Reinforcing the Illusion

I’ve always found it interesting how religions like Christianity have frequent and regular days of worship. Every Sunday, Christians file into their churches to hear how their all-loving God will punish them in a lake of fire for all eternity unless you worship him and eat him in the form of crackers and wine. They do this week after week, year after year, from the moment they’re born until they day they die. I can sort of understand why children might need to go to church (after all, they need to learn about their zombie savior from qualified authorities), but why would adults need to do so? They’ve already learned this stuff when they were kids and it’s not like they’re going to learn anything new (ask an adult Christian what they’ve learned from church in the past year and they probably won’t be able to tell you a thing). So why do they do it?

The answer, I suspect, may have something to do with a funeral I attended way back when I was a Christian. It was the first funeral that I had ever attended and it was more-or-less what I expected, with people somberly paying respect to the deceased. However, I remember being kind of confused at the time. Afterall, this person who had toiled and struggled on earth while alive was now in a much better place. Instead of weeping and mourning, the people at the funeral should have been dancing and partying. I mean, what better time could there be for a celebration than when someone leaves this mortal coil and becomes united with God? Of course I didn’t say anything at the time and just went along with it, but it struck me as odd. Thinking back on it now though, I think the reasons are obvious. Despite all the talk about the afterlife and eternal rewards in heaven, Christians don’t actually believe it. Deep down they know the truth, and when the time comes they will be unable to deny it (such fantasies shatter in the face of cold, grim reality).

I think this is the reason why there are regular church services: it is to reinforce the illusion, to get people to believe in childish things long after they should have given up such beliefs. Much like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, such kooky beliefs will eventually disappear if left on their own so religions like Christianity need to constantly reinforce these beliefs in order for them to exist. However, much like belief in the afterlife, when push comes to shove even regular church-goers would be hard-pressed to admit to such fantasies. It’s only the odd nut who denies modern medicine to treat their illnesses; most believers go to their doctors when they get sick, not their priests. Reinforcing the illusion is a critical part of any successful religion (a note to anyone wishing to start their own religion ) ). However, behind the smoke and mirrors, secular reality beckons and we are all subject to its call.

3 thoughts on “Reinforcing the Illusion

  1. You know I wonder about this phenomenon of regularly attending worship services even as a Christian. It’s not as though a Christian needs to maintain his salvation by showing up each week, therefore I am left to wonder why you would even bother if you are not interested in serving God.

    Of course, if one is interested in serving God, there are several good reasons to continue to listen to teachings on the Bible and biblical principles.

    As for funerals, I know I intend to have a party as soon as it becomes clear that I’m going to die. Why do people cry? Because it sucks to be separated from people you love, even temporarily. It’s the same reason you would see a mother cry if her son was moving to another country for several years.

    Anyway, just thought I’d give a Christian perspective on things, since I, as a former atheist, always wished someone would at least TRY to refute me.

  2. When I was a Christian I was heavily criticized if I missed even one day of church. They thought it bad of me that I didn’t suck up to God every single week (even though I was mostly coming because of my parents). I was also heavily criticized for not tithing properly :p.

    The point about funerals is that it’s not really something to mourn about (or even cry). It’s like someone winning a trip to the most fantastic place in the universe (a place you are looking forward to going one day). If heaven is all that is cracked up to be, there would be nothing to cry about. Of course we all feel a slight tinge of sadness when someone we love moves far away, but we generally don’t mourn for days or wail uncontrollably. That kind of behavior is only consistent with the idea is that death involves the cessation of existence (the person we love is gone forever)

  3. Like Daniel Dennett, I think you’re pretty spot on in that this doesn’t show that people actually believe this crap, they just believe in the idea of belief.

    However, you’ve probably heard of the idea “any excuse for a party”. Sociologists have studied religion as a social phenomena for a while now – a common theme of this research is that people often get together under this theme of ‘religion’ (whether they believe or not) because it provides cohesion and social interaction.

    On the theme of this post though, I’d recommend Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. It can get a bit dense at points, but the overall theme of the novel fits your ideas very well.

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