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New spirituality focuses too much on self


Moving away from traditional religious beliefs to trendy, self-focused religions and spirituality is not making young adults happier, according to new Queensland research.

A University of Queensland study found that young adults with a belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God were at greater risk of poorer mental health and antisocial behaviour than those who rejected this belief.

Young men and women who held non-traditional beliefs were up to twice as likely to feel anxious and depressed than those who rejected this belief.

Young adults who believed in a spiritual or higher power other than God also had higher rates of disturbed and suspicious thoughts and paranormal beliefs, than those who rejected this non-traditional belief.

The study was based on surveys of 3705 21-year-olds born in Brisbane.

The young adults were asked a range of questions such as: did they believe in God, or in a spiritual or higher power other than God, how often they went to church, and how often they took part in other religious activities.

Their religious background was also assessed from questions answered by their mothers when the study began in the early 1980s.

Study author, UQ School of Population Health PhD graduate Dr Rosemary Aird said her research was the first in Australia to examine young adults’ mental health, thoughts, and social behaviour according to their religious and spiritual beliefs, involvement in church services and religious background.

Dr Aird found only eight percent of young adults attended church regularly (once a week) which appeared to reduce the likelihood of antisocial behaviour in young adulthood among males, but not females.

Young adults with traditional religious beliefs (belief in God) and those whose mother believed in God, attended church, or was affiliated with a religion in their early years appeared to enjoy no major benefits in regard to their mental health and social behaviour as they reached adulthood.

Dr Aird said that most non-religious forms of spirituality were too individualistic.

“Their focus on self-fulfillment and self-improvement and the lack of emphasis on others’ wellbeing appears to have the potential to undermine a person’s mental health and social relationships,” Dr Aird said.

“This focus may lead people to feel more isolated from others and to concentrate unduly on themselves and their own problems.

“Religious forms of spirituality among past generations tended to be more about social responsibility and obligation and collective interests.

“Today new forms of spirituality seem to have shifted away from a social-focus to a me-focus.

“The New Spirituality promotes the idea that self-transformation will lead to a positive and constructive change in self and society.

“But there is a contradiction — how can one change society in a positive way if one is primarily focussed on oneself?

She said people were mixing and borrowing practices from many different old and new religions and that television and popular culture are also influencing young people’s religious beliefs and practices.

Dr Aird is a 51-year-old agnostic who now lectures in the School of Public Health at the Queensland University of Technology.

From UQ  News Online www.uq.edu.au