Religion has historically offered solace to the duress of life’s fragility, offering hope and comfort when there appears to be none. The word “religion” means “to bind together,” reflecting humankind’s awareness that the psyche is divided and some unification of this schism is needed for the resulting anxiety to be handled effectively. But acknowledging this duress is challenging to the human ego, which offers us a steady diet of pabulum and diversion with which to amuse ourselves rather than boldly opening one’s heart to the existential tumult that is always simmering beneath the surface of “civilized’ life. (“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau)
This escapism can be fatal to religion. This insight is what led Nietzsche to declare in the 19th century that, “God is dead,” as he saw that human culture was creating an alienation that could eventually be catastrophic to life. The alienation that meaninglessness can produce often creates an existential crisis world that religion could help and alleviate were it not encapsulated by the culture and thus disallowing it to fulfill its function of directing the soul toward the numinous. It in the domain of the numinous that the heart can explore the mystery which is intrinsic to life, though it was very disconcerting to a world that was increasingly rationalistic. This mystery can facilitate an integration of body and soul that will allow humans to live meaningfully in a world that that would otherwise be bewildering or baffling.
Religion, however, is not the only antidote to this problem of meaninglessness. The metaphor present in meaningful religion also finds expression in the artistic and literary worlds, artists and writers being capable of using their respective mediums to put humankind in touch with imagery that can facilitate an experience of this numinous.