need to Help Others
Indeed, the "feel-good, me-centered spirituality" of
recent decades seems to be evaporating, says Harold Koenig, MD, associate
professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for the Study of
Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University Medical Center.
"When we are in charge of our own ships, we fool
ourselves," Koenig tells WebMD. "There's no responsibility to care for
one another. You only care for yourself. There's no 'thou shalt not' -- it's
all 'do what thou wishes.'"
However, "self-focused, self-satisfying behavior is bad for
human nature," he explains. "It is not good for us to be greedy, to
overeat. It doesn't make us happy. It just increases our appetite for more. And
it leaves us feeling unfulfilled. That's why religious people are healthier.
They're not under so much stress. The focus is off themselves. There is
accountability outside of themselves."
Until you direct your attention outside yourself, life does not
have meaning, says Koenig.
"Poets throughout the ages have written about this," he
explains. "Every religion and spiritual tradition emphasizes the need to
love thy neighbor. The 'higher way' of Buddhism says that compassion is the
ultimate road to Nirvana. Gandhi emphasized peace and love rather than hatred.
The Koran says that the hereafter is based on good deeds here and now. The
Golden Rule is all about doing good."
A Need for Purpose
Religion and spirituality were indeed the most common coping
mechanisms after Sept. 11, says Koenig. Nine out of 10 Americans turned to
religion in those dark days.
For many others, cynicism launched their trek to traditional
religion -- as science and medicine failed to live up to their
"People are seeing the limits of medical care," Koenig
tells WebMD. "People do get sick, they do die, and sometimes
there's nothing medicine can do about it. Insurance costs are going up. People
are worried about their jobs, the economy, whether they can pay for insurance.
There is no way to make sense of it all, to derive sense and meaning from
When you feel you're fighting these battles alone, that's when
you feel great stress, he says. "But if you are part of a faith tradition,
a church, if you feel like other people are supporting you, you feel that
you're not in it alone. You begin to feel that God can use this crisis to
create some good -- that you can turn this crisis into something
We've become a generation of seekers -- looking for purpose and
meaning in life's tragic events, says Koenig. We're also heeding advice from
science itself. "Research has made an impact on people. We have data that
shows that religious people do seem to cope better, do have more purpose and
meaning in life, do take better care of themselves."