I interviewed Dr Josh Bowen recently and posted it yesterday; in the chat, I made a comment about God-shaped holes needing to be filled with something. By this, I mean that belief in God is invariably functional – God or gods provide functional benefits to believers outside of the religious and theological content. We are not convinced to belief by such high-falutin ideas – these come as post hoc rationalisation; rather, we are convinced by social and psychological reasons, often enacted at young ages.
Some examples of the psychological functionality in belief in God (where I will assume an American Christianity here):
- Social networks: church, neighbourhoods. These act as much as sticks as carrots.
- Familial networks. These act as much as sticks as carrots.
- Both of the above can be seen in in-group/out-group psychology and the development of personal and group identity.
- Comfort in having eternal life in heaven. This can be seen as terror management theory.
- Attribution – explanation of how things are or have come to be.
- Perception of explaining or underwriting morality. This bubbles over into practical applications – God can codify or be used to defend gun freedoms, anti-abortion etc.
So on and so forth.
My point was that if we are going to move past God into a post-God paradigm and society, we need to understand what God functionally does in order to replace those needs or God-shaped holes with not-God ideals and mechanisms and filler.
I was called out by a regular commenter, the fab Phil Rimmer:
This is an excellent point. Perhaps some of those holes don’t need to be filled, perhaps some of that scaffold does not need replacing. To think of the scaffold analogy, we might see belief in God as providing some structural scaffolding that allows us to move about in that edifice, to allow the building to remain firmly in place.
What Phil appears to be saying is that the scaffolding doesn’t need replacing because the whole building is problematic and needs knocking down (washing away).
An example might be in mortality salience – dealing with the inevitability of death. Rather than think we need to replace the biggest bribe in human conception (eternal life in perfect heaven) with some other kind of bribe, we need to knock the whole eternal life edifice down and be done with it. Accept that this particular palace was nothing more than a shimmering mirage.
In this case, we knock that building down and build a far more modest replacement for the whole idea. Shit happens. You die. Deal with it. So make this existence as good and rewarding as you possibly can.
Perhaps in the estate agent’s window the comparison of the pictures of these two properties might be entirely different. You will be attracted to the shimmering palace. But at what (cognitive, emotional, psychological) price?
I would advise buying the more modest property and not living in deficit, indebted to your local church and your local god.
Which functions that god-belief satisfies need to be replaced, and which ones can be washed away or completely rebuilt?
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