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Are you a Pretender? November 22, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
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Do you pretend to believe in God? I used to. When I stood in Church on Sunday mornings, after being dropped off by my parents, I could barely understand anything the priest was saying. I’m sure most of it was scripture from various sections of The Bible, but it was so difficult to understand, and impossible for me to remain interested as a young boy. I wonder how much more interested I would have been as a child if The Bible had been presented as ancient mythology? As I remember back to those times, I was definitely hiding my disbelief to some degree. What I can’t quite figure out though is, why was I doing that?

Why did I find it necessary to pretend to listen and care about God and Jesus and all of the other mythology I was being taught? None of it mattered to me, really. But there was something causing me to pretend, and not to speak out about it. I wonder if it is the same phenomenon that causes people who know that Santa is not real, to keep it a secret for those who still believed? Somehow, it feels the same, but there was definitely more mystery behind the God belief, as well as a Church full of adults who could have been blindly believing in something they had no way of knowing was real or not. Did these adults examine the idea at all, or did they just swallow it all without question? Why does religion have such a stranglehold on the human brain? I won’t claim to know the answer, as I am not qualified to speak authoritatively on such matters. But I am free to talk about the issue from a personal perspective. I was simply afraid to speak out.

There is a brief period in the lives of many children where they are afraid to talk openly about Santa Claus in front of their peers. I think it is based on the fear of ridicule. Most of us outgrow Santa, and we realize that what he is supposed to accomplish every year is physically impossible without magic. So we are reluctant to mention it at some point among our friends because we are afraid of being ridiculed, and even afraid of being the one who ridicules. If my best friend still believes in Santa an I was the one who broke the news to him, I might cause him embarrassment or shame. If that same friend already knew that Santa was a myth, then I would be the one embarrassed if I mentioned my belief. That period though, doesn’t last that long.

So it could be with religion as well. It is entirely possible, and very likely in my opinion, that many people inside the Churches every Sunday are simply pretending to believe. They are afraid to drop the pretense based on fear of ridicule. They are well aware of the social system of out-casting non-believers, and they are not about to risk such ridicule. So they pretend. What’s the harm in pretending anyway?

If God were real, you would never get away with pretending anyway. What a sad conundrum for people – force yourself to believe, because it’s impossible to trick God – to be in a state where they must suspend disbelief in order to please a non-existent, mythological character from an ancient book. After all, Hell awaits those who don’t believe. How much more powerful can the message be if it doesn’t hold your eternal happiness hostage? Just keep pretending.

I have told my kids to pretend to be happy. It wasn’t exactly original, but it came to me as an interesting experiment. I would tell them that they did not have to actually be happy, they could stay as angry as they wanted, but they had to “pretend” to be happy. This way they could be angry and no one would have to know that they were actually angry. When they were younger, it worked fairly well. It didn’t take them too long though to discover that I was tricking them. To pretend to be happy was satisfying enough to get them out of their funk. Maybe that’s all that religion really is.

If an adult can pretend to believe in God, then the only possible way this could harm them is if God were real, and He knew they were merely pretending. Family and friends would never know the difference, and when death finally arrives, there will be no witness to the final destination of the pretender. The person died a “good Christian”, and no one was the wiser. I wonder if it is worth it to spend your life pretending though?

With the experiment I used on my children, I ended up telling them that I was only trying to get them to realize that being angry was a state of mind, and one that they can turn off and on as needed. They could choose things that are worth getting angry over, and ultimately control their anger so that it doesn’t control them. I believe it is healthier to distinguish between pretending and reality, so that the two don’t remain ambiguous when it comes to who you actually are. When I “let go” of pretending God was real, I was finally free from hiding my feelings. I didn’t run around screaming about it, but I was definitely freed from the bonds of religion and its grip on skepticism. I no longer worry about what others think. I am getting more comfortable as time goes by.

It may not be easy to stop pretending to believe, but it is not impossible. You have to consider questions like: What would the universe and world look like of God were not real? If God were real, would he really allow such suffering as we see today? If God were real, and He held the title of all-loving creator of humans, would He allow innocent babies to be slaughtered for the gain of one group of “selected” humans? If God were real, would you even need to pretend? If God were real, wouldn’t you know without a doubt – wouldn’t everyone know without a doubt? If God were real, would atheists still exist?

Think about it – and stop pretending, you’ll feel better when you come out of the closet and free yourself from the mythological stories and beliefs of people who had no idea what the universe is, or that the earth was not flat, or that gods didn’t control lightning, love, nor require sacrifices from petty humans. Let go, now.

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