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What Is Real?

When I was very young, not even in school, a recurring nightmare troubled my sleep. A wolf with demonic eyes would stand on its hind legs and chase me relentlessly. I still feel the shadow of fear to this day when I think about it.

I shared my nightmares with my mother. She suggested that I pray about it, asking Heavenly Father to remove the nightmares. I prayed as she suggested, and the nightmares went away. I felt comforted that God was answering my prayers.

I now sit in church meetings as an outside observer. I often ponder on what brings people to sit in church for three hours on a Sunday. There must be some real benefits to induce them. What is real about the religious experience despite the unreality of God?

Comfort is one answer. There is real comfort available in religion. I received comfort when I prayed that my nightmares would end. Mourners receive real comfort when they imagine their deceased loved ones received into a paradisaical afterlife where they in turn will meet their dead when their time comes. It is reassuring to believe that an all-powerful being is directing our lives for our good.

Community is another answer. We flock with birds of a feather. Religion brings like-minded people together on a regular basis and encourages them to become a community. Human beings are communal creatures, and religion helps to fulfill our need to feel connected with others.

Transcendent experiences are a third answer. Adherents of religions throughout the world have real experiences involving overwhelming peace and a sense of connection and transcendence. These experiences fulfill our innate need to find a greater meaning for our life than brute survival and reproduction.

Answers to our questions are yet another benefit of religion. Curious by nature, we hate not knowing the answer to a question. Real, truthful answers are hard to come by, but we can be sated with answers that have the semblance of reality. Why does the universe exist? No one rightly knows, but it’s nice to have an answer that assuages our curiosity as long as we don’t scrutinize it too closely.

Direction is the final answer that I will mention. Without goals to work toward, life becomes a tedium of recurring cycles without end. Without purpose, we languish in a meandering existence that goes nowhere in particular. If our life doesn’t serve a greater purpose, then why live at all? Religion gives us ready-made goals to work for. We don’t have to scrounge around for our own.

Religion provides real benefits irrespective of the truthfulness of its claims. The faithful often cite these benefits as evidence in favor of those claims. A placebo has no curative benefit beyond the patient’s belief therein. The benefits of religion cannot easily be ascribed to the existence of deity. Perhaps belief in something—any plausible lie—will do.

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  1. paranoidfr33k said,

    August 22, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

    I’ve never needed comfort, but then I’ve not gone through any big ordeals that would require my need for it. I don’t need the community as I’m very content living my own life without needing company of others, except for my family of course. I’m finding that not having answers to big questions like where do we come from, why are we here and what happens after we die are not that important in the big picture of how I live my daily life. I still try to answer these questions, but I now realize that religion doesn’t answer them sufficiently so I don’t rely on it as a source for those answers. Lastly, I guess my goals and direction in life have been shaped by my religious upbringing, so I do have that to be thankful for. My life goals in life haven’t changed much since I decided to drop my faith in the LDS church. It seems that I do not need to be part of a religious institution in order to continue my life.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    August 22, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

    That’s an important point that I didn’t make. Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on these benefits.

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