Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The secret of longevity?

I have heard that women who attend church services live longer.

Well, it doesn't seem an unreasonable statement, because, after all, you see an awful lot of elderly women going to church.

Some, the truly devout, surely go for purely religious reasons. But I'm inclined to think that many go simply because the inside of a church is, for them, a comforting place to be, where they will be in the secure company of like-minded people. In other words, there's a strong social and mutual-support element. Perhaps there is even an element of status and exclusivity, considering that official membership of a church, with regular attendance, is perceived nowadays to be a rather special, uncommon thing within the local community.

But it's not just that. In that place of worship the congregation are duty bound to set aside all everyday cares and worries, and concentrate on the voice of the clergyman or clergywoman, and their message of hope and eternal life. That requirement to step away from ordinary concerns can be embraced as a welcome relief. And when you are old, and with many signs of mortality already evident, it's comforting to dwell on the notion of another life to come, better than this one, and populated with people who have already gone but are greatly missed. You may or may not truly believe it; but even the attempt to do so may be soothing.

A church service is anodyne or moving, depending on personal need and inclination, but in any event is a way of being in a safe space where, for a while, you can't be got at. It's a mental self-defence mechanism. I'm not surprised that those who attend, mainly women, and not always older women, find serenity there; and that the knock-on effect of serenity is a longer life.

The real surprise is that more people (of all kinds) don't pop into a church and use a soothing service as a way of relaxing their minds and lowering their blood pressure. And for 'church' read 'similar institution' and for 'service' read 'contemplation session'.

I'm guessing that finding the time is one reason why church attendance isn't very popular. Another might be that many people - myself for instance - are averse to joining anything if it will feel like getting 'sucked in', with quite possibly an onus placed on them to publicly declare where they stand, and to follow a party line. There may also be pressure to take on certain duties: new members of anything are generally vulnerable to 'being tested' and to have things shuffled off onto them.

There is also the problem of faith: it would seem dishonest and trivial to enjoy the health benefits of going to church if it were merely to seek a couple of hours' peace and quiet, and just mouth the prayers said, and not to celebrate wholeheartedly what the church stands for. I wouldn't do it.

And although a lot of people would, at least in casual conversation, claim to be totally (and rationally) atheist, it does nevertheless appear that the same people want to be thought of as spiritually aware, and intelligently open-minded about the notion of forces beyond their understanding or perception. In other words, nobody wants to be thought completely soulless - merely a dull earth-bound vessel full of temporarily-animated tissue cells, living a brief and painful life without any higher purpose. Mind you, I personally think that's exactly what all living things are - human beings included. But it doesn't stop me enjoying my existence, while it lasts.

I am clearly not a churchgoer. Should I then expect to die quite soon? Or will I survive to a great age? I rather think that living healthily, and not worrying about trifles, will best preserve the Melford tissue-cells - regardless of whether I sneak into a church service or not.

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