The following is a copy of another one of my blogs. I’m sharing it here as it is very relevant to religion as religious beliefs and spiritual teachings can become so ego-rewarding that we employ them to isolate ourselves from the world. Let me illustrate with the simple bromide from the Christian tradition, “Jesus Saves.” Though this bromide does not have the same meaning to me as it did in my youth, nevertheless I find it still of great value. But these two words can easily be used to distort the teachings of Jesus into a belief-system which is nothing but a self-imposed prison. Value is found in this, and all bromides only when we explore them and make them personally relevant, an exploration which must include also a courage to “explore” our very identity. If we do not put our “self” at risk by questioning the unquestioned assumptions that are present in our heart, we will address spiritual truth on a superficial level and use this “truth” as a shield against “the Truth.” We will be guilty of merely believing what we want to believe.
Colorado has a group of people who are apparently serious about the notion of a flat earth. When I started reading this I suspected it was a spoof but the more I read I realize that these people are serious. They really do believe the earth is flat and they have “proof” that this notion is valid! ) I have often in my “career” as a blogger used the flat earth notion to illustrate complete lunacy, a private world view for people who have lost contact with reality and created their own little imaginary world which, at the extreme, is collective psychosis. Ideas can carry us away and because of their intoxicating effect on our mind-set we can lose all critical capacity, believing our pet “idea” even when all evidence suggests it is self-delusion. (See Denver Post story at following link: (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/07/colorado-earth-flat-gravity-hoax/)
I have my own personal spoof of this lunacy in which I facetiously and sarcastically postulate a world in which “the moon is made out of cheese.” Yes, suppose during the night I am the victim of a neurological convulsion in my brain and awakened the next morning to know, with great passion, that “the moon is made out of cheese.” If this should happen, I might take this very seriously and suddenly realize that it is the truth, that the darkness I’ve lived in has finally lifted, and I see clearly that, yes, “the moon is made out of cheese.” Furthermore, some friends might try to intervene and set me straight but they would make no progress because, “when you know the truth, you just kinda know the truth” and no one is going to dissuade you. Of course, finding truth always requires that others be convinced so I would start evangelizing and before long I would have a congregation of like-minded souls and we would then have the solace of validation, a solace which would be enhanced by the realization that only we saw the truth and that any “truth” is always rejected by those who are enlightened. This insight would give us the comfort of borrowing a theme from fundamentalists of every stripe and sadly and piously understand that “we are being persecuted for His sake.”
I am here addressing one of my pet themes, best described as a toxic version of group-think, a private referential system in which validation is found only in those who have found our view of the world amenable to theirs. When this toxicity infects any idea, ideas which might otherwise have value to others is immediately rejected by these “others” as they have no meaning to them whatsoever. The resulting ideology, a passionate belief system that has become delusional becomes a private prison guaranteed to repel anyone who looks on from the outside. But the rejection itself is perversely rewarding as it leaves the “true believers” with the smug satisfaction of owning “truth” which only they have apprehended. What has happened is that very unhappy people have crafted a belief system which isolates them even further than they were to begin with and they slowly die from the suffocation that always comes from what Paul Tillich called “an empty world of self-relatedness.” Emily Dickinson described it as “a mind too near itself to see distinctly.”
In my clinical career this phenomena was known as “insanity,” succinctly capsulized in a clinical bromide, “Mental illness is a reference problem.” The individual who is completely mad…and we are all mad to some degree…has cut himself off from all external reference and finds great comfort in his delusional system. For the intoxication of self-delusion resists any sobering-up that critical thinking would afford. It is easy for an out-sider, i.e. a non-believer, to quickly isolate the premise of a delusional system but just dare try to challenge that premises and you will meet great resistance. For this “premise” represents an emotional investment the person/persons have made which cannot be relinquished without great pain. Hypothetically, if one could reach into the heart of these people and surgically extirpate the premise, one would witness a complete melt-down. For this premise is an existential anchor which holds its victims prisoners in a fortress from which they dare not escape.
I conclude with, still again, my favorite bumper-sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”