The sharpest form of criticism meted out on religion is, perhaps, the Marxist assertion that religion elicits in people an illusory happiness. Religion is more than just a mechanism of creating listless and sedated people. It is neither a defense mechanism designed to cushion against a threatening situation rather than confronting it. Religion is neither a denial nor a passive form of coping with life’s crises. Religion serves as both an end and as a means to achieving significance.
The pursuit for significance is an innate desire in human beings. It is the desire to seek a meaning in an otherwise chaotic world. To seek a goal towards which one focuses and consequently leading a goal directed life. Religion plays a vital role in coping for the transformation of significance. Herein lays the relationship between religion and psychological well-being.
Religious methods of coping for transformation of significance include religious rites of passage and religious conversion. Religious support is mostly sort because in so doing other is less stigmatization to the individual compared to other means of achieving significance. In the church the individual faces less in the church there is less alienation, the interactions in the church are more and better and are directed towards a common goal. In the church there is less criticism, greater compliance and understanding. Therefore the church and its members play an important role as "vehicles for knowledge and service of God” (Carroll, Dudley, & McKinney 1986, 7)
Transformation of significance precedes coping. Coping is a complex and continuous process by which religion links with an individual's life allowing them to handle and deal with the crisis in their life. According to Pargament, Some form of crisis usually precedes conversion, though not necessarily. Coping therefore is a "process that people engage in to attain significance in stressful circumstance." People cope through Christianity because it is accessible and procurable to them. Compared to all other means of coping, Christianity offers an immutable and persuasive route to significance compared to other nonreligious alternatives. It is mainly because of this that the crisis is usually perceived as a turning point in time of religious value. Positive outcome is more likely to be attributed as being proof of God’s unending love.
Man is surrounded by a transitory world. Man is himself in transition. Human life is marked by transitory phases. These phases are beyond the control of the human beings, e.g. the transition from childhood to adult hood, life and death. These periods are often filled with anxiety, tension and disorientation. To check this disorientation, there are the rites of passage, which are meant to initiate the individual into a different life. It is because of all these that Christianity has rituals to help ease the disorientation of people as they undergo the transition. The content of these rituals may vary but the form is usually similar. The form is usually comprised of the preparation, the separation, transition and incorporation.
A ritual may be said to be word or actions accompanying a certain religious event that have a special meaning and evoke a certain setting. These rituals may appear redundant and absurd from an outsiders view but they are relevant to a person seeking significance.
The Christian rituals are not mystical rites, nay; they are expressions of the grace that the God has vouchsafed the human being. And while this grace is received individually, testimony to this is demanded to be shared with other Christians. Thus the Christian rituals are to be celebrated by the individual as a person and with the church.
Baptism is a rite through which a person who has undergone a spiritual transformation testifies to this fact. Some Christians do not baptize the children. They hold the belief that baptism should be a decision made by the individual and therefore defer it until the individual is grown up and makes the personal choice.
Baptism, as a Christian ritual, is also characterized by the three phases: there is the preparation prior the baptism. At this point it is the volition of the individual, a personal choice to undergo the transformation. (E.g. Leviticus 14:8). The transition is symbolized with one “dying” and rising a new. On rising the individual is incorporated into the society of those who have undergone baptism. This is the supportive role that religion plays. It helps the individual to face the fact that a transformation has taken place.
McGuire, a sociologist of religion, emphasizes how the society affects the experience and plausibility of religion. She notes that "religion represents an important tie between the individual and the larger social group, both as a basis of association and as an expression of shared meanings." Pargament K. (2010) puts it in this way saying that "conversion...occur within culture and take the shape of cultural norms and forms, so the person and his experience are formed by this social, cultural context."
Confession is also a very strongly held belief in Christianity. Whether it is the Catholic in the confession box or the protestant kneeling beside his bed it plays a very significant role. There is tension in the acceptance of one’s fault, but after the confession and the consequent acceptance the individual feels relieved and a burden is lifted from his/her shoulders. This is because religion rituals do not criticize faults. Faults are accepted as a part of the trials and hurdles in the path of attaining significance. And it is by overcoming them that one approximates the divine.
Confession, participation and beliefs in Christian rituals offer an opportunity to live a better life. All these help the individuals come to terms with the fact that a transformation has taken place in their lives. It helps individuals to come to terms with critical life changing experiences.
Christian ritual works because the past cannot be evoked in its entirety. But the strength of poignancy can be elicited through the use of symbols or rituals. It is thus that a past event with all its significance is immortalized and made part and parcel of present day life. These rituals fulfill a psychological and spiritual role. It acceptance by the individual is key. Rituals offer a channel of coping with difficult situations.
The significance of transformation as a Christian lies primarily in the timelessness of Christianity. Christianity is dynamic and responds to various and varied needs in varied ways. The most important trait of Christianity, which makes it so powerful, is that it offers a route through the individual can approximate the divine. Religious coping has been envisioned as bridging the gap between religiousness and psychological well-being in times of crisis. In the system of religious coping, periods of crisis have been earmarked as important turning points in the development of faith. There is no doubt that crisis can become an opportunity for closeness to God. Christianity makes everything meaningful and strengthens our hand in dealing with the world.