Three bad things happened to me on the night of December 31, 1965. It was New Year’s Eve, and I was going to a party jointly hosted by two brothers Tom and Bill who worked at the same place I did. I had arranged to have a blind date with a really hot babe who was rumored to do it on the first date with practically anybody. The first bad thing was when I drove to her house to pick her up and she wasn’t there. Her younger sister came to the door and explained that they didn’t have a telephone in their house (some people will believe anything) and that’s why her sister hadn’t called me to tell me she couldn’t go out with me. Bummer. So I drove on to the party alone. I didn’t have enough courage to ask the younger one out instead of her older sister whom I had never seen, and that younger one was really good-looking.
I was single then, and when I got to the party I quickly gravitated toward the nicest-looking single lady there. After talking, drinking, and dancing with her for a while, one of my two host friends took me aside and whispered some advice to me. He suggested that I not rush things with that particular lady, as she was “on the rebound.” I didn’t really know what that phrase meant, but I picked up on his vibes and stopped monopolizing her time at the party and began chatting with many other people there. That was bad thing number two – this nice-looking lady was off-limits because she was “on the rebound” (whatever that meant).
The third and final bad thing that evening, in fact THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME IN MY WHOLE LIFE, was when I was driving home from that party. I was surfing through the radio stations and began to listen to Garner Ted Armstrong talking about Germany in prophecy, World War III, the coming destruction of the United States, and all kinds of scary stuff. I had recently been in trouble with the law, kicked out of college, lost most of my friends, moved to a different city to take a new job, knew almost no one there, and was highly vulnerable to GTA’s message. Also I was only 21 years old. Within the next year I had given my heart to the Lord, my wallet to that fat old sodden pervert Herbert W. Armstrong, and my blind loyalty for the next thirty years to that pack of thieving, conniving con artist bastards who were in charge of “God’s Work”. That night I took the first fateful step into being sucked into a fraudulent scam operation disguised as a destructive personality cult which was in turn disguised as a fundamentalist Christian church.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the New Year’s Eve party.
I found out later what it means to be on the rebound. In her case, it meant she had recently become divorced, was now single (good news), but was especially vulnerable to unscrupulous men, so potential suitors should give her lots of time to get over her situation (bad news for impatient guys like me). Since I was trying hard to be virtuous in those days, as I used to assume everyone else was also, I knew I should not pursue her. Now that I am much older and maybe a little wiser, I would still try hard to be virtuous, but I also know that there are many mentally ill people who would use her vulnerability and her being on the rebound as a golden opportunity to gain her trust and love for probably less than virtuous goals. E.g., I know a woman whose husband departed like a thief in the night with all her silverware and jewelry after they had shared a whole two weeks of wedded bliss.
Being on the rebound applies to many situations other than romance. What it really means is that some important part of your emotional life has disappeared, and you are temporarily vulnerable to unwisely trying to refill that emotional void more quickly than you should if you were mentally healthy.
Now that I have used “mentally ill” and “mentally healthy” in a way that may have offended 9/10 of my readers, let me explain. For the purposes of this article, “mental illness” does not mean the same as it does when used clinically by medical or legal professionals, such as the diagnosable conditions of schizophrenia, paranoia, dementia, et al. I simply mean a variance between one’s thinking processes and the thinking processes of the vast majority of mankind who are thought by others to be adult, mature, stable, logical, and rational. And in this article I intend to take logical and rational to their logical extreme.
There is a great range of severity in being ill, or not healthy, all the way from having an ingrown toenail to bleeding to death from a punctured heart with a life expectancy of only one or two more minutes. There is also a gradient of mental illness. Any thinking which is not rational, logical, and mature I classify as mental illness. For example, megalomania, kleptomania, and pyromania are, in my opinion, mental illnesses. So are lying, cheating, stealing, extreme anger, and believing that you can fly or stop a train just because you have ingested some LSD. If one were mentally healthy, one would either already be mature in his thinking or steadily progressing towards mature, rational thinking. And the process of aging implies for many of us that we retrogress from our particular state of maximum health to worsening illness, both mental and physical.
