While Christians would not like to admit it, your beliefs are entirely emotional, in the same way that a small child feels either abandoned or uplifted thanks to its interactions with its makers (its parents). The difference with religion is of course it’s a placebo for that child/parent experience, and whilst a delusion, it nevertheless seems very real.
In the same way that we cannot distinguish emotionally between the past and future, or even between dreams, memories and reality (all of these stimulate the brain in the same way), our beliefs become real, not because they are real, but because we see what we believe.
This is easy to underestimate. But it is the source of tremendous disconnect and pain when reality eventually intervenes. One person may be in love with another only to discover their ‘soulmate’ has been having affairs for years, or is a serial killer, or hiding a ‘gamebreaker’ secret (perhaps they’re gay). The point is, the reason we do not see what is in front of us, is because our beliefs effectively ‘block’ our ability to see.
Another example of this, though slightly different, is when we go to watch a movie, and perhaps someone has told us it is an excellent film, or perhaps we read a glowing review, or perhaps we read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thus, a great way to be disappointed by reality is to walk around with a set of expectations. This is a path to unhappiness.
Beliefs, of course, are a constant reconfiguration of expectations, where we – thanks to pastors, our beliefs, the bible and its myriad promises, our peers – expect to see miracles, we expect God to assist us or protect us in some way, we implicitly feel, that if there is a God, there is an order to the world, and thus things ought to make some sort of sense. We expect that the verses of the bible to be true. When what we expect fails to take place, again, and again, and again – as is typical of reality – we struggle to understand why. Initially one rationalises this as God’s plan, or ‘mysterious ways’, but eventually it looks like it may be a delusion after all, for God walks in sometimes very random ways, so random as to approximate no God. Every so often the delusion clears and we get a glimpse, which says, the world looks a lot like a place where there is no God, doesn’t it? And my life too? But this objectivity, given the influence of culture and the individual’s lack of courage to face reality, tends to be fleeting.
In the same way, when we have particular beliefs about ourselves and the world, we tend to expect that others share them. We believe ourselves to be separate from nature, and special. But belief in God is not an insurance policy against pain, or injury, or death. In fact, what Christians can expect is for God to remain absent, at least physically, for the entirety of their lives. Some – perhaps the same folk who see demons and dragons, and ghosts, also see angels, and miracles in parking bays and cellphone signals and infinite fuel tanks, and unsurprisingly, also hear God speaking to them. They expect to do so, and so they do. This is not unlike someone under a form of hypnosis.
Hypnosis is very interesting, because it simply represents a person giving themselves over to a soothing authority figure whom they trust. The ease with which this is achieved is staggering, and ought to give Christians (and all believers) pause. Obviously under this state of hypnosis people who are willing to give up their ‘free will’ in favour of being hypnotised by someone they can trust, are frequently made to do amusing things for entertainment value. It is not a very long walk in the park to see where belief in God, that approximates hypnosis – as is often the case, especially during frantic praise and worship, and faith healing – can lead to a lifestyle entirely lacking free will, where people give away all their money, throwing away their medications, opening their hearts, homes and wallets to the preachers that whip them into a frenzy. Preachers try to abuse this weakness to full effect, and often succeed in forming perverse polygamous sects, and enjoy multi-million dollar salaries (lavish homes, personal jets etc) built on the backs of believers who trust a little too much.
How are some of the miracles achieved, at faith healing workshops? Simple. The same way a magician creates expectations, and leads the mind of the audience, the pastor creates impressions. It might be that someone is sight impaired but not blind, someone who can see light contrast over dark, and can follow the sound of the pastors voice – thus when the pastor ‘cures’ them, and holds up two fingers against the dark jacket, the blind person ‘sees’. Of course no one is told that the person is merely impaired, least of all the pastor himself, who is playing the audience to the maximum.
