Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

(Imagine, John Lennon)

In the beginning I would like to define what I mean by using the word ‘religion’. By this I mean all religions and all beliefs, which assume the existence of a monotheistic or polytheistic god, and practices including worship of such a deity. Therefore, I treat ideas of “god” and “religion” as the same.

For me there is no doubt that religion is a human invention. On another occasion I will explain the reason for my views about god and faith. In the meantime, feel free to take a look at the book God Is Not Great. How Religion Poisons Everything, written by Christopher Hitchens. I claim that religion and all books and scriptures considered to be sacred are evil and damaging as ideas for every healthy and self-respecting human being. However, this does not mean that all religious people are wicked themselves, only some of them 😉 I would even argue that the majority of believers are victims who have good and high-minded intentions.

My thoughts are based on my personal experiences. Fortunately for me, I was not raised in a religious family. However, this did not stop me from becoming and formally belonging to a religious organisation for 8 years. I was part of its devout member by practising it genuinely. Today, I would say I am an agnostic in accordance with the philosopher Jan Hartman’s definition: ‘Agnosticism is an attitude of intellectual honesty. An agnostic says: If God existed, he would expect me to be an agnostic, because I really do not know. It is just arrogance to pretend to know something while not knowing it’. In the context of religion, I have experienced three different states myself: high unconsciousness, religious extremism and conscious doubtfulness. Therefore, I feel the need to express my theory by answering the question: What pushes people into the claws of religion?

Here are six psychological factors underpinning the religion-induced enslavement.

 1. The need for authority

These are people wishing and craving for authority: someone greater and smarter, at the same time someone harsh and relentless, who says in a very detailed way how they are supposed to live in every aspect of their life: starting with diet, clothes, entertainment, choosing friends and the sexual partner. This ensures them a sense of security and peace, because they do not have to think, consider, question and take responsibility for their decisions. They have top-down regulated rules for almost every situation, and the only thing that god expects from them is blind obedience. But there is a reward – pleasing the lord, who subsequently will bless them with his approval. This is the fear of freedom, choice, failure, experiencing and fear of the unknown pushing some people to penchant into totalitarianism and absolute power: It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought crime while you are asleep, who can subject you to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life, before you’re born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you’re dead(Christopher Hitchens).

People who believe in imposed authority do not like partnership, equality, dialogue, discussion. They rather prefer hierarchy, titles, privileges, monologue, controlling, rigid and inviolable principles. Following, dependence and submission to authority are for them the basis for harmony and wellbeing of the society. Blind faith and trust that everything said by god, lord, self-proclaimed guru or holy scriptures is right and indisputable, no matter how insane it might sound: „We must be afraid, we must also be forced to love someone who we fear – the essence of sadomasochism, the essence of abjection, the essence of the master-slave relationship” (Christopher Hitchens). There is a deep belief that someone has a right and should even tell one how to live.

god religion

 2. Belief that people are inherently evil

The faith that people need god to behave morally and that once we give up divine leadership, our wicked, sinful, cruel and selfish nature will be revealed. A believer thinks that we humans do not possess built-in ethics and morality or that it is unreliable enough that in the face of ‘bad’ desire and a ‘bad’ world we need god, as a saviour, to tell us what is good, what is bad and to lead us to the correct path. This is an attitude that takes all human’s glory and makes us miserable, mindless machines hurrying solely into iniquity. When I ask a religious person about possible consequences of giving up the religion, I always hear the same answer: ‘I would become an evil person. I would stop behaving nobly and doing good things for others. I would start living a useless, selfish and mean life’. I have also heard this response: ‘I would lose my mind’. How little someone must trust himself to claim that the only stimulus that pushes humans toward righteousness is an external divine creature. A godly people for every good deed and a noble gesture are ready to take all credits to the higher power: ‘I am good thanks to god, not by dint of me and my choices’.

3. Love and belongingness needs

In accordance with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy needs, the third stage involves love and belongingness needs. Some people satisfy this need mainly from religion. It can be a key factor determining their belonging to a certain cult, because for example someone was born in a religious family, that accepts friendship only among coreligionists, so that person does not know and does not look for another companionship. Some believers do not necessarily understand their religion’s beliefs, agree with them or are zealously engaged within its practices. Yet they are there mainly because of a developed bond and attachment to the religion society. They can believe in and admire people they have met there rather than in scriptures that they read. Religious community often is the only group that provides for a religious person love and acceptance. They can be unwanted and rejected by family, friends, in the workplace, by neighbours, but religion will always welcome them with open arms. Obviously, on one condition – they must fit in with the rules and principles of that religion. But a person craving for that essential feeling of love is ready to do a lot, with the additional belief that god likes it. And it works: the more one gives and tries to be godly, the more recognition, admiration and applause one receives from its guru and coreligionists.

 4. Privilege (Esteem needs)

Belonging to any religion allegedly led by god gives an unspeakable sense of honour and uniqueness. It is a mute demonstration to non-believers: ‘Look at me, god has chosen me as his servant and a friend, I am better than you, more virtuous, noble and refined. And that is why god hears my prayers, guides me, helps me miraculously and blesses my being. And in the end, he will grant me eternal life’. That need of being privileged and part of a small selected group led by god concerns, paradoxically attracts people with low self-esteem with a tendency of pleasing others. These issues are redeemed in the form of self-absorption and even narcissism. In turn, for others keeping alive an unconscious thought: ‘I am a loser, a failure and have no value. But since god – the supreme being on the earth in his undeserved kindness has chosen me as his tool, then I want to serve him, because nobody would want me anyway’.

god religion

5. The fear of death

I think this is the most important reason that catches people in a trap of religion. Virtually, every sane human to some degree is afraid of death and emptiness that will occur afterwards. It is a completely natural and human feeling. However, deep fear paralyses some people so badly that they tend to seek the ‘rescue’ at all costs. It drives them to wish to believe that there is a salvation, because, after all, life cannot just end, can it? This is the way of denying the inevitability of death and an attempt of escaping from it. Religion gives this wonderful promise. Apart from the belief that existing life is not the end, but also that the life will be better after death, so there is nothing to be afraid of. Wishful thinking about eternal life becomes an incontestable dogma and therefore ensures a worshipper a huge sense of peace: ‘What is suffering for several dozen years in this lifetime, if I have got perfect life in the future for ever?!’. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

 6. The need for ideology (self-actualization needs)

Self-actualization is the highest human need in Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid. Not everyone gets there, but those who are looking for beautiful and superb ideology, religion hits the target 100 per cent. It gives meaning of life from start to finish, by providing simple (but false) answers to every question that human beings have been asking for thousands of years: Where did we come from? What does the future hold? Is death the end of life? Religion leaves no doubts (you just have to believe), comes up with an explanation for everything, no matter how impossible it may sound. This is an ideal feed for those, who wish to get a fully formed life concept, so that they could devote themselves completely to it and live in blissful consciousness with peace and quiet, since everything is clear, discovered and explored. Therefore, nothing is scary and uncertain anymore.

Our needs in themselves are natural and written in our humanity. There are healthy ways of satisfying them. Problem arises when these needs become so strong that they make a person vulnerable to fairy tales in the form of religions and cults.

Ani - Liberal Rebel


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