One example of a common mental illness is how we deal with inevitable change. From time to time in my 38-year career as a computer programmer, I have had the pleasure of working at a place where everyone around me was highly competent, intelligent, articulate, hard-working, affable, and many of whom had a good sense of humor. Once a colleague named Craig and I were even discussing this phenomenon. We agreed that no matter how great your job was or how well run your employer’s workplace was, sooner or later some damned fool in management would screw it up. Neither of us was in management then, of course.
Most of the places I have worked have been like that, where I was forced by peer pressure to perform up to my maximum, and I would work hard and have lots of fun doing it. Many times I have recalled these situations with great fondness.
But things always change. Either the workplace gets screwed up, some of my competent fellow-workers would leave, or maybe I would leave and move to another part of the country. I miss those happy years of fun and challenging work. I also miss many of the really close friends I have had over the 60 years of my life. I miss a lot of fun and happy things that happened for a long time in the past but then stopped happening.
Change is often bad at first, especially when it involves an immediate loss of continual pleasure. We tend to dwell on the past, because life in the past was often better than it is now. I had a typical happy-go-lucky childhood, not understanding any of the problems of life, going to school, playing, watching television, goofing off, getting into trouble, and having lots of fun growing up. Someone else put food on the table for me to eat, bought clothes for me to wear, paid my college bills, etc. Now I am doing all those things for myself and others, and trying to make sense out of an increasingly insane world. Becoming a responsible adult and contributor to society is part of growing up and becoming mentally mature.
Missing fun things from the past makes me sad whenever I think about them for very long. These are various forms of the first mental illness I had in mind – dwelling too much on the past. Some just keep thinking about what they miss about their past until they depress themselves.
A similar mental illness is always seeking pleasure. Sometimes we will do almost anything to keep feeling happy. Some get addicted to the feeling of exhilaration when they are gambling and become gambleholics. Others get addicted to the pleasure received in drinking alcohol or ingesting certain mood-altering drugs. Some people murder their spouses so they can carry on fulltime with their clandestine lovers.
We seem to have an extremely powerful element in our minds that makes us want to continue doing whatever activity we have found to do that brings pleasure to us. We are creatures of habit. Once we become addicted to some form of pleasurable activity, if that activity is interrupted we begin suffering mental torment to varying degrees until we can resume that activity, or perhaps find another activity that brings us similar pleasure.
I believe that this explains why many of the people who become addicted to a fundamentalist religious cult, such as the Worldwide Church of God, will seek out and join a nearly identical cult if they should leave the WWCG. Beginning in the early 1990s, the number of people leaving the WWCG each year began escalating dramatically. Then in late 1994 when the high-level managers of the WWCG decided to change almost all the church’s teachings to their opposite within about six months, many began to feel the WWCG had left them, so they quit attending. This is what finally took me out about two years later.
There are now several hundred splinter organizations or offshoots of that particular “mother” cult/church to which WWCG dropouts can be attracted, and many such dropouts sadly end up getting sucked into one of these splinter groups. I think the reason they do this is because they have cult personalities. There is something in the structure of a religious cult, or any other cult for that matter, that gives cult members what they need. They are receiving an emotional boost, a psychic jolt, or some kind of pleasure in attending, being a part of a tiny select group, reading the literature and understanding concepts known to only a very few people. In short, they have access to occult knowledge. “Occult” here simply means secret and not known generally to everyone, and I do not mean to imply any weird overtones. When they leave the arms of the cult, they are “on the rebound” from the cult, and thus vulnerable to similar cults’ messages. All too often, while in their temporary state of freedom, vulnerability, and mental instability, they give in to the siren song: “Here we are! Come into our midst! Be emotionally filled again! We are the new, true Church. You belong with us, not with that group of unbelievers you just left behind.”
When I left the WWCG in 1996, I experienced the same kind of feeling. I knew I had to leave, but I wondered what to do next. Should I seek out one of the splinter groups? It took me at least one whole second to decide “NEVER AGAIN.” No more cults, churches, or religions for me.