Adrenalin, Excitement and Faith Healing
As far as pain relief is concerned, by shouting, and agitating an audience, by slapping and shoving a person, adrenalin levels go through the roof. When the pastor demands, on a level of 1-10 what pain do you feel now, it is both the expectation of a miracle, and adrenalin, which makes it seem as though the pain has subsided. Of course once the adrenalin subsides, and the moment passes, the pain (usually) returns. If it does not, possible placebo effect. If that is not the case, either hypnosis or some other rational explanation – beliefs being a large part of them.
Does that mean prayer doesn’t work? Quite often it does. But so does meditation. Belief is a powerful thing. Champions need to believe in themselves and back themselves. Sometimes belief in God addresses those expectations, but it isn’t essential. Some form of belief, though, is essential.
Christians are motivated by cowardice and narcissism
Christians, as it pertains to their beliefs, are motivated not by desire, but by cowardice. Not by love, but by fear. Nor by courage, but by anxiety. There object is not to live life, but to avoid death. As a result, they studiously avoid living, and living is done cautiously, and by the book (which is no way to live). It is obvious either when listening to prayers, and listening to praise and worship, that the currency that underlies these behaviours are nothing more than narcissism. Love me, save me, protect me. Since all of us possess a degree of narcissism (which is essential for survival, if one does not love oneself, how can one care about increasing one’s chances of survival). Of course narcissism can be stimulated, like an appetite. And appetites can be stimulated until they become perverse, or obsessive, or, yes, delusional. A good example are the doomsayers who cannot wait for the world to end so that they can go to heaven. It is both far beyond the brink of delusion, and also clearly narcissistic (the entire world is expendable, as long as I am safe, as long as my place in eternity is secured).
Silverberg describes another aspect of the way in which we believe, which is via transference (latch onto a hero, or God, and you can be plucked out of the ‘creature’ circumstances, and parachuted safely into…heaven or paradise or salvation.) That’s how and why people believe in populist leaders like Julius Malema, and Adolf Hitler. Through transference, one attaches oneself to the leader, but is also not guilty or responsible if the leader commits evil (the leader is)or some other questionable practise. At least one is able to escape the banal confines of life. Silverberg describes it as “man’s profound rebellion against reality.”
Obviously once the leader dies, the device one uses to escape death (and the travails of life) break down. This is why our faith in religion is precarious. When it breaks down, we are laid bare to the depredations of the world. It is truly a terrifying experience.
Living in heaven whilst still on earth
In a previous article I discussed the impact of culture, and that culture basically opposes nature (even human nature) . In effect, culture absorbs what Ernest Becker describes as ‘creature consciousness.’ In this regard a Christian’s life is mapped out from start to finish. According to Becker: “…he did his duty to God by living out his life with dignity and faith, marrying as a duty, procreating as a duty, offering his whole life – as Christ had – to the Father. In turn he was justified by the Father and rewarded with eternal life…in the invisible dimension. Little did it matter that the earth was a vale of tears, of horrid sufferings, of incommensurateness, of torturous and humiliating daily pettiness, of sickness and death, a place where man felt he did not belong…his place was not on earth, but in heaven…”
If one’s focus is on the afterlife, these beliefs have implications. That one tolerates a certain amount of misery in one’s own life, given that life on earth is a ‘trial run’ for a better life elsewhere. We can also tolerate or not deal with what is going on on earth, because our destination is elsewhere. When Christians talk about their beliefs not doing any harm, they are unable to see how pernicious this particular aspect is. That these very beliefs prevent them from connecting and cathecting with their fellow man, or the earth. That are in transit, waiting for life to be over, waiting for the next realm, whilst the earth and its creatures can churn and wave and fail, and they do not even see it.
Maybe You’re Nowhere
Did God really have this in mind, when he created man? That we would be on earth and constantly wish and yearn and aspire to ‘elsewhere’, immortality rather mortality? There is a great deal more to be said, but I do not believe many believers have the attention span to stand much for. Atheists may be interested in what follows, courtesy of Ernest Becker, who writes so eloquently and intelligently on these subtle and slippery ideas:
“People become wedded to their beliefs, because the validity of those beliefs reflects on their competence, commends them as authorities, and rationalizes their mandate to lead. Challenge a person’s beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.” – Ernest Becker