Its all in the mind

Excluding extreme cases, nobody really wants to die. Furthermore, we’d all like to live a happy life. These innate desires within us are ultimately frustrated in this world, since death and unhappiness are inevitable realities. Philosophers like Ludwig Feuerbach thus concluded that religion could be explained psychologically. According to them, if one is willing to buy into religion they can escape their deepest fears and live in blissful ignorance of their mortality and suffering. Spirituality or religion, he argues, has no solid divine grounding, but rather is just a response to drives from the unconscious mind. Just believe… and you will get what you always wanted – immortality and eternal happiness.

Over the centuries, different thinkers have reduced spirituality to something designed for the weak – people who are unable to deal with the anxieties and uncertainties of the ‘real world’. Philosophers like Freud built on such ideas which considered religion to be a childish delusion concocted by mankind. Atheism, on the other hand, was seen as a grown-up realism. The attractiveness of religion and the strength of its grip on the human mind was thus seen to be rooted in the psychological issues of the individual.

One may question, however, why the yearning for immortality and happiness is common to every entity in the universe? Instead of minimising our deepest and innermost desires to be simply imagination and wishful thinking, it may be worth exploring where such universal longings come from? Maybe such desires reveal to us something about our higher nature and self? The fact that we are thwarted in our attempts to fulfil such desires may also expose deficiencies in our worldviews and ways of living. Feuerbach and Freud may have done well to explore these questions first.

Another small point. While speaking of the unconscious mind pushing one to believe in an ‘imaginary God’, we should also consider how the unconscious mind may also push one to quickly reject God. Eliminating any spiritual element to life liberates us of ultimate responsibility, frees us to exercise full independence over our decisions and directions in life. In trying to remove God from the picture, maybe we are trying to become God ourselves – the autonomous, independent entity who is not answerable to anyone. Interesting how the human mind works.

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