2/26/2011 | Share this article:By Carl S ~
Who hasn't, when watching a movie, shed a tear when a really fine person, especially a young woman, dies? You can relate to that person as yourself. Or you take special pleasure in the wedding scene in the movie, “The African Queen." All such films contain fictional characters like the fish Nemo, Atticus Finch, Jesus.
Image by Stacy Lynn Baum via FlickrOne day, my Christian Right sister-in-law told my wife about the character of a TV series. She was upset about a decision that person was making, and shouted, "Don't do it Lexiel", only realizing shortly after that the character wasn't real. Real or not, we do get involved, because we empathize. Guys, by design, take girls to romance movies to get them closer.
Lately I've come to hate those heart-rending, feel-good, everything turns-out-really-good-in-the-end productions. And I hate reading the DVD jackets at the library, because way too many of the plots involve "an event that changed their lives forever." (Why can't it effect their lives for awhile?)
You might ask what all this has to do with religion, or maybe you have already figured it out. Of all the churchgoers I know, I've noticed their particular preference for these aforementioned entertainments. I'd say they prefer them for the same reason I find them off-putting: they play with the emotions, frequently with some "message" attached. Right at home and comfortable, churchgoers welcome having their emotions manipulated. That's disturbing because they're unaware, or don't care about this. It's just too easy for some glib, heart-tugging televangelist, guru, dictator, or any "messiah" to step right in, not missing a beat, to use them. In the real world, the words of Rudolf Hess echo, "Do not seek Adolf Hitler with your mind. You will find him through the strength of your hearts!" It is disturbing to watch those you care about support and defend their manipulators.
It's a psychological matter. Ask any woman what really aggravates her about budding relationships, and expect to hear the words, "Being played, toyed with, taken advantage of, and emotionally strung along. Maybe he's just saying those things to get me into bed." And yet most churchgoers are women, and I strongly suspect that much the same approaches that get a woman involved with a man are exploited by religions, like chick magnets. Religion is, to be honest, about emotions. And those who, "know in their hearts" are trusters of those who tell them what is "in their hearts."
I'd conjecture that men go to church mostly for other reasons: for their wives and kids, to justify their prejudices and rationalizations, to look good in the community, duty, tradition. Unless they’re radical to begin with, there isn't that much involvement. (Also, men create religions which are bullshit, and deep down, perhaps know intuitively this is what it's about, I suspect.)
Religious belief systems appeal especially strongly to those who are desperately in need of being loved and reassured, and those, also, who feel worthless. There is a very old adage: Love is blind. The loved one can do no wrong. The lover is too close to the trees to see the forest; too involved, committed, invested. The lover believes he/she cannot be a fool because only the lover can see for real and really understand and know the beloved. "The heart knows what the mind cannot understand." To point out faults of the loved one, whether spouse, child, grandchild (especially grandchild), is to be attacked by a fierce defender. One doesn't go there. One dare not challenge the primacy of emotions. This all makes sense; obviously the lioness and mother bear will defend her cubs. You better not even imply a threat.
Not surprisingly, religious belief systems appeal especially strongly to those who are desperately in need of being loved and reassured, and those, also, who feel worthless. Often the very basis of a religion is that the individual is worthless to begin with, ergo, in need of the "wisdom and saving" of the belief system. Of course, the psychologically healthy response to this must be, "Bullshit!" But the heart-mind manipulators won't accept this, even in their own hearts. Ever attentive to the believers’ feelings, needs, however neurotic, for attention, the systems take advantage, to be answered with gratitude, leading to blind, dedicated commitment. Such susceptible persons are lied to and exploited, illusion-bound. Because of these things, they love all the more; still "in love" as if from first awakening.
It is remarkable how entangled in the heartweb the entrapped can become. Even after children are killed in cults, are molested by religious figures, and people are shown outright the hypocrisies and contradictions in the religion, still the victims remain immovably intransigent, defending with tooth and claw, following the heart which has betrayed them, refusing to even consider a divorce. They will continue to be "faithful" to the primrose path, following their hearts.
Love is blind. And God can do no wrong.