I didn’t always have such a strong will. There have been many other times in my life when I gave in to my natural desire to find a new source of pleasure when one pleasurable activity had been interrupted, or when I was “on the rebound”. I have often found myself romantically obsessed with a woman who (fortunately for us both) was not reciprocating. Such obsession is an extremely immature way of thinking – another form of mental illness, in my non-clinical use of the phrase.
There is something in my mind, or heart, that makes me want very strongly to make a happy situation continue forever, whether that happy situation involves romantic love, work, play, enjoying a feast with friends, or virtually anything. “Let the good times roll!” And let them roll on, and roll on, and roll on. This is a mental illness of mine that I have to watch closely lest it bring me to slavery again, as my 30-year involvement with the WWCG did.
Unfortunately, good times never roll on forever. That has been a hard lesson of life for me to learn – that good times will not last, that a fun job will get screwed up for some reason sooner or later. I really used to enjoy being in the WWCG, going to the Feast of Tabernacles, attending Sabbath services, doing Bible study, giving sermonettes, talking to my brethren about “God’s plan of salvation”, thinking about helping Jesus rule the world in the Wonderful World Tomorrow, etc. Then management screwed up all that fun, and I had to move on.
But many people who were thoroughly disillusioned like me did not get over it and move out and on. They simply moved to a different cult, one which would let them continue receiving the psychic strokes they need in order to feel complete, needed, useful, worthy, loved, accepted, or whatever it is they are seeking. Rather than think about why they were attracted to Herbert W. Armstrong’s cult, accept the blame for their own cultish needs, and work on their own mental shortcomings that make them subconsciously seek out a cult in which to live, they erroneously concluded that it was the cult that made the mistake by changing its teachings instead of themselves for getting into the cult in the first place. So they don’t change their behavior. They don’t get rid of their inner need for a cult. Instead they go LOOKING FOR A MORE PERFECT CULT. They are on the cult rebound, and they quickly find another one. And they get sucked in again to yet more spiritual, emotional, and financial abuse. But this new cult has all the right teachings, so it must be of God this time, isn’t it? It feels right, so it must be right, right?
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Even though this statement is found in the Bible, nevertheless I believe it anyway, because it can be independently verified. I can see a deceitful heart and desperate wickedness in my own life experience, and I see them all around me every day in others’ lives. So therefore I believe this one verse in the Bible. I believe quite a few other verses in the Bible, too, but not because they are in the Bible. I believe any Biblical statement that I see proven and verified elsewhere, just as I would believe any statement I found in the telephone directory if I saw it proven and verified elsewhere.
What does this verse mean? The heart, or human mind, is capable of deceiving others, and even of deceiving itself. We can deceive others without even knowing that that is what we are doing because we have first deceived ourselves into thinking we are doing good when in fact we are not. And if we try to understand or know our own heart, we can’t, because it is deceiving us. All of these things are more forms of mental illness.
Here’s another Old Testament allegation which I also believe: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes…” This proverb is also easily verified by open-minded introspection, and by observing the actions of other people and how they explain away their actions.
One of the ways we deceive ourselves is to convince ourselves that we are right when in fact we are wrong. Take a survey of all the inmates in any prison, and you will find that almost every one of those incarcerated there is convinced of his own innocence. At least they seem sincere and want you to believe they are innocent. When we know we are right, we can become too self-confident, which easily leads to contempt for others who disagree with us, self-importance, arrogance, and a blind willingness to condemn or even destroy all others who are different.
Perhaps a better way to describe how our minds work is that we always want to believe that everything we do is right. The truly healthy approach is to hope that we can become right through enough education and experience, to seek knowledge with an open mind, to QUESTION EVERYTHING including ourselves, and gradually learn how the world and people work. But this requires critical thinking, and most of us don’t even know what this phrase means, let alone are able to do it. The ability to think critically is taught almost nowhere and practiced by very few.
