Payoff: That Family Feeling


I have been reading a book called A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives which lays out the facts on how the mind will do whatever it takes to maintain a belief despite absurdity or evidence to the contrary. I believe one reason people maintain their spiritual delusions is that certain forces impinge upon the mind of a person making the prospect of continuing with a delusion more appealing, or at least less traumatic, than giving up that delusion (a religion, or a religious belief).

One of the primary factors that makes religion pay off in the lives of certain people is family.

Family can be an initimidating force in sustaining a delusion.
Family: An intimidating force.

From what I have observed, the desire to gain the approval of a strong-willed family member, a patriarchal figure or a matriarchal figure, seems to contribute heavily in making a religion pay off for an individual.

Often, it is extremely important to gain the approval of Mom, Dad, or grandmother/grand-dad. A family image as “church-goers” or “god-fearing folk” may be a strong motivator for that family leader. Therefore, thoughts of giving up the faith or switching to another religion invokes images of that person shaking their head in shame (“tsk-tsk-tsk,” “don’t you know we’ve always been god-fearing people!”).

If the parents have been strong in church or religious activities, the children may have an profound fear of failing to “honor thy mother and father.” This irrational fear keeps people tightly bound to their religion. The payoff: approval of the matriarchal, patriarchal figure. By maintaing untenable beliefs, the believer does not have to feel like a disappointment or embarrasment to the family. Holding such a belief, despite internal tension or conflict, prevents one of the worst fears that people have from coming true: separation from the group, or the “tribe.”

I think it is people like me – – the outsiders – – with “connectivity” issues, to one degree or another, who can more easily see the truth. When there is no payoff in remaining blind to the truth, it is easier to come to the conclusion that the God behind Christianity just is not there.

Of course I’m not as sharp as many ex-christians. I maintained the delusion for 30+ years, truly believing that the typical evangelical responses to charges of absurdity, contradiction and suffering imposed by [G|g]od were “good enough”. But, I was not raised in Christianity. I didn’t convert until 14 and even then, it was outside the influence of my immediate family. When I was able to put away the remnants of a tattered faith and realize that my life had been tragically side-tracked by a false hope, I did not have to feel the force of family expectations opposing me.

If the full force of a family history in Christianity had been there, who knows how much longer I would have allowed myself to continue to delude myself.


2 Responses to “Payoff: That Family Feeling”

  1. Your social observations about family and the often fleeting, if not non-existant opportunity for real choice in growing individuals is right on the money. I suggest Eric Hoffer, “The True Believer” to anyone who’d like to consider the conflict between familial indoctrination and its macro relation to the intertwined indivdual within his/her society. Right now is a wonderful time for such ponderings! There are many social, religious and political agendas that create “the mix” of our day, if you will. Thank you for this blog.

    “Hoffer argues that mass movements such as Fascism and Communism spread by promising a glorious future. To be successful, these mass movements need the adherents to be willing to sacrifice themselves and others for the future goals. To do so, mass movements need to devalue both the past and the present. Mass movements appeal to frustrated people who are dissatisfied with their current state, but are capable of a strong belief in the future. As well, mass movements appeal to people who want to escape a flawed self by creating an imaginary self and joining a collective whole. ” Wikipedia critique

  2. 2 2serious

    ” As well, mass movements appeal to people who want to escape a flawed self by creating an imaginary self and joining a collective whole. ”

    I’m reminded of Terrence Real’s comments in his book “I don’t want to talk about it.” He described two phenomena called “merger” and “elevation” where the depressed individual seeks to avoid dealing with depression by losing oneself in certain experiences (drugs, sex, alcohol, rage) or pumping up one’s sense of empowerment to unrealistic levels. (pages 63-65).

    What you describe in terms of mass movements sounds quite similar. I wonder if “elevation” significantly explains the flawed individual’s motivation for becoming involved in mass political movements.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I will put it on my list.

    And thank you for your insightful comment as well.

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