Have you ever been told that Jesus died for you? I have. Many times. And over the past few years, I’ve gradually become aware of the psychological consequences of such a belief.
First and foremost, the belief leads to a feeling of obligation. After all, wouldn’t you feel some sense of obligation–a very strong sense at that–to the person who gave his life in order to save your own? I mean, I know in some societies the individual feels he owes his life to anyone who has saved his life, though the rescuer didn’t die in the process. Still, how much stronger is the sense of obligation when rescuer dies?
Most individuals will at least try to see that the children of the deceased rescuer are well taken care of, should he happened to have had any. Even the savior’s widow (providing he was married) or mother is given elevated status as a result of the self-sacrifice.
Also, the same sense of obligation is usually felt towards a group that has or had a self-sacrificing member. Therefore, every nation has stories of dead heroes and statues dedicated to dead heroes (who died to save others) in order to booster the sense of obligation. Naturally, the sense of obligation in this case is termed “patriotism.”
The sense of obligation, in regard to the individual who was self-sacrificing and groups that had a member who was self-sacrificing, is so universal for humans that it may even be instinctive.
The story of a self-sacrificing individual doesn’t need to true to evoke a sense of obligation, but the story does need to be believed as true–which leads us to the second psychological ploy used to coerce individuals into a sense of obligation.
Threats and Intimidation for Disbelief
Children living in the communist world are told that all sorts of hell will result from disbelieving the Communist Creed. Children living under capitalism are told that all sorts of hell will result from disbelieving in the Capitalist Creed. Children living in the Muslim world are told that they shall fry when they die for disbelieving the Muslim Creed. Children living in the Christian world are told that they shall fry for eternity in a literal Hell for disbelieving the Christian Creed. However, these belief systems contradict each other. Therefore, some or all of them cannot possibly be true. Accordingly, anytime threats and intimidation are used for disbelief, the individual should become highly skeptical of the belief system being promoted.
Furthermore, threats and intimidation can have another effect. They can scare the individual into questioning logical thoughts about the matter. This is sort of like coercing children into staying in the house by telling them that a boogeyman will grab them under the cover of darkness outside. Once the children have been scared witless with a boogeyman story, practically no amount of logical persuasion will convince them otherwise. Accordingly, anytime the individual feels uncomfortable about questioning the reality of a story, then that story should be treated skeptically.
The third psychological ploy used to conceal the reality of the situation is to tell the individual that he is free to believe or not believe. But before you readily agree with this common perversion of reality, allow me to point out that this is the logical equivalent of saying you are free to believe in the story of Paul Bunyan or not, which isn’t true. You can read and hear the tall tales of Paul Bunyan, and you can pretend to believe the stories are true, you can even profess that the stores are true to nearly everyone you meet; but if the stories are contrary to your sense of reality, then you would disbelieve, no matter what. You cannot believe something that is totally absurd or unacceptable to your mind. Of course, language can be used to confound the issue, such as saying things like “you are mad at Paul Bunyan and therefore you deny the stories of his life and his existence.” But the people who are in the true state of denial would be the ones failing to accept that you do not believe simply because you have determined some or all of the tales are just absurd or too unbelievable.
The Ontogeny of Belief
To understand another primary causative factor involved in belief one must realize that the emotions rule mental processes. When a person doesn’t feel any strong emotion about a subject–say for instance, whether or not it is proper to eat collards and cornbread on Friday–then the subject can be discussed without emotional influence. Therefore, to understand strong belief, one must understand how emotions are developed.
The human being is born with an instinct to FEEL the emotions others display. For example, nearly thirty years ago my wife was holding our infant daughter in her lap. She said, “Hey honey, watch this,” and proceeded to hold her face close to the child and make a clownish grin. The baby went to kicking and giggling with delight. My wife switch her expression to a face that looked sad enough to have made even Buster Keaton envious. The baby became tense, her tiny hands closed into fists, she wrinkled her face and let out a wail that could have awaken the dead. My wife switched her expression to the clownish grin again and tears quit flowing and giggles and coos were again being emitted by the babe. My wife switch our daughter between these two states until I stopped her out of fear that damage would be done to the child.