The vast majority of us who cannot think critically will refuse to question everything, including ourselves. If we have built enough self-confidence through life experiences, we already know we are right and rush on without questioning anything. If we have received many of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Shakespeare put it, we may doubt we are right and seek an environment where others convince us, either through an authority figure or through the sheer weight of numbers, that we are right. Then we can proceed. These are both mental illnesses. In other words, for the self-confident it doesn’t take any work at all to convince ourselves that we are right. It comes automatically to us. It’s our default mode of thinking. Or for those less confident the constant nurturing of others will eventually convince us of what we wanted all along – to know that we are right. In either case we may incorrectly conclude that we are right because we have not engaged in sufficient self-examination or critical thinking on the subject. Only with great effort can we begin to imagine the possibility that we might be wrong. Then with much repetition and continued effort we can begin to remove a wrong idea from our minds and replace it with a different idea which we have come to believe is right.
Three years ago I began diligently reading everything I can find on the Internet in which I am interested, which is nearly everything, yet I still can’t think critically on my own. I have at least gotten to where I can now recognize critical thinking in someone else when I see it, and then I pay close attention to whatever that person says. The reason I read so much from the Internet is that there is NO useful information or critical thinking on any television channel in the U.S.A. There are only two choices available on U.S. television: (1) bland repetition of the Establishment’s agenda, or (2) polarizing emotional tirades of one extreme position against another.
When I was a true believer in Armstrong’s failed belief system, I read almost nothing except their official literature and believed everything they told me. Now that I have RETAKEN RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY OWN MIND and am avidly reading everything under the sun, I believe everything I read, and I also believe nothing. By this I mean that I believe at least in the possibility of everything I read, no matter how bizarre or improbable, but also I believe dogmatically in nothing. I tried that once before, and I wasted thirty years of living and poured a huge amount of money down Herbie’s and Ted’s rat holes of righteous tithing, which they then proceeded to blow on high living.
One example should suffice. The WWCG used to preach that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) were manifestations of demonic spirits. Practically everything the WWCG could not explain was caused by demons. I now believe that this explanation for UFOs is not necessarily correct. I do not believe dogmatically in space aliens, nor do I believe dogmatically in demons. I am not very interested in this subject, so I am content to leave it undecided. I feel the same way about crop circles, ancient astronauts, pyramids, and many other subjects, the truth of which seems impossible to determine and the importance of which seems dubious.
Our inner need to be right in our own opinion leads to yet another Bible verse: “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;” Our human minds are so strongly wired to believe in our own correctness, righteousness, and perfection that it usually takes a strong, outside force to start us questioning ourselves. In the jargon of Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and all the other Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorder Anonymous groups, such as Cults Anonymous, this is known as “bottoming out.” You wake up one day and realize that you have ruined your own life, your job, and your marriage. Your spouse has left you, your children have deserted you, you are hopelessly in debt, you have borrowed money from all your friends and never repaid it, your friends have deserted you, etc. You find yourself in the gutter, either figuratively or literally, all covered with vomit. The vomit stinks. You know it stinks. You stink, too. You resolve to do better and turn your life around. You go ask for help. Your new helpers tell you to find all the people whom you have injured and apologize personally to them. You begin concentrating on your errors, on your mistakes, and on all the things you have done wrong that hurt others instead of remembering your successes and good times. You begin to see yourself as others see you. You have come to your senses, and are now repentant. You have finally bottomed out and are now on the way back up. You became mentally ill, got worse and worse, are now getting better, and striving for the goal of mental health.
You are also vulnerable to wrong teaching at this point. This is where most of us go wrong when we find a cult like the WWCG. We had been humbled by life and were ready for some right instruction in how to live better lives. Unfortunately, we found a voracious predator dressed in shepherd’s clothes and let him begin teaching us and leading us to what he claimed were greener pastures. We knew we needed a shepherd, but we had not yet learned how to tell what was in the heart of someone wearing a shepherd’s costume. We looked on the outside, saw a whitened sepulcher, and could not see that it was filled with dead men’s bones. The beautiful, radiant shepherd was really a hideous monster. We were trying to get rid of our mental illness, but had very bad luck and stumbled into a mental therapist who was going to rape and plunder us instead of heal and nurture us. Our “therapist” turned out to be “the rapist” instead.
