Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Some People Need A God: Companionship

We are by nature social creatures, and when we are young sometimes it's difficult to find other children to play or "practice" with.  Just as our brains create dreams probably to function as training grounds for exploration of situations and emotions, our brains also dream up daydreams and imaginary friends to help us learn to socialize.

Talking to Yourself
Or perhaps it goes a little deeper than that.  Perhaps the child with an imaginary friend needs said friend for companionship.  In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins reprinted the classic poem by A. A. Milne, "Binker", to illustrate the point of how children create and use imaginary friends to serve needs for companionship.  The child in the poem plays with his imaginary friend, teaches him to talk, and shares sweets with him -- all the while realizing that grown-ups don't "get it".

This deep-seated need for companionship gets expressed in the embodiment of so-called spiritual things.  Gods, Great Spirits, and other deities serve the basic social needs of some people.  Once we see a god as nothing more than an imaginary friend, we realize the same power exists: to comfort, to commune.  God fills the gaps in people's lives who need someone to talk to; to understand what they're feeling or explore questions.  God relieves the tension we feel and supports our natural desires for companionship.

You See it Too
Not only that, but another layer gets added on when believers fellowship with each other.  Suddenly, a very real person with the same imaginary friend becomes a companion, and subsequent stories can be shared that reinforce the feelings supplied by the deity.  Where the imaginary entity fails (in the lack of physical embraces, for example), the other believers succeed.  This is a powerful social reality that has direct, lasting consequences and effects in the lives of real people, and is not to be overlooked. 

Even if you, reader, are a believer in a god (or perhaps an imaginary friend), I encourage you to think about the idea that your deity is nothing more than a concept you invented.  Think about what that would entail, and note the similarities if that were the case.  I think you'll find, probably initially to your horror, that the similarities are immense.  Your God hates the things you hate, loves the people you love, and will understand you deeper than any other person.  How is that any different than Binker?



Anonymous said...

Before I jump in, in the interest of disclosure, i am a believer. And I totally understand your philosophy, as well as where it comes from. But the problem with this thnking is that it assumes that believers ignore the realities of the world. It also assumes that people who come to faith do so without using their mind and facts to come to conclusions. I would challenge you to read the books of people like Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and C.S. Lewis who were atheists. The latter two set out to disprove Christianity because it was such an annoyance to them. In the process, the indisputable facts of history, predictions of future things, and factual evidence rocked their world.

I am a mathematician, and the mathematical probabilities were what blew me away. How did authors writing centuries before make such accurate predictions? These would be statistically impossible to be true unless there is something more to life.

That is not reality. Yes, some people do come to faith as a child. But that is not at all the norm. Most people question and go through mental questions of their own beief system, and come to conclusions that were different than the things they were taught to believe.

But many scientists, physicists, mathematicians and thinking people come to faith from their mind. Everybody takes a "leap of faith". Your leap is to trust that your mind is the biggest thing you have, and it has led you to trust in that there is not a God. You choose to trust in the scientific theories of today as being the science that has come to the most accurate conclusions. Scientific opinions change constantly. 100 years ago, a science textbook would have reported many things we know now are not true. I believe another 100 years from now we will know about the things that we believe as fact that are not true. But a book in the Old testament, which scholars believe to have been written 3500 years ago said you should wash your hands before meals 400 years before bacteria was discovered. It also categorized animals in a way that science did not recognize the validity of until the last few hundred years. I could go on and on with these factual evidences. I am not saying these things to be argumentative, but to make a point. Please don't presume that Christians are mindless people just seeking emotional companionship.

Sadly, I agree with you that many people do use God for all kinds of things: justification for their prejudices, to fill a hole of companionship (though I might argue this was God's intention to draw man to himself as I am a believer), even to kill other people whose beliefs about God are different from their own. My frustration with this thinking is it seems that in today's discussions, non believers only acknowledge and discuss the ways people use God as an excuse to behave poorly, not the more often truth that God is also used as a reason to behave with kindness, generosity and selflessness. Christian and Catholic organizations more often than not provide significant amounts of the relief in disaster relief. They are often the people caring for the sick. They counsel the lonely, and meet needs for all types of calamity from emotional to weather related. Again, these things are done in the name of God.

Anonymous said...

I am the one who posted the anonymous comment from a believer. I obviously typed this a little too fast as I am trying to get our the door this morning, and I inserted a paragraph in the wrong place, as well as didn't conclude really. What can I say? I am not a writer, but a mathematician... :-)!

i just hope this will help you to not assume that believer's are nonthinking imbeciles. There are atheists and believers who are nonthinking. This is not exclusive to any one group of people. :-)!