The behavior of infants in such instances has been termed “mirroring” behavior. And I think the term is very misleading. Obviously the image in a mirror doesn’t feel any emotion as you stand before it. But my child’s tears were real. That is, my child was FEELING the emotions that her mother was displaying. This was at a time before my child had acquired language.
During the acquisition of language, the child is taught to feel and relate certain utterances to emotional states. Utterances and emotions are so intimately intertwined that they become as one–the utterance causes the emotion to be evoked, the emotion causes the utterance to be thought or spoken.
Would it be possible to teach a child language, as we all know it, if the instructor was to wear a mask so that facial gestures couldn’t be related to the utterance being spoken? What if the instructor also spoke through or used a speech synthesizer, so that all emotional tonal variances would be erased from utterances?
The human being is the most emotional animal in existence; and emotion is intimately tied to human language. Furthermore, Christians have been taught lots and lots of emotional associations in regard to the story of Jesus. Logical discourse doesn’t stand a chance against the emotions that the average Christian feels. That is, humans are severely handicapped when it comes to using logic in regard anything they feel strongly about; and Christians are only human.
Here are the facts presented so far:
1. The possibility exists that the story of Jesus “dying to save others” is a story told merely to prey upon the individual’s sense of responsibility–to make him (or her) feel obligated. Undoubtedly, the story would generally have that effect anyway. So, since a story of Jesus dying for me could have been invented to trick me into feeling obligated to him or to the group that claims to be his representative, then I should be highly skeptical of the story, which I am.
2. The possibility exists that the story of Eternal Damnation was invented to scare the individual into a believing in the story of Jesus, and thus into a feeling of obligation. So, since the story of Eternal Damnation could have been invented to coerce me into unquestioning belief (regarding the story of Jesus), then the threat of eternal damnation should be doubly questioned, which I do; and the threat makes me even more skeptical about the story of Jesus.
3. If I am told that Jesus died for me but I must believe the story in order to be “saved,” then at this point the story becomes purely a psychological ploy. Suppose, for instance, me, you, and my brother were in a boat out on a lake doing some fishing. Suppose you slipped and were knocked unconscious and fell overboard. Suppose one of us saved you. Does your knowledge or belief affect the fact that you were saved? Would you become “unsaved” merely because you questioned if I saved you, if my brother saved you, or if you really fell overboard? No, such skepticism couldn’t “unsave” you. So, either Jesus died to save humanity or he did not. And if we are told we must believe the story in order to be saved, then the threat causes the story (of the supposed sacrificial death) to take on the character of little more than a subtle manipulative psychological ploy. Present belief is irrelevant to whether a previous act had any sort of deterministic impact (natural/supernatural) on reality.
4. Since I am not free to believe just any story presented to me, due to the fact that I cannot believe something that I strongly feel (on the basis of emotion) is untrue, nor can I believe something that is too absurd for my mind to accept, then I should question the truthfulness and motives, or the logic, of a story-teller who insists that I am free to believe his story or not.
5. Language is intimately tied to emotion. Every logical discussion stands a chance of being contaminated by emotions, even if the emotions are not displayed. No human can logically discuss a matter he feels strongly about, since the human justifies his feelings with “logic” (rhetoric) and not vice versa.
Yes, I have been told a thousand times over and a thousand different ways that Jesus died for me. And for the majority of my life I believed it. But, as we live life, we each encounter different and sometimes unusual circumstances; and such things have an effect on us and the we think. Thus, things happened in my life that resulted in my perspective changing. I now see that the story of Jesus is an illusion. The story is filled with emotionally loaded improbable narrations. The story has psychological ploys that are designed to evoke a feeling of obligation. The story uses threat and intimidation in order to coerce the individual into belief. The story also has boogeyman-like threats that are designed to scare individuals witless. I’ve regained my wits. I’m not scared anymore. I feel no emotional attachment to the superhero of a tall tale titled, The Story of Jesus. I no longer feel obliged. I can now discuss the story and Jesus by considering any logical possibility.