“A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY IS BETTER…”
Our beaming nine-year old son delivered his insight during a family discussion at the dinner table: “A false sense of security is better than no sense of security at all!” There was a moment of silence as we all considered the proposal he was floating. My first impulse was to agree. After all, it’s good to feel secure, isn’t it? But soon our ‘parent-mode’ kicked in and we began to pick apart his thesis. In short order, we listed some of the ways that a false sense of security can lead to disaster.
There were voluminous examples from our own lives.
- There was the time I was driving our new 4-wheel drive Jeep over an icy mountain pass…my unwarranted sense of invulnerability soon led to our doing 360’s on a road where a 2000’ plunge awaited the unwary. I should really say ‘times’, because this happened more than once. I admit that I am a slow learner. I really, really had faith in the efficacy of my 4-wheeler until evidence caused me to think otherwise! We Atheists escaped from every incident without a scratch – we somehow avoided the plunge into an abyss or into the on-coming traffic.
- We considered the case of a family choosing to forgo insurance (“We never get sick!”) suddenly facing ruinous medical bills from an unforeseen illness.
- What about mis-placed trust in a false friend?
Life abounds with examples of what happens when one ignores Reality in favor of a comforting illusion.
Now, decades later, we all still smile recalling that moment-in-time as members of our young family groped towards a clearer understanding of their place in the world. All of this comes to mind because of a recent excruciating experience on FaceBook. I watched a video, shot by a relative of mine, depicting a children’s Christmas pageant which was held at the Calvary Early Childhood Center in Pittsburgh. It was ‘excruciating’ because the video ground on for a full six minutes as the assembled four year olds endlessly repeated the song lyrics that went something like this: “Jesus loves us EVERY DAY! EVERY DAY! EVERY DAY! Jesus loves us EVERY DAY, mumphf, mmmfff, mupmfuf, MUM!”. (The video was long, but not long enough to decipher all the words precisely…they are only four years old, after all!). Disclosure: a closer inspection of the video revealed it to be only 1:41 in length. It just SEEMED like six minutes! Admittedly, four year old children engaged in choral singing accompanied by choreographed (albeit mis-timed) hand movements is as cute as…well, as cute as Christmas. Since you don’t have the visual burned in your brain, as I do, it looked like this: Upon singing the words “EVERY DAY”, the kids raised their arms in a ‘raise the roof’ gesture and waggled their hands. One little girl (dead-center, highest row), dressed in white and wearing a cocked halo above her little blonde head, spun around in a show of ecstasy each time she ‘raised the roof’. “EVERY DAY!!” Cute, but the performance went on long enough to allow this crusty, old Scrooge to re-ponder the question raised by my young son all those years ago.
Here, I couldn’t help but think, are these innocents being taught in a pre-school named for Golgotha, the place of terror, desolation and death-by-torture where Romans executed political prisoners, including (so it is said) Jesus. What they are being taught is that they have an invisible Best Friend, who loves them unconditionally, watches them from above the clouds and protects them from harm. As these kids grow up, and Evil or misfortune inevitably touches their lives, they will have been carefully taught to first consider their own complicity in their troubles. They will have been taught that Evil exists because humans have ‘sinned’ or have not accepted ‘God’. Adding to the absurdity, the core ‘sin’ of which they are personally ‘guilty’ is the one which was supposedly committed at the dawn of time by Adam and Eve! [A poll at Slate.com reveals that 56% of Americans believe that Adam and Eve were real people! See the Skeptics and Atheists of Durango December 2014 Newsletter for more at Durangofreethinkers.com]. So, the sins of the parents are indeed visited upon the children! We all are sinners from our first breath: Psalms 51:5 – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
The adults in the audience at [Golgotha] Early Childhood Center, who cheered wildly at the conclusion of this ditty, are apparently sincere in their own beliefs. But are they doing their children a disservice by cultivating this false sense of security at a time when the kids are too young to be able to parse things out for themselves? The pre-schoolers will remember the warmth of the approval of their parents and teachers and will have a sense of being ‘special’ because of their communal belief in the unseen and unknowable. Images like Golgotha and the bloody torture-death of Jesus will become the unremarkable wallpaper of their lives and most will not think to question what they were taught by the adults they trusted at such a tender age.
I love Santa Claus as much as the next Atheist. I was taught that Santa was aware of everything I thought and did. That Santa was tracking my behavior in order to reward or punish me for my actions throughout the year. Santa loved me and wanted the best for me. Santa believed in ME! And I believed in Santa because the proof was right in front of my eyes: not only did ALL the adults in my life enthusiastically profess belief in Santa, but there were tangible presents under the tree from the Jolly Old Elf every year! Proof! Evidence! Right there! The adults in my life continued to encourage my belief, until the year they didn’t. I was crushed to discover that I had been mis-led for the first eight or so years of my life.
But at the same time, my mother’s determined ‘faith’ in Jesus was never disavowed (as her ‘faith’ in Santa had been) even when she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her life ended in confusion as her beloved Jesus allowed her to die in agony…how could Jesus have allowed this to happen to HER, she continually wondered? She died, without finding the answer, still clutching the tattered shreds of her false sense of security. The same false sense which was indelibly instilled during her childhood, long before she reached the age of reason. Her ‘faith’ was so strong that she rejected me, her ‘only begotten son’, turning her face away from me on her deathbed rather than accept the fact that I am an Atheist. Her false sense of security caused her to reject her actual, physical, present, real family in favor of her invisible, unresponsive, friend.
Is there a downside to religious belief? Yes. Religious belief is a classic example of a False Sense of Security.
- The focus of The Believer’s life is to gain rewards in an invisible Kingdom in the Sky. Additional brownie points accrue to the Believer’s account if he/she brings along additional souls. This represents a lifelong mis-direction of one’s attention to things that don’t exist.
- A religious false sense of security marginalizes the here-and-now and encourages the notion that there is an afterlife that is more important than the Life we are actually Living. This can easily lead to poor life decisions.
- It requires people to spend their precious time in a perpetual posture of submission, abasement, and guilt for imagined ‘sins’.
- It re-directs energy into fruitless and destructive missionary and proselytizing efforts.
- Those efforts, in turn, destabilize/destroy social structures of other cultures and demean, insult and condescend to individuals who are subject to the unwanted attentions of religious zealots.
- It fosters an unhealthy obsession with Death and dying which is easily recognized when it occurs in other (read: Islamic) cultures but is blissfully ignored in our own. Christianity adds the taint of torture and blood sacrifice to the background noise of superstition and dogma that children accept from their parents and teachers without question.
- It often leads to a smug, self-satisfied world view which stunts intellectual growth and kills critical thinking. Witness the Creation Museum, Intelligent Design, etc.
It has been postulated (Dawkins, Hitchens) that Religion is a virulent virus that infects the human mind. Once the virus is introduced, it is difficult (if not impossible) to remove. It becomes a lens of un-reality through which all else is distorted. Atheism is not The Answer. Rather, it is simply a means of re-focusing our energy by discarding pre-Bronze Age superstitions and concepts while we continually search for evidence-based Answers to Life’s questions. Atheism is an attempt to experience life free of the distorting False Sense of Security that comes with the religious traditions with which we were all raised and which now saturate our daily lives.
Yes, the religion of your childhood may provide a sense of security, but a false sense of security is no substitute for the security that comes from being in touch with Reality.
Thanks for reading … I welcome comments, rebuttals, opposing viewpoints, etc.