It’s not so easy to talk about Spirituality but at least it’s Game of Self stuff and we know the right approach there, which can be summarized with:
If it helps us to be happy, it helps us to be happy. In our internal world, truth is subjective, but happiness is real.
It’s not so easy to talk about Faith but at least it’s mostly Game of Self stuff (Spirituality with a direction) and we can summarize it with:
If it helps us to be happy and achieve our goals, it helps us to be happy and achieve our goals.
And when our Faith goals get beyond our head and involve other people and the world, then it’s a Religion. With making real life claims it becomes such an explosive mix between The Game of Self and The Game of Life that it’s no surprise at all that it’s a major source of tension and conflict all over the world.
So, what is Religion?
Religion is Faith turned into a story, trying to spread its story genes endlessly and outcompete every other competing story, including any other religion. It evolves like a living organism responding to good and bad human leaders’ traits and cultural pressure and has one long term goal: survival.
It doesn’t matter what the story is or how spiritual the initial idea is. It will compete and either survive or not. As 99% of religions ever did not survive to this day, what do you think are the traits for survival?
Being catchy and making us feel good. Best of all, universally loved. But also treated fairly. Throw in a bunch of afterlife for those who don’t like the idea of death. Oh, that’s all of us… 🙂
Since Religion often seems to meddle with Evolution for some reason, it is a
well-deserved-payback special intellectual experience to analyze religions in evolutionary terms 🙂 But it’s also very important to have a definition that reflects reality. And nothing reflects reality better and simpler. Evolution is how reality unfolds over time following the laws of nature.
As the story has to be about something, this definition gives religions the following options:
Religions with no (all-important) gods like Buddhism
These is a family of beliefs too broad to comment on. It’s a religion, so it can fall info any of the general religion traps or generate more of its own. Belief systems can range from the best to the worst.
Religions with a single all-important God like Christianity, Judaism and Islam
This automatically means rejecting all other gods while having no better proof of their non-existence than we have for the existence of our own. This foundation is shaky to begin with, which has historically led to attempts to prove things that cannot be proven by using misinformation or violence. Belief systems often had value at their time of conception. Christianity and early Islam spread some good ideas around the world. But this was a long time ago and the current world is very different. It’s unlikely the same fixed set of ideas is what we need in our time. Probably some are, some are not.
Religions with multiple important gods like Hinduism
Similar to the last group. While usually being more tolerant, they can be weaponized for us-vs-them action too, something sadly happening in present day India as a way to suppress Muslims. Fluidity and agility in those systems can be beneficial, but the more the gods, the more we get further away from reality.
Belief systems centered on Morality like Confucianism
It’s no surprise that in China, the most populous country in the world, it was always a challenge to keep people in line with society’s goals. Confucianism emerged as a belief system about how you should live your life and what values are most important. While its historical benefits are unquestionable, Confucianism’s overuse of morality, rules and tradition leads to major sheep mode risks and high amounts of shame in society, a terrible emotion for our mental health as it destroys self-love. And I have described the problem with morality and rules.
Belief systems centered on Supremacy like Fascism and Colonialism
Apparently we didn’t learn from the genocidal colonial exploitation and allowed Hitler a 12-year full autonomy trial of stuff usually reserved for horror movies. World War 2 and The Holocaust left 80 Million dead, caused unimaginable suffering and left half the world in ruins. Unfortunately a close variant of the story (White supremacy) is still very much alive. I really hope this shit will never be mainstream again.
Belief systems centered on Equality like Communism
Equality is a goal worth pursuing in an unequal world, but the world is inherently unequal (and also objectively unfair) due to historical and random factors. The only way to make everyone exactly equal in reality is to make everyone poor, stripping away most private property and nationalizing all means of production like factories. If you’re already poor this might sound fine to you, but this variant of envy (no one shall be better than me!) destroys wealth and productivity for the whole society. While Communism can surely work on very small scales like cooperatives, on a large scale it always descends into terrible authoritarian dystopias. And not for the lack of trying. After dozens of fails and Stalin and Mao leaving 100+ million dead and performing genocide against their own nations, I suggest we stop pushing forward a religiously extreme ideology that runs contrary to human nature.
