Modern Britons have little time for established religion, unless they are getting married of course. On such occasions the local florist and photographer will sing more hallelulahs than a Harvest congregation. There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that computer-bred youths are unlikely to adopt religious or spiritual practices of their own accord. These old traditions that tied communities together are dying out. But still the human spirit yearns for a deeper purpose to life. Now a study reveals that those of us who take a "spiritual" approach to life are more likely to suffer mental-health problems than either the conventionally religious or those who are agnostic or atheists. Researchers at University College London found that people who describe themselves as "spiritual" are more disposed towards anxiety disorders, phobias and neuroses. Furthermore they are more likely to have eating disorders and drug problems.
Professor Michael King, who led the research, wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry: "Our main finding is that people who had a spiritual understanding of life had worse mental health than those with an understanding that was neither religious nor spiritual."
It is more than a pity that young people in England have no access to the spiritual foundations of life. The transcendent seems to be boxed up in dusty relics of purposeless religions or psychiatric questionnaires. Thus we stand by as dynamic Islamic preachers take a hold on unformed minds looking for answers to identity and mystery. The vulnerable flock to those with strong dogma and penetrating voices. Those who are possessed of more finely calibrated sensibilities find their own approach to the mysteries of life and death.
Madness is an option - whether it is the organized madness of extremist Islamists or Evangelical Christians, or the fanciful ramblings of poets. London used to resound with their voices: the greatest classical scholar of his generation was Christopher Smart, or "poor Kit Smart," as Dr Johnson called him. He is the patron saint of eccentrics. As a religious visionary his poetry was sublime. As a classicist, his rhetoric was divine. Then came Blake, Samuel Palmer, Turner, and the decidedly occult Osman Spare. Voices spoke through them and inflamed their art. They had visions. Their gods spoke to them. Away with the fairies, they flouted convention. They were "touched", in more ways than one.
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