So much has already been written on the theory of the human brain being hardwired for belief in the supernatural that this post will be far better served by linking to more in-depth expert dissertations and articles on the matter instead of attempting to explore it myself.
Long story short, it’s been posited that people are instinctively geared towards worshipping a higher power.
Some religious folk seem to embrace this concept as proof of God’s existence. Others ask, “what about atheists and agnostics? Are these people just born without this supposed “God gene?”
It makes sense to me, though. I’ve been fascinated by extremities in belief from seemingly otherwise rational people my entire life. In the absence of religion, people will invariably find something to worship, even if it’s something something inconsequential like Star Wars or the MCU. That’s why people are so highly defensive of such properties, by the way. It’s become a sort of religion for them. They’re filling this God-shaped hole in their brains with it.
I used to struggle to understand how people could drive cars, go to jobs/schools, do their taxes and perform any number of other tasks like normal, sane, rational adult human beings but at the same time espouse beliefs that to me seemed outlandish.
As I got older I began to realize that to an outsider, the religious beliefs I grew up with, that seemed normal to me, would seem just as ridiculous to them as theirs were to me. That’s because it’s all irrational, but as illustrated in the screenshot above, I’d altered my neural functioning to adapt to one particular ideology. Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, etc, they’ve all done the same.
It’s how someone like Orson Scott Card can both be a brilliant science fiction writer while fully subscribing to LDS tenets that seem downright odd to non-Mormons.
It’s how someone can get a PHD in his or her field and be as intelligent as all get-out but believe certain types of crystals are imbued with magical energy.
Bottom line is, if it’s not your belief, it’ll seem crazy to you. You choose to be brainwashed, and you pick the ideology. It’s voluntary. You give yourself to it. No one can “reprogram” you. Sure, you can be manipulated, but ultimately you’ll go in the direction that “feels” most truthful to you.
I’ve dabbled with brainwashing myself, for the purposes of creating more authentic characters I. My writing.
For instance, while writing Effugium, I convinced myself that transhumanism was a great idea. Then I convinced myself it wasn’t. I do that all the time with stuff. If I’m writing a nihilistic character, or a murder, I go to a dark place in my mind and live in it for a while, and then I snap myself out of it. Having a short attention span helps, too. The stuff I want to retain tends to stick around.
It’s all about empathy, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Say I’m writing a gay character, like the one of the kids in Liberty who gets sent to a deprogramming camp. I’m not gay, so how can I write about a teenager struggling to reconcile who he is with who everyone else wants him to be?
Well, because I understand what it’s like to be relentlessly harangued by religious authority figures who are driven to force you into a box you don’t fit in.
If I’m writing a black character, even if there’s no mention of race-related issues, I still go “Okay, imagine you’re this woman, and you’re pregnant, and everywhere you go people are scowling and assuming you’re on welfare,” or “Imagine you’re this guy and you feel eyes glued to you every time you walk into a store. You feel like a seal diving into shark-infested waters every time you get behind the wheel of your car. You’re prey. You live with a target on your back.”
And so on and so on and so on. Even if these issues aren’t mentioned or hinted at, they’re still there, lurking in the background. I don’t write a lot of characters as poorly-disguised representations of myself. I’m interested in people who aren’t like me. Self-transcendence.
The world is much bigger and much more complex than any one of us can comprehend as individuals. Some people simply don’t recognize that, and believe that their narrow perspectives on life are the be-all end-all of everything.
I’ve devoted a good portion of my bibliography to writing about cults, although I only realized this last night. The Effugium books are essential centered around a cult. Act of Laughing. Liberty. Cults abound in my writing. Of course, I was essentially in a cult for a short time in 1998, but recognized it as such right off the bat and didn’t want to be there. I was trapped, though. At the time, I thought those who fully subscribed to that bullshit were just idiots, but it’s nothing to do with intelligence, I now realize. One can possess the highest IQ on record and still believe in the unbelievable. We all have this capacity to one degree or another.
I’m an observer. At some point a couple of years ago I took a step back from it all and realized that I don’t have any serious convictions or beliefs of my own. I just don’t get those kinds of feelings, beyond temporary bursts of emotion. I don’t feel a need to be a part of something larger than myself, but it’s still interesting to me, trying to figure out the psychology of the way things work.
I try to write in such a way that whoever reads it will think I am speaking to them, validating their own personal beliefs. Whether you’re a Swiss cheese-brained MAGA monkey or a some woke-as-a-joke virtue-signaling blue-haired screechazoid, you’re my audience.
See? I’m not above petty insults, either. None of us are above anything, and that’s the point.
At this point, I consider myself an agnostic. I don’t know if God exists, or which god/gods exist, and I kind of don’t care one way or the other anymore. I’ll find out when I’m dead. Or I won’t, depending.
Even so, I do have a spiritual life. Or maybe some people would say I take care of my mental health. I kind of think those two things are the same.
Yeah, I don’t even know what to think. Have you ever noticed that the more devout or extreme someone is, they get this vacant stare in their eyes? It’s really creepy when paired up with a perpetual smile. Heaven’s Gate comes to mind. I see it to some degree in a lot of people, though. I can’t put my finger on what it is I’m seeing, though. Some kind of dilation perhaps? Idk. It doesn’t just occur with religion, but unconventional/extreme belief systems of all kinds. Political, corporate, etc. People will work some shitty job but fully believe in their company and its “mission.” They have the eye thingy, too.
I think I know what you’re talking about. There are a few people I work with who get that way about their jobs. I probably get that way about my writing. And then there are the political/religious zealots in my life. But I don’t interact with those people much anymore, and they don’t seem to want to interact with me either. So I can’t say much about them, but you’re probably right. They probably do get all glassy eyed when they start talking about their thing.
Just in general, I mean. It’s like a permanent thing. Muscles in their faces relax and their eyes seem wider.
And I spend a lot of time wondering about that, and how to describe what it is I’m seeing. Maybe it’s some kind of endorphin or dopamine release your body rewards you with, because it almost seems like a mild high. I knew this guy who would lead prayers at church, when I was younger. He was my age, and he’d get up there and sway around the podium like Jim Morrison with a mic stand, and his speech was slurred and relaxed and he would just go on and on about “Oh God you’re just like, so awesome God, we’re just so humbled by your presence, it’s just wow…” and that would be the prayer. It was like he was in some kind of drug-induced trance, but he was way too much of a nerd for drugs. Seen this hundreds if not thousands of times in my life. I can’t get like that about things so I strive to understand it.
It disappears when the they’re doing something they think they shouldn’t be doing.
You do really well at that, too. Writing in a way anyone can relate.
Well thank you, it’s something I dwell on a lot.
I’m trying to reach some concrete understanding of how people and life function so that I can articulate it in a simple way. I may not get there. I may never understand. But I’ve got to try.