We continue our series this week on ten benefits of faith to our mental health.
The third resource provided by faith is the gift of meaning. There is broad evidence that a lack of meaning in human lives impacts negatively on mental health. According to psychiatrist Andrew Simms: ‘Lack or loss of meaning in life is probably the most frequent spiritual symptom voiced by our patients’ (A. Sims, Is Faith Delusio
n? Why Religion is Good for your Health, Continuum, London 2009, 46). This point was powerfully argued by Victor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning where he observed those who had the best chance of surviving the horrors of Auschwitz were those who could find meaning in their suffering. With Nietzsche, Frank argued that ‘the person who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.’ Having survived the war, Frankl went on to develop a therapy known as ‘Logotherapy’ based on helping people find meaning in their lives and reasons to live. Not everyone would agree that such meaning exists. For many contemporary atheists, there is no God and therefore no meaning. For Jean Paul Sartre: ‘Here we sit, all of us, eating and drinking to preserve our precious existence and really there is
nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing’ (J.P. Sartre, Nausea, New York Directions Publishing, 1964, 112). Similarly for Richard Dawkins, ‘the universe has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference’ (R. Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, Basic Books, New York 1995, 133). But if life has no meaning then the human mind inevitably begins to question - what is there to live for? What is the meaning of my existence? As Andrew Simms testifies from his experience as a psychiatrist: ‘Profound suffering in the lives of many with mental illness is caused by a feeling of meaninglessness’ (A. Sims, Is Faith a Delusion?, 215).
The Gospel insists that life has meaning and that every human life is meaningful. In the words of Cardinal Newman ‘God has created me to do him some definitive service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission’. In a Lecture published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Prince Charles said: ‘I believe that the most urgent need for Western man is to rediscover that divine element in his being, without which there never can be any possible hope or meaning to our existence in this earthly realm’ (HRH The Prince of Wales, (1991), 150th Anniversary Lecture, British Journal of Psychiatry 159, 763-768).