A recent comment in the comments section of a Times Colonist “Spiritually Speaking” blog raises the question of the relationship between faith in a transcendent reality and the achievement of a liveable life.
Does the practice of religious faith create a more liveable life?
The commenter points out that apparently
in the latest statistics available 84 % of Japanese claim no personal religion and 64% do not believe in any god. It is one of the most atheistic cultures on our planet. Similar statistics come from the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. It is also to be noted that all these societies, Japan included, always rank within the top twenty countries for liveability, social justice, happiness factors and general well-being.
Perhaps this is telling us something?
I know little about the social realities of Japan or the Scandinavian and Baltic countries mentioned by the author of this comment. But I wonder how the studies cited define “liveablity.” If “liveability” is the presence of efficiency and the absence of mess in the surface details of life, I wonder how deep this “liveability” actually goes. How sustainable is a “liveability” that depends upon efficient public transport, clean streets and effective law and order?
I have known families that appeared on the outside to be the embodiment of tidiness and respectability. Everything on the surface looked successful, under control, and lovely. But the thin veneer of propriety and order was only preserved by a degree of control that was crushing the spiritual life out of each member of the family. Tidiness and control are not always accurate indicators of a truly liveable life. There can be an enormous cost to preserving the kind of rigid regulations and behaviour control that may be necessary to keep the superficial appearance of a finely tuned machine operating smoothly.
I have known other families whose lives appeared to be chaotic and messy. But, beneath the surface lay deep bonds of love, affection, and profound connection that linked the members of these families together with the strength to persevere in the face of the most troubling storms. The only guarantee in any life is that at some point, there will be an unexpected and painful twist in the road.
True “liveability” is not measured in the times when the road is straight, the wind is at your back, and the sun is shining in a bright blue sky. A truly liveable life is one that finds its way into the deep realms of mystery and wonder in a realm beyond human control.
Jesus once said,
Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)
This is not a blanket condemnation of material wealth. Jesus was simply acknowledging that the people in life who are able to sustain the illusion of their own self-sufficiency will find little motivation to open to any deeper reality.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that, if he was going to boast in anything he would boast in his “weaknesses”
so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (II Corinthians 12:9)
For Paul true “liveability” was found, not when his life was operating smoothly, but when he was forced to confront his own inability to cope with the difficult realities of life.
A truly liveable life is a life that is lived in the context of reality. And the reality is that, no matter how efficiently we keep things operating on the surface of life, we know deep in our being that we are not in control. There are forces at work in the world that vastly exceed our ability to manage. “Liveability” is found when we open to the fullness of all life without escaping into the fantasy of the human capacity to keep things running smoothly.