Another great Bible verse which also happens to be true for most of us: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” One of the childish things we have to put away is our inner need to stay where we are and to stay as we are, to give in to our vulnerability when “on the rebound”, to repeat the same mistakes, to long for the past. A full-grown adult may think of the past occasionally, but his orientation is primarily towards the growth and improvement made possible only by living in the present while striving for the future. Anything less is mentally unhealthy.
In March 1996 I was given a golden opportunity to get out of the Worldwide Cult of Armstrong when I asked the top ministers how to deal with all the changes being made. They told me that if I was uncomfortable in the “fellowship” of the WWCG to seek out another Christ-oriented “fellowship” with which I felt more comfortable. I had struggled with this issue before, and felt I could not voluntarily leave because of my belief in “God’s government” as explained by the WWCG leaders. This belief was another very serious mental illness, and anyone who teaches such an abominable teaching is like someone who knows he has AIDS and goes about trying to infect as many others as possible. The WWCG’s teaching on God’s government was absolute poison, and it held me in its grip for almost 20 years after I started thinking seriously about leaving.
It took me three more months of procrastination and patience with an ever-worsening situation to come to a full boil over the changes being made. Since “God’s top ministers” had given me permission to leave, I finally left in June 1996 and was able to do so without feeling guilty.
This was the golden opportunity of my life. It felt to me like the “Prague spring” in 1968 when suddenly there was a brief lifting of the Soviet Union’s tyranny over Czechoslovakia, or like the time in 1956 when thousands of freedom-loving Hungarians were allowed to leave Hungary before the Soviet Union quit being permissive and decided to send their tanks into Budapest and close the national borders again. I have gotten to know five men who left Hungary during that very short window of opportunity, and each of them was glad to get out. But yet there were millions who weren’t motivated enough to flee on foot and stayed put. Then the door slammed shut until 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed.
All those still in the clutches of the WWCG are just as free to leave as I was in 1996, yet they stay. They have their reasons. I can’t judge or condemn what I don’t understand. But I find it flabbergasting that anyone who is allowed to leave would choose to stay. It’s like being suddenly forgiven of thousands of dollars of debt, and instead of staying out of debt you immediately rush out to the stores with a fistful of credit cards, buy everything in sight, and get massively in debt again.
Leaving an oppressive cult and then going into another cult is a mental illness. It’s trading one type of vomit for another slightly different-tasting vomit. If I can’t have my favorite chocolate-flavored vomit any more, then I’ll try this strawberry-flavored vomit for the next few years. Yecccchhh. By the way, I keep harping on “vomit” because of my 30 years of exposure to the WWCG and their demand for daily Bible study, which causes me to be unable to forget the verse that says “…The dog is turned to his own vomit again…”
Being allowed to leave an oppressive cult and choosing to stay in it is to me another type of mental illness. It’s like having all your vomit washed off and then you go back to wallowing in your own vomit again. But we don’t all feel oppressed, and people generally will not get up and move unless they are uncomfortable.
Why did I say in the title of this article that religion is a mental illness? As Garner Ted Armstrong used to say on “The World Tomorrow” radio program, modern theologians say that humans have created God in their own image. But he said this in order to prove his point that modern theologians are all anti-God, perverted, pagan, godless, and truly evil. Read Matthew Alper’s book The “God” Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God and discover how Garner Ted was right after all. Humans really did create mythical gods in their own image thousands of years ago, then all memory of doing so faded over time, and the only thing anyone could remember was that we humans have always worshipped a god that is just like us (because we created it in our imaginations to be that way and not because it created us in its image). Read Sir James Frazer’s history of magic, mythology, and religion The Golden Bough and learn how all humans everywhere through all history have had pretty much the same religious beliefs – an all-powerful father god who sacrifices his son to die and save mankind, the dead son god is resurrected, and hundreds of little details all identical for thousands of years the world over. Read Kersey Graves’ book The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: Christianity Before Christ and learn more about astrology and religion. Read encyclopedia or Internet articles about Krishna, Osiris, and Mithra and then try to figure out which one of those three is closest to the legends and myths surrounding the New Testament Jesus. It looks like a three-way tie for first place to me.
