INTRODUCTION

For starters, REAL wellness is, well, real. It’s plain and down to earth. There is ample evidence it exists, unlike the unexplored and unknown regions of eternal bliss or fiendish torments beyond the grave that some/most religions describe to entice or frighten believers.

REAL wellness makes no supernatural claims, contains no promises of orgasmic ecstasy or threats of everlasting horror.

REAL wellness does not presume to offer the one and only meaning of life; furthermore, it has no creeds or dogmas. With REAL wellness, there is no one and only philosophy for all; unlimited variations and choices dwell within its four dimensions. By contrast, religions insist one size fits all–everyone must believe the same tenets, which vary by sect and denomination.

I rest my case.

Well, maybe not. There’s so much more.

RELIGION AND REAL WELLNESS

Religion and REAL wellness® are completely different. One has been around forever, or at least since early humans developed the ability to walk on two legs about four million years ago. REAL wellness evolved somewhat later, maybe 15 years ago. It happened when I got fed up with crackpots and entrepreneurs distorting the positive lifestyle-focused ideas that Halbert L. Dunn, myself and a few others had introduced (Dunn in the 50s, others in mid-70s). Wellness was promoted not as a treatment, service or product but as an enriching lifestyle strategy or regimen for thinking sensibly and acting accordingly in conscious pursuits of high levels of mental and physical wellbeing.

FURTHER DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN RELIGION & REAL WELLNESS

Unlike REAL wellness, religion involves beliefs in and worship of one or more superhuman controlling powers, such as a personal God or gods; REAL wellness is more modest–it’s just a framework of attitudes and behaviors that promote wellbeing. Wikipedia describes religion as designated behaviors and practices, morals, world-views, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations that relate humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. Wow–that’s a load to carry. Reminds me of the final stanza from George M. Cohan’s song, “Life’s a Very Funny Proposition After All:”

Young for a day, then old and gray,

Like the rose that buds and blooms

And fades and falls away

Losing health to gain our wealth,

As through this dream we tour

Everything’s a guess

And nothing’s absolutely sure

Battles exciting and fates we’re

fighting until the curtain falls

Life’s a very funny proposition after all

The reach of REAL wellness is more modest. Let’s delve a bit more into what religion and REAL wellness have in common and how each is very different from the other.

Stephen Jay Gould tried to argue that two domains, religion and science, are non-overlapping magisteria. Most scientists and other secular authorities begged to disagree, observing that the two have been in conflict throughout history–and remain so. The interests and claims of each overlap on vital matters. The true believer would not agree with Cohan’s words above–life’s but an interlude before the glory of another existence of unimaginable bliss. Score one for religion, if you can get your head around that.

Different as the two may be, we can explore the question whether one does more good (or harm) in the world than the other. Also related questions, such

as–Are the two compatible and, If a person has one, does he/she need the other? No doubt the reader can think of additional questions, while holding strong opinions on the best answers.

Like religion, a REAL wellness philosophy and lifestyle does promote and encourage behaviors and practices, morals, world-views and texts. Unlike religion, REAL wellness has nothing whatsoever to do with sanctified places, or prophecies, nor does REAL wellness relate humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. Au contraire–at least one early REAL wellness advocate (i.e., moi) considers supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements to be false, spurious simply jejune.

Thus, from this perspective, religion is seen to have done more harm than good, and continues to do so today.

I experienced 12 years of religious education. I know firsthand that religion accepts the word of a leader as law; a REAL wellness mindset assesses a leader’s words in the context of laws–and responds accordingly.

In decades and decades observing religious leaders, I was most influenced (not in a pleasant way) by Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Robert Jeffress, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. In developing the REAL wellness concept, especially regarding the dimensions of reason and liberty, my ideas were shaped by the likes of Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Paul Kurtz, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, Tom Flynn and, of course, Robert Green Ingersoll.

It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to suggest the latter group seems more impressive that those who shaped my impressions of religion.

I believe religion contrasts poorly with the four dimensions of REAL wellness. With regard to reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty, it disappoints, as follows:

REASON–As contrasted with evidence-based critical thinking, religion is founded upon faith, an unscientific unverifiable foundation of revelations, promises and historical claims.

EXUBERANCE–Religion is thick with solemnity, devotions, sorrow, fear, conformity and reverence. It lacks sacraments for humor, laughter, joy, adventure,pleasure and art. Religious commandments provide ample thou shalt nots but are silent on thriving and flourishing. Where are supports for creativity, for exploring and for enjoying life as much as possible?

ATHLETICISM–holy books are silent on nutritional guidelines and recommendations for mental acuity and physical fitness.

LIBERTY–Growing up Catholic, I can’t recall bible verses or instructions from nuns or priests to embrace, promote or enjoy life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Cleanliness got more support for godliness than freedom; my impressions over the course of a long life have convinced me that freedom of body and brain, thought and labor rarely manifest in the absence of personal and collective vigilance to secure, promote and defend liberties, large and small. I am more likely to associate REAL wellness with the Enlightenment; religion with the Inquisition.

THE MEANING OF LIFE

REAL wellness is a philosophy and lifestyle available to all; the dimensions can be addressed comfortably by individuals with or without religion. Believers, almost by definition, share a meaning of life notion that they exist to love and serve a god, to follow the prescribed rules and traditions of their religion based upon the teachings of a one true god. That’s generally the overarching meaning of life for the religious.

