When I was a child, maybe five- or six-years old, I learned that I was mortal. My great grandmother had recently died and naturally I had many questions, “Where is she?” “When will she be back?” “Gone?”.
The answer I received was devastating and left me in tears. “Everybody dies, that is the way it is.” my father answered. What is the use of being born if life ends. My anxiety level was very high.
Shortly thereafter, perhaps in elementary school, I was introduced to Christianity. A ‘friend’ thought I needed it, most likely because of my foul mouth. As a child my vocabulary was filled with the rankest and most vile tableaus. Christ was introduced in near comic book form within the pages of child-oriented books and pamphlets at Sunday School. Up to that point I thought “Jesus Christ” were cuss words. Still having the memory of my incident with the reality of death fresh in my mind, I found it fantastic that there was an out. Here in these pages of children’s books was the promise of immortality.
I began to pray and didn’t stop praying until in young adulthood. The object of my prayer was not Jesus, it was God. A vague and undefined God, not even, I think, of Christian persuasion. Just God. I had only attended one Sunday School class so the indoctrination was not full blown Jesus worship. Just God.
It is a comforting thought to most people when presented with the possibility of immortality. This is part of the reason religion in general is so widespread. The fear of death is a great persuader. The Christian religion does not fail to take advantage of this fact. That’s the good side of belief, it calms fears about death for those who lack the courage to face it.
Prayer gives people a comforting feeling also, in that, it gives them the illusion of control over things which are out of control. That’s the good side, however, it also has a downside. Prayer, at times, becomes a great immobilizer. Instead of taking needed action people pray for a resolution. Sometimes answers seem to come in response to specific prayers. If scrutinized, however, such answers do not seem to originate from any source other than chance. The child dies, the man starves, the crisis deepens, while the things that could have been done, go undone, because one waits for the answer to prayers. How like prey these people who pray seem to be.
The lion is in charge of a harem, so to speak, of lionesses. When he becomes injured, gets old, or is simply killed by another male outright, the new king’s first task is to rid the harem of all the old king’s cubs. A lioness will hide those cubs away. Survival instincts honed by millennia of evolution have the cubs react with silence while they hide in the bushes. Does the lioness hope (pray) that they not be found? If they are not found then the lioness’s hopes (prayers) have been answered. If they are found, then it must have simply been failed hope(prayer), as fate (God) had different plans. If action had been taken instead, and the lionesses had acted in unison, as they do with prey, no male would be able to stand against them. Instead, they wait(vigilance) and hope(pray), that all will turn out well.
Christians are much like prey to those who would use them. Dictators, kings, and even politicians, manipulate the religious by appealing to their beliefs. That’s what Constantine had in mind when he invented the religion in the first place.
So, if you take all the good from belief and condense it down to one statement that describes all the good belief does for the average mortal human, that statement would have to be something like the following:
Religion is a convenient way for humans to fool themselves into believing they are immortal and in control of nature.
That should cover the fear of death and the fear of forces beyond one’s control. Don’t you feel better already?