Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Rituals for Atheists (or anyone, really)

One thing I've been thinking about is if I didn't believe in God, what religious rituals would I retain? Or in other words, what does science have to say about religious rituals or values?

  • Spend time with family, get closer to family. This one seems pretty obvious. A common way to spend time with your immediate family is through family dinners, which are correlated with a lot of positive things, and have a pretty good effect on lessening depressive symptoms and helping children feel they have a stable environment. One problem with family dinner research is that it is hard to separate families who eat together from families who are middle- and upper-income brackets. This article explores the limitations of such research. There's also the BYU study about how daughters who played videogames with their parents exhibited more pro-social behavior and felt closer to their families. I like the Mormon tradition of having a night set aside to spend with families (Monday night is "family home evening"), and I think it logically follows that if you spend more time with your family, they will know each other better and feel closer to one another (whether or not your family members like being close to one another is up for debate though).
  • Gratitude. Being thankful for things in your life and for the things other people do for you is associated with feeling happy and optimistic and such. There's a time and place for cynicism, but personally I don't struggle with being a realist and I could use a dose of optimism some days. Daily prayers encourage us to be grateful, but if you don't pray, you could have some of the benefits of prayer by taking a little time each day to think about what you're grateful for.
  • Goal-setting. This isn't a religious ritual per se, but when I pray for something I feel like it's a goal I've set and I start to think of ways I can help make it happen. Of course, sometimes I pray for things I have no control over, but I think that the act of praying for something can make you more receptive to having ideas about how to help that desire.
  • Prayer. I'm not sure if you have to believe in God in order to pray. There are benefits to praying, like if you pray for your spouse or friend you are more likely to forgive them, and some people experience less pain. Maybe part of the relaxing effect of prayer is having faith that God is taking care of you, and that praying will help you in your life somehow. When I pray for someone, it motivates me to see things through their eyes and have more compassion towards them. I'm not sure what the secular equivalent to prayer would be--maybe meditation?
  • Knowing your family narrative helps adolescents have a fallback identity. In my religion family history work is part of our missionary work, since we believe that we can perform saving rituals (like baptism) on behalf of the deceased. Most people don't know very many dead people, so you start with your own family members. 
Those are a few I've thought about. I think there's probably a benefit of knowing other people who live near you (like the people you meet at church) and having adults other than family members interact with your children.

No comments: