DESPITE the ongoing calls for church leaders to refrain from interfering in political affairs, a rather different twist happened a few days ago. Department of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra echoed the concern of Secretary Galvez of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) who is now “seeking the help” of churches and spiritual leaders to provide “counsel and guidance” to its members and followers. Accordingly, many Filipinos are “undergoing depression” among other mental health problems.

This is not difficult to understand. Many people are growing anxious due to unemployment. Families may even fall apart as couples and children grapple with domestic crises. Another disregarded painful reality is what many went through with loss and pain due to the death of a loved one. What is worse is the fact that people these days don’t have the luxury of time to grieve in length due to the so many constraints that have to be observed as part of safety protocols.

It is thus understandable why Guevarra and Galvez have turned to religion for help.

I just find it unfortunate that some people have downplayed the role of religion in mental health. I read one Facebook comment which says that “religion cannot help people solve their problems.” Another one said that with this move the “IATF is stuck in the dark ages.” While there is a valid point that is buried somewhere in the intention of those who think this way, I think that the propositions are too one-sided. There are indeed mental health problems that should not be spiritualized. More so, it is not about treating those who are depressed with holy water. But to say that religion in its entirety does not have any contribution to mental health is objectionable.

Apparently, there is some Freudian influence in the statements quoted above. It is not a question of having read Freud’s works or not but of the very contention that religion is nothing but the expression of our infantile hang-ups and, thus, a form of neurosis. Nonetheless, like any theory, the said claim cannot be affirmed as a dogmatic way of interpreting religion’s nature. In more recent times, some social theorists have seen the value of religion in shaping people’s well-being. And though the world is increasingly secular in terms of its civil and political systems, religion cannot but have its space in the public sphere.

What many critics of religion have forgotten is the very fact that religion is part of humanity’s material condition. Because of this, religion has a practical function concerning various forms of social relations. It does not just lead people to a world somewhere-out-there, it also allows them to build their world in a more orderly fashion. The problem with many critics of religion is that they are stuck in their obsession with religion’s pathologies rather than its contributions.

Faith and belief allow people to see things as one meaningful whole. Because of shared meaning, people learn how to live their lives in a way that is unified by ethical codes. Life becomes understandable because of an expected future.

Arguably, the world in its entire existence has never been relying on purely demonstrable ideas. Even in politics, power relations are grounded on legal and political fictions. The concepts state nation and political obligation are all fiction. Taxation is another fiction. Geometry even begins with postulates. How is a belief in something that gives people hope different? At the very least, the “expected future” shapes a disposition that enables them to continue finding reason in the way things are done at present.

Religion has another function though and that is to criticize unjust and oppressive systems. Its purpose won’t be complete if it would only teach hope but stand impotent in the face of abuses and violations. A purely do-good feel-good religion is as useless as a flower pot that is merely for decoration.

The title of this article is “Religion and Mental Health.” It is intended to hopefully catch the attention of those who are critical to religion. In the greater scheme of things religion can be of greater service to mankind: help people integrate themselves from time to time. Human life is a journey and religion, any religion for that matter, is always a readily available vehicle.

By asking religion to help people find meaning in their lives, I hope our government officials would now understand why Churches and church leaders cannot just be made to keep silent on many political issues. In the greater scheme of things, the so-called “political” cannot claim to have the final word on all things. To insist on this would make politics not only totalitarian but also inhuman.