Religion- a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.
Occasionally I have these thoughts of how religion fits into the paleo lifestyle, or vice versa. Most paleo followers seem to accept a scientific stance on human existence, seeing as how we’re always talking about evolution and adaptation and all the science that goes into food and its effects, etc. etc. I’m not saying that this is what people believe deep down inside, just that it is how most paleo leaders and followers portray themselves, whether they intend to or not. I hardly ever see the topic of religion come up.
I want to change this. I’ll be the first to stand up and say that without my faith, I’d be totally lost in this world. This is coming from someone who is pretty tough, both physically and mentally. I’ve gone through especially hard times the past year though. Much more debilitating than I could have ever imagined I would ever find myself in. I haven’t had the luxury of a good friend I could meet at a coffee shop to talk with and console me. Luckily, I have found churches in my new town that I can go to and be recharged, as well as meet new people to help me along life’s journey. I have faced incredible temptation to indulge in vices that would have damaged me physically and morally. Luckily, my faith has kept me strong enough to resist, and not only resist, but give me the strength to push forward with a tenacity I’ve never had before.
I was raised in the Methodist church, and for the most part have attended services with this denomination my entire life. I don’t mind attending other services (except for Catholic, I’ve had a few bad experiences at their services since I am not Catholic, no offense to Catholics, just my experience), but humans usually seem to take more comfort in things they are familiar with. Today, I split my attendance between 3 different services, two of which are Methodist-based, although in a contemporary style. Each service has different components that I like and find beneficial. One has the most amazing worship I’ve ever participated in. One has a pastor that gives really powerful sermons. The last one still has good worship and messages, but is comprised of people around my age and I enjoy the social aspect of this service a lot. I generally find that energetic worship, compelling messages, and great socialization are the most important things to look for when choosing a church.
Before you choose a church though, you probably have to decide that you want or need religion in your life. I’m obviously biased towards Christianity, but I feel as long as you have some form of systematized religion, be it Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Hinto, Islam, or other, it can benefit your life immensely. Studies on religion and health seem to agree:
Mayo Clinic researchers examined the association between religious involvement and spirituality, and physical health, mental health, health-related quality of life, and other health outcomes. The authors reported that: “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.”
So whether or not you really believe in a higher being, participating in organized religion can offer health and life benefits. Do I believe in God? Do I believe He created the earth in 7 days? Do I believe in all the miracles that Jesus Christ performed? After all, some of them are pretty far fetched? A lot of ideas in religion are far fetched and hard to comprehend.
Let me share with you what I do believe, why I believe it, how it helps me live a more fulfilling life, and how all this might tie into a Paleo Lifestyle. Before I get too deep into this, please let me make it clear these are just my beliefs, and I’m not trying to push them on anyone or even suggest that to be Paleo you should take up a religion, I’m simply trying to find correlations between the two and how religion might help you lead a healthier life.
I do believe in God. For all the wonders of science, it will never be able to explain the mystery of human emotion. Love, hate, happiness, sadness, confidence, doubt, creativity, conscious thought, and more. These emotions aren’t tangible. Sure there are neurons firing and all these chemical reactions going on behind the scenes to allow the phenomenon of emotion to occur, but this doesn’t explain WHY we have such thoughts and feelings. I can see how feelings of fear, courage, and attraction serve a purpose for the continuation of the human species, but I can also see how they enhance our lives beyond mere survival. I think God created us the way we are so we can not only enjoy life to the fullest, but love each other and have a connection to every other human on the planet that no other species on earth can experience. To be human is truly something extraordinary.
I do believe God or something like God created the earth. Maybe not in the way the Bible lays it out, and probably not literally in 6 days, but I think the earth is entirely too complex and too beautiful to have just randomly formed from dust and gases floating in space, much less in the perfect location with the perfect elements to support life as we know it. Some people suggest that “7 days” is just a figurative way of breaking the process down into 7 steps. Perhaps each “day” represents a year, a century, or millenium. Or perhaps it just represents a stage in the earth’s development. I don’t know, and I really don’t care. What I do care about is the feeling deep down inside that tells me I am the result of a higher being.
As a Christian, I do believe that Jesus Christ was/is the son of God and that he performed “miracles” Some of them are pretty far fetched, and I certainly don’t believe them all verbatim, but I do believe that perhaps these stories are just a means to teach important life lessons. The greatest leap of faith of all Christianity is based on the Resurrection of Christ. It’s a hard one to believe, and sometimes even I question this historical moment, but I always come to the conclusion that I do believe in it and that this belief will ultimately be my salvation in life after death on this planet. The Grace of God, or the forgiveness of sins, is probably the single most powerful benefit of Christianity. Knowing that you can screw up, but still be cleansed of sin is a heavy load off your shoulders (this doesn’t mean you should go out and sin like crazy though).
If nothing else, even if you don’t believe in deities, organized religion gives you a playbook by which to live a better life. I can’t think of a single religion that doesn’t promote peace, love, enlightenment, high morals, etc. Were we still living in paleolithic times, I would argue that there wasn’t much need for religion. I think people were naturally aligned with a higher being and were held to their conscious. They were spiritual, but not religious. If you study modern indigenous peoples who still live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, you will see most if not all of them give thanks for their sustenance and existence. Be it the four winds, the God of sun, rain, fertility,_____ , the sacred mother earth, the list goes on. This is really notable after a hunter takes a great kill, or there is a healthy harvest and a great celebration ensues.
Nowadays, with basic survival no longer the main time consuming task, we have other things to fill our time, and not all of them are healthy, physically or mentally. Alcohol, drugs, pornography, eating disorders, gambling, inactivity, greed, you name it. It’s easy to lose your way. This is where a religion can really help you. Most religions teach non-adherence to materialism and unhealthy habits. They promote peace, love, and compassion toward fellow man, all things the world could use a little more of. Religions not only help with getting along with other people, but help YOU understand who you are, help you cope with your issues, give you direction, and so much more. Here is a good example I have learned to appreciate over the years: “Count your blessings, not your problems.” So many people these days are just caught up in their problems that they neglect to appreciate their blessings in life, a truly unfortunate situation. They get caught up in things that might seem important like careers, homes, cars, toys etc., but they are forgetting the truly meaningful aspects of life such as health, family, and relationships.
So to recap, you don’t have to be religious in order to be Paleo, although our paleo ancestors probably were “spiritual.” However, adopting a religion can be very beneficial for your mental and physical health. In terms of the Primal laws, religion would fit somewhere into #2 Avoid poisonous things, #10 Use your brain, and #7 Play. Religious teachings help you avoid poisonous things, meaningful sermons and study groups can definitely provoke deep thought, and lots of people just go to church to socialize anyways.
As this is likely to be one of my more controversial posts, I invite your comments and thoughts. I’m trying to seek out topics that the mainstream Paleo folks haven’t beat to death already, and this one seemed like unexplored territory. Thanks for checking in.
(1)Paul S. Mueller, MD; David J. Plevak, MD; Teresa A. Rummans, MD. “Religious Involvement, Spirituality, and Medicine: Implications for Clinical Practice”. Retrieved 13 November 2010. “We reviewed published studies, meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and subject reviews that examined the association between religious involvement and spirituality and physical health, mental health, health-related quality of life, and other health outcomes. We also reviewed articles that provided suggestions on how clinicians might assess and support the spiritual needs of patients. Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide”