by Brian G. Daigle
I recently made the claim that secularism offers no good answer to anxiety. This is quite true, for secularism offers no good answer to anything, including itself. A friend responded that surely walking is an answer to anxiety, and on top of that it is a secular answer to anxiety.
I do not doubt that walking can be an answer to anxiety. I have experienced the benefits myself, especially on colder days when I have my family in tow, or perhaps when my family has me in tow. I do have greater peace in those moments, and I do sense that the unfounded cares I carried with me are easier to forget than I had previously thought. But I doubt everyone has always experienced walking as a cure to anxiety. I expect many men have experienced the opposite. For I’m certain there are men who paced the beaches of Normandy, ambulating over dead men’s chests, who indeed experienced more anxiety than ever before in their lives. Far less courageous, I have seen men walk through a thunderstorm, pacing in a way that proves they are more anxious, not less. Though I have never experienced this, and most certainly pray I never will, there have been men who take their last walk along “the green mile,” whose peace is not settled and therefore whose anxiety is greater than ever. A man with the heavy yoke of guilt or pride cannot face death without death’s handmade, anxiety.
Therefore, it cannot be said that walking is in itself an anxiety-lessening practice, for this would assume that all walking was always a Sunday stroll through a springing American suburb. And that is not the case. I went walking once with my wife and daughters, and it was indeed a tranquil tread until two pit bulls began chasing us. An anxious walk couldn’t save us that day. An anxious run did, coupled with some screaming and kicking. I picked up the baby stroller and the kids. We all ran and found protection on the closest front porch. The several walks thereafter were indeed filled with more anxiety than before, as the emotions caught up to us every time we reached that point in our walk when the dogs first began to chase us. Whether a man is anxious during a walk is not dependent alone on the act of walking but on the man, his circumstances, and his peace of mind. I then cannot support my friend’s claim, or his citation of an obscure scientific article, that walking is in itself an answer to anxiety. (I’d like to add that the controlled nature of the scientific study he cited most certainly does not account for the various walks I’ve mentioned above, where the presence of imminent death or danger mess up a many men’s endorphins.)
The second claim we must explore is whether walking is inherently secular. If an atheist tells me he enjoys taking a walk, I have no better course of action than to ask, “From whom do you take such a thing and who grants that it is indeed yours to take?” A few steps in this direction and we find ourselves swimming in religious assumptions and religious vocabulary. And so if we want to claim that walking is inherently secular, we ought to get deeper in our considerations; we ought to consider some of the premises we hold which allow us to get there, and we ought to consider whether those premises are true. It is quite apparent that man is by nature a religious creature, and since he is, then nothing man does can be inherently secular. Therefore, my friend, since he made the claim, must prove first that man is by nature a secular creature. And I have extended to him that challenge. Still, the converse is true: if man is inherently religious, then I can indeed prove quite easily that all walking is inherently religious. Since I am awaiting my friend’s response, I see it both charitable and logically appropriate that I at least answer my own claim and hope he will do the same. For if man is inherently religious, then I will do my friend’s work for him and show that man cannot also be inherently irreligious.
To be inherently religious means that that we are, by our nature and in our essence, born into both divine and social relationships. This is indeed the case from the very beginning, from our conception. We are as humans not just prone to contemplate and express the divine, we indeed cannot help but do so. We cannot help but learn what other men have said about the divine. Being inherently religious therefore means we would find that everywhere man attempts to explain the divine and live well within our relationship with the divine world, whether or not what he has chosen to worship is true or false. It means that wherever we find human beings, we would find ethics, ritual, symbol, mystery, sacrifice, and creativity, and we would find the art, language, architecture, and social dynamics to reflect our religiosity.
On top of that, to be inherently religious means to know that this earthly life is not sufficient for happiness, that there is something beyond our mere humanity which we indeed need in order to live well. Our humanity, therefore, isn’t a closed system within which we must find the answer to life and happiness. To be inherently religious means that the answer to defining our humanity will be found outside materialism and empiricism. And indeed we find this is the case.
Perhaps my friend’s own act of debunking my claim is evidence enough that we are indeed inherently religious. I stated that walking is not a secular answer to anxiety. He responded that walking is inherently secular. But why did he answer to begin with, embarking us both on a kind of intellectual journey? What reason would secularism give to defending the secularity of walking? Would secularism even care whether or not walking was secular? If I were to interview Secular, if I were first able to locate him and see his features enough to know it is indeed him, what reason would he have for claiming things as his own? What is the basis for his proprietorship? Secular, what would it matter to you whether you owned one step of one man or the souls of ten billion men? I would not be surprised, in the course of this interview, if I had to remind Secular that he cannot be religious, that he must stay on track and stay true to himself. And if he were intelligent enough to ask why “staying true to yourself” was indeed a virtue, I would turn the mic back to him, hoping he would give us an answer. It was indeed my friend’s inherent religious nature to know the truth, to seek and love and espouse the truth, that caused him to respond in the first place. That is to say, it was my friend’s deep religious nature that made him care enough to argue for the truth.
Man is indeed inherently religious; he cannot help but live in such a way as to affirm he is not autonomous and he is not his own creator. And since walking is one of man’s most fundamental physical and metaphysical actions, we see it is also one of his most religious actions. See the marches for social justice. See the marches for women’s rights. See the marches to save infant cries or the walks to honor a saint’s life.
There are few men who wish to be unaccompanied by their religion during even the simplest evening stroll, because there are few men who truly wish to be untrustworthy. If a man has chosen a religion, and if he is in any way a self-respecting man, he would not say his religion shouldn’t go on a walk with him. If he has chosen the right religion, he would say he is unworthy of a walk with his religion, and his religion would say that is quite true, and then his religion would bid him, “Walk!” I would follow neither the man nor his religion if the man was unwilling to let his religion join him through both the streets of town and the plains of Troy.
There are even fewer men willing to go against the obvious and make the claim that man is not inherently religious. The history of man is not centered around whether man is religious but precisely which religion man should follow. I have found that the ones who have claimed that man is not inherently religious, that religion is merely an accident or option of our humanity, are not only the men who walk less, they are the men who are not worthy company for any amount of steps.
Men who attempt to be fully secular die lonely, for they perhaps have one principle guiding their walking: walk when and where you will. Therefore, man, when following true religion, will know when to walk and when to sit, when to run and when to lie down. A man who always walks and a man who never walks will both die alone, for both, albeit for different reasons, will only serve themselves and shatter every human relationship they have. The man who truly hates anxiety and who truly loves walking would not say he wants religion to be relegated out of his walking. Men who truly hate anxiety and who truly love walking would want their religiosity to break into their walking at every moment. The man who believes less in himself and more in the divine is a man who fears less and walks more. The man who believe most in himself and less in the divine is the one who does not walk, for his end is the grave, the prison, or the insane asylum.
As for one final observation. Not only is man inherently religious, therefore seeing that walking is an inherently religious act, but whenever man becomes more faithful to his religion, whatever that religions is, he will be willing and ready to walk more than ever. For it was in honor of the gods that the Greeks would walk miles for a religious festival, and it was Christianity that popularized the pilgrimage. Not only can we expect that where man walks, there will be religion. We can expect that where there is religion, there man will walk. And we can likewise expect that the more a man walks, the more religious he will become, for it is in walking we are brought out of ourselves. Walking, therefore, is not the great proof of secularism but one important antidote to it.