Positive emotions are good for your health. This isn’t just something that feels true, it’s also supported by some remarkably direct medical evidence.
One such study is described by Kabir Chibber in a short, but fascinating, piece for Quartz:
“Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, set out to discover exactly that when they tracked emotions such as compassion, joy, love, and so on versus the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6)—a secretion which causes inflammation in the body—in the saliva of 119 university students. The researchers found that those who regularly have positive emotions have less IL-6…”
The researchers were able to run the test for specific emotions – and one stood out as having the “strongest correlation” with the physiological response:
“‘There seems to be something about awe,’ Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor and the senior author of the study, told the New York Times. ‘It seems to have a pronounced impact on markers related to inflammation.’”
Well, that’s just wonderful. Awesome, in fact. But how does one experience awe? Chibber suggests that we contemplate the wonders of the natural world. Others might look to great art and architecture. Speaking personally, the most powerful sense of awe that I’ve experienced encompasses both science and culture, but extends far beyond either.
It’s sad that religion, when not turned to overtly evil ends, is so often drained of anything that might inspire anyone. Consider David Cameron’s Easter message, which you can read in Premier Christianity magazine. There’s nothing especially offensive about any part of it, but as a whole it is banal almost to the point of blasphemy. Here, for instance, is the conclusion:
“Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children. And today, that message matters more than ever.”
Really? If this weekend you should hear, or read, the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, ask yourself if the “importance of change, responsibility and doing the right thing” is what Easter is all about. I always wondered what a centre-right version of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day might sound like – and now, thanks to the PM, we know.
Isabel Hardman gives her take on the Gospel of Dave for the Spectator – and is less than awestruck:
“Perhaps the truth is that it’s OK if you say you’re a Christian, but you still shouldn’t appear to believe too much more than anyone else does, sticking to stuff about turning the other cheek, rather than the things about God doing stuff. Like raising his son from the dead. That kind of stuff is a bit awkward, so best leave it out.”
The best that Christianity Lite can expect from our secularised culture is indifference – but that won’t save souls, change minds or put bums on pews. It’s a point powerfully made in the American Conservative by Rod Dreher (who quotes the Catholic theologian Bo Bonner):
“…we need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead to ‘be a lot stranger.’ His point is that if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? Because that is not historic Christianity. The real thing is wild, and weird; it is not a set of ideas, but a way of life. There will always be some people — young, middle-aged, and old — haunted by the sense that there is something else there, a longing that cannot be anesthetized away.”