Belief systems centered on a Cult of personality like North Korea or the Elon Musk fan base
Human ideas are precious. But any human that puts themselves in the center and not their ideas is an instant huge red flag. This is why Elon is a bullshitter of epic proportions. And the situation in North Korea is just extremely sad.
So, to summarize, the dark sides of individual religions vary from threatening your self-love to threatening your life. For the rest of the post we’ll treat all-encompassing ideologies like Communism and Fascism as religions. Because they are. There is no difference between a religion that interferes with all ways in which you live your life and an ideology that interferes with all those same ways. It’s the same thing called by a different name for no good reason.
My grandfather was a hardcore communist. He was an armed guerilla in Bulgaria during WW2. While he was a very nice person, he would kill to protect his religion.
But this post is not about history or culture. It’s not about what makes religions different. It’s about what makes them the same – how easily they can invade the human mind and how hard it is to change once they have stayed there for a while.
From now on we’ll be talking about you more and more, about the individual experience of religion. We’ll return to social factors in the end but for now prepare to learn how religion affects your Game of Self and your Game of Life.
I’m sure I seem a hardcore atheist by now, but this is not actually true. While no slack will be cut in this post, I’m actually quite balanced on the subject and hardcore atheists, I’m coming after you in a minute for your lack of understanding of human nature.
Now that I have successfully
offended challenged everyone, let’s see where I stand.
I am for Spirituality. Even if it’s just in our heads and purely a human invention not based on anything real, it has its virtues. The Game of Self needs whatever it needs. Some find hope in truth, others find it in fiction and there is nothing wrong with that… as long as we don’t impose our thoughts on other people who may not need what we need spiritually.
Spirituality has close ties with Morality, a human-made concept that is largely a force for good in society, though it’s easy and actually very detrimental to overdo it at an individual level. Atheists can be spiritual (drawing the inspiration from nature, science, the universe, quantum physics, etc.) and we see no significant difference in morality between atheists and faithful people.
I am for Faith… kind of. Faith is a multiplier of a person’s abilities. Give it to a peaceful human with good principles and you get the behavior of Jesus. Give it to a king, dictator or religious leader with lust for power and you get the Nazis or Crusades. The reason I’m for Faith (kind of) is that people are generally more good than bad in this day and age.
In history, in times of scarcity and disinformation, in a much more sexist, racist and homophobic world, this was not always the case. Faith is historically controversial in its results. When we account for Communism and Fascism we have to amount for 180+ million deaths and unimaginable suffering just in the 20th century as a direct result of Faith.
But today Faith can play a role in helping those we collectively left behind in developing countries. It can help realize and combat inequality with some much needed charity. It can even help motivate our asses to do something about Climate change.
Keep in mind Faith is not Wisdom. Spirituality alone can give you Wisdom without any powerful Faith. It’s simply a power multiplier for good… or bad. Faith is something you can use to power up your Game of Self and subsequently, your Game of Life too. Heard of “Fake it till you make it” Game of Self problem-solving? Well, it doesn’t work if you don’t have any Faith…
This is the part I feel atheists don’t fully grasp. Just because you can handle your own Game of Self based on scientific truth only and it works fine, it doesn’t mean you’re living up to your full potential, as you’re missing the powerful multiplier of Faith which is, I kid you not, already biologically embedded in your brain. Imagine a PC game where you carry around the big blaster all the time but you always use your tiny pistol instead 🙂 It also doesn’t mean everyone else can survive your way without this extra tool.
Because this is what Faith is. It’s a tool 🙂 And it’s a good one when you need a peak in your strength in order to overcome inertia and make a change.
But always remember:
Faith is a tool for personal use. It should not be irresponsibly exported to crowds of people or you don’t know if you’re multiplying the good or the bad anymore!
So, what is Religion again, in terms of society?
Religion is a story-based structure with the goal of streamlining Faith. It’s a complex system for ensuring the survival of the underlying story. To do so it needs cultural (scriptures, traditions, art), political (prestige, legal framework), and financial resources. It has to collect money from society to ensure its survival and it gives some back for good causes, resulting in mixed economic results. It can be a valuable support structure, helping people who are on the brink of collapse with mental health or addiction issues get it back together. It can also make people narrow-minded by enveloping them in a filter bubble. All this brings mixed social results, which vary between religions, cultures, and places.