Religion is a belief system, or a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices based on the supposed existence of some kind of supernatural being (or beings) who want us to believe or practice that particular belief system. Religion is based on faith, which is, in reality, a belief that something is true when all tangible evidence indicates that it is not, or could not be, true. In other words, faith is believing in something that you know is false. This is a major form of mental illness. Thus faith and religion are mental illnesses.
H. L. Mencken wrote: “A man full of faith is simply one who has lost (or never had) the capacity for clear and realistic thought. He is not a mere ass; he is actually ill. Worse, he is incurable.”
Daniel Pouzzner wrote: “Faith is definitive delusion and cognitive morbidity. It is the preeminent destabilizer of societies, and sets them to exterminating each other. There is nothing balanced about faith. It is all bad.” [The Architecture of Modern Political Power website (http://www.mega.nu:8080/ampp/)]
Walter E. Requadt wrote: “… faith [is] … The unquestioned acceptance of information that is either unverified or that may actually be in conflict with factual evidence. … Studies and surveys have consistently indicated that approximately 90% of persons in any given country have strong patriotic sentiments. This percentage is similar to the percentage of people involved in other faith-based activities, such as religion. … Governments exist because, similar to religions, they meet certain innate, irrational needs of man: People mistakenly believe that governments, or religions, can provide them with benefits that would not otherwise be available. … ” [“Government and Happiness” (http://www.rationality.net/government.htm)]
Mark Twain wrote: “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.”
Troy Witte wrote: “Any belief worth having must survive doubt. … Faith is deciding to allow yourself to believe something your intellect would otherwise cause you to reject – otherwise there’s no need for faith. … Faith is to the human what sand is to the ostrich.” [Painful Truth website (http://www.herbertwarmstrong.com/witte_quotations.htm)]
Jesse Ventura said: “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business.”
Anything we do with our minds that allows us to escape reality, to invent a fake world to live in because the real world is too painful, to dwell on the past because it was more comfortable, to believe that good things will happen to us in the future when they never have yet, or to believe that all problems will be solved in the magical, mystery, wonderful world tomorrow is a mental illness. To seek out such beliefs is mental illness. To have such beliefs destroyed so that we can begin to achieve mature mental health and then to reject the path of mental health and choose the path of continued escapist beliefs is also mental illness. To be rescued from your vomit and then to lie back down in your own vomit again is mental illness.
I know an American woman who lived in South Korea many years ago when she and her husband were in the Peace Corps. They had no television or American movies to watch, and neither did their children. I asked her what they all did for entertainment. She said they READ A LOT OF BOOKS and they all learned a great deal during those years of forced reading. One of the things her children learned was to LOVE READING. She is one of the most amazing people I know – confidently knowledgeable about nearly everything, willing to work hard on dirty jobs that no one else wants to touch, and learns complex subjects very quickly.
Now take a typical American couch potato away from his television set and video games and put him in a society where he has no television. Then give him all the education and books he could want. If he has any intellectual curiosity at all, after ten or so years he could easily have two Ph.D.s, speak several other languages, and be a prolific author. Then bring him back to the television nanny state of America. What would you say if he gave up his active, productive life and turned into a couch potato again? What a jerk. To throw away a golden opportunity and choose something worth far less is mental illness. A large fraction of the WWCG members have chosen to stay in that cult rather than leave, and they can now easily leave if they want to. The more we use our minds in learning and thinking, the stronger they become, just like skeletal muscles. The less we use our minds, the quicker they turn to mush and will believe anything they are told.
I have a friend who believes in teaching little children to tell the truth and not to lie, which is a good thing, but yet she also taught her children that Santa Claus gave them all the presents they found on the floor around the Christmas tree, then when her children got a few years older she taught them the truth about Santa. And the really hideous truth about Santa is that he IS a lie but when her children get old enough to have their own children then they are expected to repeat the same lie about Santa to their children even though they must also teach their children that lying is bad. In other words, she simultaneously holds two opposite beliefs (a cognitive dissonance) in her mind – that lying is bad but that one particular lie is good, and she is doing her part to continue the process of cognitive dissonance and teaching each successive generation that it is all right to have a mental illness for a few years, get over it, then force your innocent children to have the same mental illness, get over it, then repeat the process with their children ad infinitum.