For non-theists, a REAL wellness philosophy is likely to find a no cosmic purpose for existence perspective liberating. Margaret Sanger’s motto, “No gods, No masters,” celebrates the freedom to create our own meanings, based upon reason, common sense, and science. A conviction that there is no inherent meaning frees us to make something worthy of the reality that we are here, that it’s up to each of us and no one else to decide our purposes. Our meanings are derived from life experiences and fine-tuned throughout our passage along what Ingersoll called “a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities” (i.e., before birth and after death).

If we decide that life is imbued with no all-encompassing, single and non-negotiable meaning (unlike religions), we are free to create common decencies, social connections, norms, cultures and all the rest. These creations of our own making render our brief period of being as meaningful as possible, and day-to-day living as good as it can get.

Alternatives to a one size fits all approach to meaning strikes me as yet another way that REAL wellness is way better than religion.

CONTINGENCIES

We interrupt this essay to talk about something new and different–but somewhat relevant to the topic at hand, namely, a “What If” scenario.

Suppose a certain Jewish teacher and healer a few thousand years ago had gone about proclaiming the benefits of reason, the joys of exuberance, the positive returns of athleticism and the possibilities unleashed by liberty, instead of going on about an imminent kingdom of God. Perhaps Earth might have been great again.

It probably was pretty great during some intervals of time that lasted millions of years–all before humanoids. Consider the panoply of diverse life forms during the Mesozoic era 252 million years ago. Maybe these were the best of times for life forms on this planet. Alas, an asteroid roughly six miles across hit Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact, followed by a huge explosion, did mischief far greater than what’s evident gazing at the 110 mile strike zone in the Yucatan Peninsula. The asteroid unleashed a mind-numbing series of events and circumstances that would eventuate in something more consequential than the asteroid impact itself–it set off developments that eventually led to us, to religion and, thank goodness, to REAL wellness.

REAL WELLNESS

This philosophy and concept promotes the power of individual creativity. It helps people reframe old problems, it encourages reflection, it creates new self-knowledge and it shapes a better life with less dysfunction and more happiness and wellbeing. Religion is not devoted to these purposes. It promotes obedience. It discourages reason, frowns upon exuberance, ignores responsibility for self-care (athleticism) and undermines liberty. It indoctrinates, whereas REAL wellness educates. These factors make REAL wellness way better than religion.

But, there is more that makes REAL wellness stand out by comparison.

REAL wellness promotes, religion circumvents choices. One of countless examples involves women’s rights. The Catholic Church forbids abortion in all instances. A recent Gallup report (“Legality of Abortion: 2018-2020 Demographic Tables”) found that 79 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal. Even a majority of Catholics don’t want Roe v. Wade overturned. (Source: NARAL Pro-Choice America.) Religion often makes people follow rules that many or most don’t like very much–yet another way that REAL wellness is better than religion.

HERE IS A CRUCIAL reason why I think REAL wellness is way, way better than religion: It’s dynamic, malleable, capable of and responsive to change with new discoveries; the Christian religion is based upon a book fixed in a pre-Medieval era. This book cannot be updated with new advances, research or knowledge. As Ingersoll noted, year after year, and century after century, it remains as ignorant as ever.

Finally, REAL wellness is way, way better than religion because with a REAL wellness mindset:

  • You can sleep in or get up and exercise on Sundays.
  • There are no prayers to say, slogans to chant, wafers to swallow, processions to attend, censers to swing or contaminated holy water to stick your fingers into.
  • You can ignore nine of the ten commandments–you still can’t kill anybody. Best of all, the nature of adultery is negotiable.
  • Rather than servile acquiescence to aptly named papal bulls or public decrees from Rome, Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem or other out-of-touch religious centers, you’re more likely to have a laugh at various bulls and go about your business.
  • Absent any known affiliation with a religion, you are never expected to explain the vast store of preposterous bible stories (e.g., Noah and Ark), miracle healings, or clergy sex scandals.
  • You have boundless possibilities for gender identity and sexual orientation.
  • You suffer less Little or no guilt, depending upon the balance you strike between villainy and conscience.
  • No need to tithe or otherwise support tax-free institutions or give to a god who always needs but somehow just can’t handle money.

On the latter point, you might recall this from George Carlin:

Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, bur somehow he just can’t handle money!

RELIGION AND/OR REAL WELLNESS–A SUMMARY

While some 30 percent of Americans, myself included, choose none when asked about religious affiliation or belief, I know herds of people, including relatives and best friends, who choose religion and REAL wellness. The two are not incompatible, just unlikely associations, in my opinion. No matter where you fit on the religiosity scales, I hope you find elements of a REAL wellness philosophy and mindset attractive.

All good wishes. May you be weller than well and even “blessed” with an abundance of reason, exuberance, athleticism and personal liberty.

POSTSCRIPT

The Amazing James Randi died last week (October 20). An outspoken freethinker, he dazzled while exposing claims of faith healing, spoon bending, mind reading, fortunetelling, ghost whispering, water dowsing, U.F.O. spotting and sundry varieties of bamboozlement, bunco, chicanery, flimflam, flummery, humbuggery, mountebankery, pettifoggery and out-and-out quacksalvery (Margo Fox, James Randi, “Magician Who Debunked Paranormal Claims, Dies at 92,” New York Times, October 21, 2020.) His books included, Flim Flam! The Truth About Unicorns, Parapsychology, and Other Delusions (1980); The Faith Healers (1987); and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995).

I know for a fact he, too, found the elements of a REAL wellness mindset to be way, way better than religion.

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