This is probably not a surprise, but where do you come into all of this? What is religion for me and you personally?
It’s time to simplify religion into a 1-word description. It took me 35 years to find the right word but the moment I thought of it, it took a minute to finally, finally have a simple, understandable concept about religion.
Religion is outsourcing
We all have very important questions about life.
Many of them science is uncapable of answering due to their subjective nature, e.g. “Why are we here?” For other such as “What happens after we die” it’s hard for science to prove the answer is “nothing interesting”, even though this is what all the evidence suggests. So these are open questions for many people.
Humans are not built to handle uncertainty for anything important well. We want to know as not knowing was a bad trait for evolutionary survival. So having these open questions unanswered is very uncomfortable for a large amount of people.
But most people also feel uncapable of answering those themselves.
I could say that life has a meaning because it creates tiny pockets in the universe where entropy doesn’t grow any longer, where there is increasing complexity of structure and information and where stuff new for the entire Universe evolves, e.g. the human brain. These tiny pockets give spacetime a new, beautiful nuance that makes me feel I have significance even though we’re tiny creatures on a little less tiny (but still tiny) planet floating in the vast nothing. And for me this makes sense.
But you may react to this like Catherine.
In the modern age there is a new question which was not typical in the past times of scarcity, disease and death:
“Why do I feel low even though my life is fine and there is nothing to worry about? What is wrong with me?”
Society is going though a mental health crisis and a major reason is that people lack self-love and don’t find meaning in their lives. Many young people just don’t feel happy. They cannot confront the question of death. They don’t know how to manage all the shiny new tools like smartphones and social media, resulting in quantity over quality in human relations and ultimately loneliness. Addictions are a huge problem.
Humans will always face challenges on all levels. Utopias don’t exists (though some may be worth fighting for). And a major way humans historically battled their mental health challenges was though religious belief.
Religion, for all its downsides, has thousands of years of proven experience of making humans feel better when they are miserable. It’s a stabilizing structure we can always outsource to.
Here is a not-to-be-taken-seriosuly but largely true example of Christian outsourcing:
No meaning in your life? No problem, the meaning is to accept and love Jesus and do what he would have done in every situation.
Don’t like the idea of death? No problem, accept Jesus as your savior and you go to heaven.
Don’t feel loved? No problem, Jesus loves you 24/7.
You feel alone? No problem, Jesus is with you 24/7.
You have needs? No problem, pray to Jesus, he hears you 24/7
Is this the way I want to live my life? Surely no. Too much outsourcing makes me feel like losing myself.
But if the mental health condition of someone deteriorates, a stabilizing structure is needed before harmful coping mechanisms like addiction take over. And the problem is such structures are in large demand and small supply. There are not enough therapists. Friends and family may not know the severity of the situation or how to help. And it’s tough to find meaning when we’re surrounded by so many “meaningful” stories on Instagram that it seems we are the only ones without meaning in life, putting extra pressure on us to find it now… that just makes it even harder to find.
In these tough moments… Religion comes with the full package.
Religion directly brings meaning, human connection and spiritual experiences that release much needed oxytocin. Religious groups are usually empathetic and supportive to any newcomers. After the dark times it may seem like you’re loved like never before.
If you’re down, but have hope, faith can help you multiply the hope and get back on your feet. But if you have no source of hope, than religion and its time-tested stories and communities may be one of the last tools to create some.
I know this sounds dark but it’s the reality for hundreds of millions of people. Happy people don’t need religion and rarely turn to it. If you read this post you may be a person in need. But even if you’re just a happy atheist troll, consider the thought, can you give hundreds of millions of mentally suffering people hope, when you have nothing but science and truth as a tool? It’s a great tool for almost everything… but not for this.
If there is no better way in the Game of Self, religion is acceptable.
Some months later…
Jesus and his kind followers in the church make you feel much better now, you won in the short term. What do to now?
If you have recovered your mental health, you no longer need the support structure of religion.
