A reader wrote me a question, and I started my response. Forty-five minutes later I looked up and said… this may be a blog and not just a response to Julie. Julie wrote:
“I want to know more about your master’s thesis and your findings…using religion to dissociate from darkness.”
Thanks for your inquiry, Julie.
It is human to want to make meaning of life. While we operate on instincts, that is below the awareness level, more than we admit, we like tell stories about ourselves, about strangers, about how the world works – or doesn’t work.
Classic psychology tells us there are three defences we use when things get tough.
Think of how someone tells a lie. They might use a story to deflect the blame to someone else. They could delete facts or deny there ever was a story. Or they could shift the facts, distorting them to better suit their version of the story.
Since we see the world through our own eyes from the moment we wake to the moment we go to sleep, we are at the centre of OUR universe. Because of that, It is easy for us to believe that we are at the centre of THE universe.
Let’s consider our experience of the sun. We know we are in orbit around the sun, yet, we still refer to its appearance and departure as a sunrise and a sunset. We distort the facts, even though we know the sun neither rises nor sets. But this is a story we all engage in, so it’s no big deal.
So, stories are our way of giving meaning to our lives. However, how we do that evolves over our lifetime.
We don’t ask ourselves the same questions about life in our childhood as we do in our twenties, forties, sixties or eighties. As our self-perception changes, so do the stories we tell about of our relationships and experiences.
There is a sharp distinction between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is how we are when words fail us. Religion is the story we tell ourselves about our life. When life becomes too overwhelming we choose to move from spirituality to religion. We cling to the story to keep us away from pain. We become so emotionally dependent we develop an addiction.
We use religion as a way to first ask questions, then organize our answers into stories, then live beyond those stories, and, finally, adjust as we evolve through the stories.
Sometimes when faced with stress, people choose to not evolve.
In a previous blog, the story of the two brothers made the point life isn’t fair. It is tragic, difficult and, like Mark and Kelly, leaves us feeling really vulnerable and shattered.
When we are faced with tough times, we may question what we believe to be true about the world. Some want to stay in their comfortable idea about the world and delete, distort or deflect the difficult experience. Those with an experience of God and constructed beliefs in that system, might lose their experience of God and, therefore, deny God.
In the face of such a threat, our body produces adrenaline and its emotional counterpart, anxiety.
We need a way to keep up our energy and our defences. So we use that adrenaline and anxiety to fuel our enthusiasm and anger. These are the two emotional drugs of religious addiction. These feelings, when shared with and by a group of people, can magnify a response so it feels as if it is coming from an outer reference point. That is very validating and seen as permission. This turns individuals into mobs.
Those who step away from the momentum of this shared response are seen as threats to be eliminated.
Are the adrenaline, enthusiasm, anger, anxiety, validation, and permission experienced as God? Yes. Is it God? No. Are the threats, resistances, questions, non-conformists seen as Satan? Yes. Are they Satan? No.
This is what I gleaned from working with priests and religious leaders who prayed and also preyed. They were able to get so enthusiastically hyped up that they deleted, distorted and deflected their own darkness. In their fervor and religious addiction, the told themselves stories that gained momentum.
And they made their victims carry their darkness.
I wrote my master’s thesis on the stories we tell ourselves, the defences we enforce, and the momentum we gather under stress with adrenaline and anxiety. And, how these all lead to religious addiction.
Thank you, again, for your question Julie.