Once we are born in the material world and become members of society, we are thrown into a sea of social norms. These norms can be laws, rules, regulations, customs, traditions, and other forms of behavioral regimes. Social norms when effectively enforced can be coercive to people. Each norm carries with it sanction and punishment. This sanction can be psychological such as ostracism, rumors and gossip, public shaming, etc. or penal in nature such as imprisonment, suspension, banishment, or paying of fines. Norms limit our freedom and action in society. They also structure our mental life and thinking. If caught by authorities violating them, we can be trapped in society for life.
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One story that struck me in a documentary shown in a local television is the story of a homeless Filipino migrant in the United States. He said before he became a homeless, he lived a happy family life with his wife and children. But this happiness was overturned when his wife filed a divorce. The law on alimony in San Francisco requires a husband who divorced his wife to pay 70% of his monthly income as a support to his wife and children. According to him, this has radically changed his life. He was unable to keep up with the payments and incurred debts from the government. Thus, he lost his job and left his normal life and became a homeless. He can’t return back to his old life since this implies paying his huge debts and finding a high-paying job. His story is an example of a societal trap in the material world that people may sometimes find themselves imprisoned, unable to free themselves from material bondage for violating societal norms. For people who live without a spirituality and life of prayer, to live a societal trap is probably the end of the road. It can be a life of boredom, without meaning, progress, and hope.
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Material bondage is not an end, however, for people with deep sense of spirituality, particularly for those with strong beliefs in the supernatural or God. Religiosity, can provide people with a sense of meaning and purpose which can “empower” and provide them with a sense of control in the face of potentially stressful events (Hood 1974; Matton & Rappaport 1983). Spirituality can give us resilience and courage to face difficult situations in life. Thus, one secret to transcend the limitations of our material limitations is searching of an appropriate spirituality that fits with out ultimate goals in life. Searching for ultimate values and meaning of life is the key to purpose-driven life that transcends the material world. This is not escapism but an acknowledgement that there is more what the material world can offer.
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