You may keep the faith and meaning and still do everything the way Jesus would have. But it’s up to you to decide how Jesus would have approached gay rights. You and no one else. You don’t need religion and its rules to govern your life. Otherwise you lose a lot of your freedom.
And if we care about one thing in I Grow Younger, it’s your long term freedom.
Unfortunately religion needs you… and the need is a desperate one.
There is no religion without people. Someone needs to spread the message, find new followers and cover the bill for places of worship and other expenses. To the religion-as-a-story-fighting-for-survival you are a precious resource. And due to how evolution works, only religions that manage to hold onto their followers have survived to this day. Every religion can only survive if the story and structure around it form a “glue” strong enough that most followers stay.
How can religion make people stay as part of the organization?
Some of the ways to incentivize you to stay may be really nice, like supporting you in The Game of Life or creating fuzzy feelings by helping the poor together. Some may be very unethical like planting seeds of guilt (Jesus wants you to stay a member of this church…). Religious groups are made out of people and faith brings out both the best and the worst from them. But one thing is sure: If the religious group exists, people don’t just leave it. Emotionally it will be hard or impossible to leave it. Mostly because you wouldn’t want to.
So you’re stuck in a religious group for a long time, possibly for life. What’s the problem, people are nice and helpful, you feel better than before joining them, all good?
It may be kind of fine. But from one moment on your group will bring you decreasing benefits and/or increasing frustrations.
Your freedom is a resource of tremendous importance. As you live and evolve, your ideas, plans and desires change too. Life will often suggest options you didn’t really consider. Especially if you open your heart to the world, spend time in Hunter mode and create the conditions for them.
You need to be as open to Game of Life possibilities as possible. Even possibilities that might seem immoral. Because this is the way to overcome fears and shatter Game of Self barriers.
But as you evolve and change, your religious group will still be stuck to scripture written millennia ago. Your support structure will become your filter bubble. Then it may become your mental prison. And you may not even see it, because:
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
There is a central problem with outsourcing. You delegate a task to a third party company. They have every incentive to make you dependent. They never want you to be able to solve the task yourself. Ever.
Religion is the same. If you become fully free and transcend the group, finding your own answers to life’s questions, you’re not a success for the religious story. You’re a lost resource and unwanted competition at the same time.
Imagine if during Nazi Germany a young ambitious party member decides to found a new party with the same basic ideas but slight improvements and calls it “Nazis 2.0”.
Or during Stalin or Mao someone tries their luck with “Communism 2.0 – Our party improved”?
Such a dangerous for the structure person will be eliminated within hours and all their ideas erased.
I’m giving these extreme examples to show that religions are naturally opposed to new thought leaders and improvements. Everything is static because this is the survival formula in evolution. And evolution made sure this religious group is still here, and not among the 99% extinct ones.
So you may find the story of Jesus empowering on a personal level and there is nothing wrong with that. But the structure of all religions is very conservative. You can do better. You don’t need the structure!
As with many other things, time is very important. The more time you spend in a religious group, the more indoctrinated you become. The more this becomes a part of your identity. And the more leaving it feels impossible because you would have no identity without it.
But it’s never too late to leave when you feel you need your freedom back. Many people have and I don’t think any of them regret it.
Joining religious groups has only situational benefits (especially if you feel hopeless) and potential long term harms due to the difficulty of leaving and the resulting loss of freedom.
But what will happen without religions? Won’t social structure and morality just collapse?
At least in developed countries we’ll be just fine long term without religion. But we need to make sure people have access to diverse sources of Spirituality, Faith and Hope to make up for the vacuum left by the withdrawal of religious institutions.
Maybe when the free market of religious stories becomes less competitive due to most losing their member base and collapsing, maybe new, modern religions will emerge that will have a new structure, based on freedom, not dogma? Only time will tell.
Until then, remember, Faith is a tool for personal use and a useful one as it can multiply your abilities.
But make sure the values you multiply are yours and not a copy-paste of something written in a “holy book” thousands of years ago.
Regarding your values there can be no outsourcing.
And if it already happened, you can always flush out the foreign ideas and rebuild your identity.
It’s only scary until you start!