The Cross We Bear

It’s been hypothesized that the rituals, rules and restrictions of organized religion evolved and continue to exist in order to facilitate a harmonious society—the glue that holds it together, so to speak. We accomplish much more in groups than we do as individuals, and left to our own devices—free to indulge our “baser” instincts, the very ones religion restricts—civilization would crumble.

Imagine if bees just went off and did their own thing instead of existing to serve the queen and collaboratively maintain the functionality of the hive.

A lone ant can’t build an anthill—it takes thousands, working as a team.

It’d take a single beaver a much longer period of time to construct a damn than it would a colony of beavers.

Human development and religion have always worked in tandem, operating in much the same manner as other “lesser” species of the animal kingdom. We’ve used it as a “brain hack” to get everyone on board with working towards the greater good at least as far back as our earliest recorded history. We exploit our own insatiable need to explain our existence by making things up and convincing ourselves of them, then unifying ourselves with those beliefs. We swallow a pill of our own making.

If I tell myself over and over again that the sky is green, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, sooner or later I’m going to believe that the sky is green.

That’s how faith works, and why two contradictory belief systems with similarly outrageous beliefs might each think the other foolish or silly.

I grew up thinking all other religions besides mine were stupid and its adherents misguided, or in some cases insane.

I’d hear adults from church making jokes about Mormons, or Catholics, or cults, all the while oblivious to the irony that to someone else, they were the cult. They were the fanatics. In their minds, though, they were incontrovertibly right. Why? Because! Stop asking questions.

Questions lead to doubt, doubt leads to heresy, and heresy leads to the breakdown of the church.

All organized religions, from the big dogs down to the most niche of cults, attempt to rein in their members, like a shepherd herding a flock. Christians actually take pride in calling themselves sheep.

Religion has played, without exception, an integral role in every single human civilization. It seems as if we’re predisposed to it, and those individuals who don’t possess the need for gods are viewed as aberrations. They’re viewed as a threat. Fanatical intolerance of other belief systems is baked into nearly all organized religions.

Even in a secular context, ideas that begin as a spark spread amongst people like wildfire. We’re naturally passionate about things, and that fervor is intensified when our numbers are many.

It’s also been hypothesized that humankind’s propensity for god worship and belief in the supernatural evolved from our ancestors granting false agency to the inanimate dangers of their environment. Deification of lightning, tornadoes, volcanoes, the moon and the like. Regarding snakes or venomous spiders as “evil” in order to instill an aversion to such creatures in ourselves, so that we’ll avoid them. Stuff like that.

Still others theorize that religion activates a sense of euphoria within the human brain, a pleasurable trance state, and that we’re driven to chase that high until we find it in either religion or something else we’re able to become equally fanatical about.

It’s no surprise, then, that our current decline in religious belief has left people searching for meaning and finding it in outlets like music or politics or entertainment franchises like Star Wars and Marvel.

Atheists pine for the abolition of religion, but is that possible? Can a few wayward ants convince the rest of the ants to leave the colony and exist as individuals who serve no greater purpose? Should they? Maybe there’s something to be said for this system of self-deception we’ve constructed.

Religion helps a great many people by providing them with a support network of like-minded individuals and fulfills their need to belong to something greater than themselves. It gives them a sense of fulfillment.

It doesn’t work that way for me and countless others, though. It’s not for everyone. Some of us just aren’t wired for it.

I’ve tried to make it work, and all it’s ever done is give me anxiety. It’s never brought me comfort, like it did those around me.

I was indoctrinated from infancy, and though the rational part of my mind is fully aware that it was all made-up mythology, I can never be sureI’ll always be tormented by “what ifs.” Though I acknowledge and celebrate all that religion has done as a vehicle for the advancement of human culture and social development, I must also condemn it for all the damage it has caused. It’s certainly screwed me up.

Though we may in fact have a “god-shaped hole” in our brains, it’s often filled by opportunists who exploit it to achieve power and control, and therein lies the problem. I don’t believe it will ever go away.

In my Effugium series, a wealthy and powerful man named Richard Kryuss constructs a spaceship in order to flee Earth in the face of humanity’s impending destruction. Noah and the Great Flood, basically.

Naturally, he wants to take as many people with him as possible, in order to ensure the survival of the human race.

He determines that the structure and discipline provided by religion is essential to maintaining order on this multi-generational voyage to another habitable planet. He forms a cult, complete with its own Bible, co-written by an as-yet-unnamed TV writer from Los Angeles.

This junk religion he establishes survives even beyond the voyage, splintering off into various sects throughout all of the colony worlds that are eventually established. Hundreds of thousands of years later, it’s still an integral part of all human civilization. Kryuss and the ideology he concocted while out of his mind on cocaine have endured and evolved throughout the ages, just like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. It’s a fusion of many beliefs, again, just like the aforementioned religions.

These people travel the cosmos with ease. They have the option to live forever, if they so choose, by means of consciousness transferral to android bodies. They utilize nanotechnology in their everyday lives. They’re leaps and bounds ahead of us in almost every conceivable way, except one: They still tremble in fear at the creations of their own imaginations.

Most of them, anyway. Some more than others, as evidenced in book 4.

Even Kryuss himself, or at least the resurrected version of him pieced together by an AI-generated personality profile, is fed up with being deified. He doesn’t want to be a god, and yet to his immense frustration, people still insist upon worshipping him.

Will humanity ever cast off the shackles of religion and adapt to life without it? I’d say “Keep reading and find out,” but there will never be a conclusion to this series. Ever. It will remain open-ended, because so will we.


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