There are far worse things happening in the world now, but this is also mental illness. Since it is so much fun for the kiddies to get all excited about Santa and the presents under the tree, it is easily excused. So who cares, right? Santa is a harmless delusion. That’s what millions of people think. And for many people, religion is a harmless delusion. Many of us can survive life quite nicely and make it into old age where we die peacefully without ever having been seriously damaged by religion or being thrust into a life-threatening situation because of religious beliefs.
But those who get sucked into religious cults wind up shorn of most of their earnings, and have many additional mental problems thrust upon them. And how about the millions who were slaughtered in the name of the peaceful little baby Jesus during all the medieval Crusades? Theirs was not a harmless delusion. Huge numbers of “Christian” Europeans, Islamic Arabs, and Torah-believing Jews in the “holy” land were brutally murdered by each other for reasons as absurd as those given by Jonathan Swift in his political satire Gulliver’s Travels, where the tiny people of Lilliput were at war with another tiny people over whether a hard-boiled egg should be broken at the big end or the little end. The Crusades were a good example of what happens when whole nations or even whole continents give in to a mass delusion of superiority and xenophobic hysteria.
For thousands of years, many religious groups have condemned all other religious beliefs. Each such group convinced itself that it was the only group that had “the truth”, that the one and only real god was working with that group, that they were the chosen people and thus superior, and that God had blinded all the other people so that they could not see “the truth.” Orthodox Jews believe this rot about Gentiles, Moslems believe this trash about infidels, and many Christians believe this of non-Christians. The WWCG used to preach this vomit about itself. I don’t know what they preach now and won’t waste any more of my life finding out or keeping up with them. I suppose I should hope that they have grown out of this immaturity, but I really don’t care.
Anyone ever in a cult, whether religion-based or not, should be able to think back to when we had that attitude. We would think thoughts like this: “All those other people are so blind and stupid. They can’t understand that they are all deceived. And they probably feel the same way about us, that we are the deceived ones. But we know we are not deceived. They all feel that they also know they are not deceived, but they are deceived about even that, AND WE ARE NOT DECEIVED. We are different, we are special. We are not just like all other people in history. We are right, everyone else is wrong, and we KNOW we are right, because cult leader so-and-so has said so.” Now put yourself in the shoes of someone in any of those other groups and imagine yourself arrogantly and dogmatically thinking the same thoughts about all other groups, including the WWCG. So which group is right? It now seems probable to me that all religions are equally right and equally wrong. They are all mental illnesses and invented fictions to make us feel better about out inevitable death. Long, long ago human minds began vomiting, and out came religion.
Another excuse for religion is that it is the shared belief system of everyone in a small social unit called a church, congregation, synagogue, mosque, etc. All the members go to a common place once a week for social purposes and, while there, they discuss their belief system with each other or hear some message based on that belief system from a so-called expert (minister, priest, rabbi, imam, etc.). Support groups are fine, and there’s nothing wrong with weekly social gatherings, but why do we have to go and ruin an otherwise nice meeting with talk of fables? What if instead of a religious belief system everyone in a church believed in a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey? They could have weekly meetings where they discussed the latest message from Rabbit, or how to apply Harvey’s end-time prophetic message to the next national election. This is rolling-on-the-floor laughable, yet what is actually believed and taught at religious worship services is equally absurd. Mental illness again.
Another excuse given by many for religion is that it enforces morality upon the believers, and morality is needed for society to function. Both statements are true, yet people can be taught morality without also being taught religion. Well over a billion people in Asia are extremely moral, yet they have no superstitious supernatural fables on which they base their morality. They believe, as is taught in the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, that all people should “be excellent to one another”. They believe this not because some all-powerful invisible sky god told them to, but rather because some ancient sage wrote down how to live and because they know this way of life works to preserve society. These sages, men like Confucius, Lao-tze, Mencius, and Buddha were just normal mortal humans. Buddha may even have been a legendary creation, but at least the legend does not turn him into a divine being. Asians are moral without having had an irrational religion forced on them when they were too young to know any better than to argue with their parents. They are perhaps the least mentally ill people on earth today. You can have all the moral benefits of religion without the attendant mental illness of religions’ delusional beliefs if you really want to.
