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The Agnostic Pulpit: Self-help

 article about self help industry isnt helping

This article belongs to Self-help theme.


If you are counting on using religion as part of a self-help program, forget it. As agnostics are fond of saying, "Nothing fails like prayer." No one has ever prayed away the fat or prayed away cravings for drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction.

Prayer won't get you through college, fix a nagging spouse, or elect the right candidate to office. It won't even prevent the next hurricane.

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Nothing fails like prayer.
And yet people go one praying and asking for this and that. Sadly, the delivery system is no better than chance. Would you send a package with a delivery system that works only fifty percent of the time? Or check you baggage with an airline that loses your luggage most of the time?

Over the years, study after study has been done to evaluate the effectiveness of prayer on such things as plant growth, the fall of dice, and health recovery. Again, nothing fails like prayer, as we've proved that by now, in life experience and in the laboratory.

On the other hand, studies show that quiet, disciplined meditation does improve the quality of life, including the quality of abstinence from an addiction. Call it contemplative prayer if you like, but if mediation is prayerful, it involves just listening for answers, not asking for any kind of divine intervention, solution, or favour.

Almost forty years ago, Thomas Merton wrote an amazing little book called, Contemplative Prayer. Merton was a Catholic monk, but little Christian zeal emerges in his Zen-like writing about meditation. He wrote: "In reality, the monk abandons the world only in order to listen more intently to the deepest and most neglected voices that proceed from its inner depth." Here he was referring to the heart and mind of the individual.

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We learn all we can about our problem, and then we go alone into a quiet place to listen for answers.
So, we have the suggestion from Merton, confirmed by countless opinions and studies in the psychological literature, that most of us already have the answers to complex life problems if only we allow ourselves to tap our inner wisdom. Good psychotherapy or participation in a self-help group can suggest additional reasonable alternatives we may not have thought of before.

The first step in any self-help program ought always to be the development of self-knowledge and self-understanding. To do this, we learn all we can about our problem, and then we go alone into a quiet place to listen for answers. We look at all the available groups and programs for whatever might help knowing that there is no single magic solution, no easy way out of complex problems.

If you have baggage, you probably know best how to handle it. If you don't, find some friends who have overcome similar problems and hang out with them. Don't trust religion to deliver the goods. In other words, don't confuse the entertainment of religion with real problem solving. Same applies for self-help books that are often written for simply making money.

See more about topics related to self-help at our self help site.

(Julian I. Taber, Ph.D. is author of Addictions Anonymous: Outgrowing Addiction with a Universal, Secular Program of Self-Development: ISBN 978-1-60145-647-2)





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