One thing that’s important to remember is that I’m a total wuss.
Okay, so in the spirit of combating the stigma surrounding mental health problems, maybe I should use less accusatory language, and not sound like I’m browbeating myself for my sporadic psychic troubles. But you know what I’m getting at. I often get myself into a needless fret over very minor woes, and become acutely and disproportionately distressed over seemingly small-scale problems. Things that shouldn’t really upset me sometimes do, and my intense awareness of how irrational my emotions are being just makes it worse.
I ought to grow a pair and stop being such a girl, in plain terms that a complete dickhead might use.
Anyway, this was relevant on one particular occasion recently, on the holiday I’m just back from. Kirsty was feeling a little under the weather, and after worrying over her and trying to make her feel better and generally making a nuisance of myself, I left her alone to sleep. And I went off and kept fretting.
She was just having a bit of an off-day, and felt kinda bleh. She wasn’t dying. She wasn’t being eaten from the inside by cancer or alien nanites. But I’d got myself all afluster over it, and now I was making myself feel nearly as bad, to no purpose whatever.
This isn’t really about me and my neuroses, though. What it’s about is that, while I was worrying and unable to turn my brain off, it occurred to me to pray for her.
I know, right?
I didn’t actually pray for my slightly ailing girlfriend, because, come on. But it’s something that I’m aware is a real, prominent option for a lot of people in similar situations, and it’s something they often find a lot of comfort in. And it’s an option that’s really not available to me.
I could have gone through the rigmarole anyway, of course, and maybe given myself a quick placebo hit of reassurance. It’s not dissimilar to what Alan Moore does with his religion, I guess, and it’s not like I’d be betraying any sacrosanct principles. But even if I could go some way toward hijacking my brain’s inner workings and trick it into feeling better in such a way, my capacity for self-delusion can only stretch so far. People who really believe in their god are always going to have something I don’t.
Now, of course, the fact that a belief has the capacity to provide comfort has no bearing on whether that belief is true. It’s certainly not worth any kind of intellectual trade-off, to let ourselves feel better at the expense of our critical faculties. And I’m well aware that the notion of an all-powerful god who allows such suffering as can be ascribed to him is far more terrifying than reassuring if you give it any measure of actual thought.
But, as is evident from a brief glance at many religious people, giving your beliefs a measure of actual thought is by no means obligatory. They’re comforted by their beliefs, millions of them, every day. As much as I find God’s non-existence immensely reassuring when I consider some of the alternatives, there are times when faith offers something, however superficial, which atheism and reason can’t quite match.
It’s worth remembering this, I think, because it’s worth remembering how much you’re asking someone to give up when you suggest that they abandon their faith. Although a lot of people report feeling liberation on leaving their religion, for others it can be a big, scary step which doesn’t seem to have much in it for them. Going without even the flimsy comforts of Christianity can be a big deal when somebody’s accustomed to being able to rely on them. Even a dedicated unbeliever can sort of miss it, now and again.