Human beings, when properly using their minds, are capable of astounding achievements. We have invented machines that fly through the air, safely carrying hundreds of people; some can even fly more than three times the speed of sound. We can construct a building that sticks up 1,000 feet into the sky. We have created computer microchips that can translate from one human language to another. We have invented microsurgery. We have also built machines that can fly through the air for 10,000 miles and instantly destroy a huge city with 10 million people in it, vaporizing everything in a blinding flash.
All these marvelous inventions were produced by our RATIONAL thought processes, by thinking logically, analytically, methodically, formulating and then testing one theory or hypothesis after another until we have arrived at enough verifiable and repeatable understanding of how things really work that we can produce such inventions.
Why, then, does rational mankind have such an irrational component part of our awesome minds that makes us believe that some all-powerful, invisible being wants us to behave a certain way, whether that behavior is harmless or not? Why, as Alper explains, do we have this sick thing in our minds that makes us invent a god and a religion that our false god demands we obey and live by? Why do we have ANY “innate, irrational needs” as Requadt called them? Why do we have an irrational need that makes us irrationally invent irrational fictions that we then irrationally worship and commit any number of irrational acts out of obedience to this irrational belief system? Did we evolve, and is this a mistake of evolution that will be corrected in a few million years? Were we created a few hundred thousand years ago by space aliens as an experiment in genetic engineering? Is there really an all-powerful benevolent God that created us with this inner need to seek for spiritual truth and eternal life? Regardless of where we came from, we are an incredibly creative species, but doomed thanks to this horrible defect. We are a brilliant species which also happens to have a serious mental illness.
I have an open mind now about answers to such questions, and no longer accept any dogmatic explanations for anything. The dogmatic answers I was taught by the WWCG no longer make any sense. Their answers came either from the Bible, which is now highly discredited in my opinion as a source of eternal truths, or from certain people in powerful positions who created beliefs for often dubious purposes which they then required the rest of the people under their control to believe and obey. And even their answers that came from the Bible were often found using infantile methods of scholarship and research.
Here is what Alper says about this question in his book: “… there are those who have suggested that if we truly do possess a physiologically-based spiritual function in the brain that perhaps God put it there. My response to this is: What kind of god would install a device in us that would compel us to believe Him to be so many different things that we’d each be prompted to kill one another in order to prove that our version of Him is the right one?”
This mental illness of our species called religion has produced irrational beliefs with catastrophic results. Religion is no longer a harmless delusion, now that the U.S. has embarked on a “war on terror”. Our innate, irrational need to have a religious belief is being subtly manipulated to sway whole nations and continents again to accept what may well turn into another global bloodbath.
I have no answer for how we got here or why we are the way we are. I consider these both to be somewhat interesting questions, but only for intellectually curiosity and arguing purposes. No real answer can ever be obtained. However, I feel it is extremely important that all humans LEARN HOW WE THINK whether we can ever understand or not why we are prone to think that way. If we know how we are wired for thinking, at least we can be on our guard against the evils that result from thinking non-critically, blindly assuming things to be true, or following any leader without questioning everything he says. We all also need to learn that we have an innate lust for power, to control others, an insatiability to acquire, and many other terrible mental illnesses. We can never truly understand why we are this way, but we all need to learn that we are this way so that we can begin doing what we must do if we are to survive.
Bob Dylan was one of my favorite singer-songwriters in the 1960s, back in my late teen-aged years when I was young, idealistic, and impressionable, back before I was old enough to know what it meant to be “on the rebound”, to know a cult when I smelled one, or to know what critical thinking means. He wrote the following lyrics describing someone remembering the good times and close friends of his long-forgotten youth:
12/18/2003 -- Beautiful, Bill. Just gorgeous. Thanks for this..... Editor
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