When I was younger I used to conjure up different types of environments, and play around with how they might actually work. As political examples, how would a totally socialist country work, or a totally capitalist, or a totally theocratic. Hollywood often makes movies about exotic fantasy environments and places us into them, and while others may like all the action these movies always seem to have, I find myself evaluating how consistent the fantasy world is with my understanding of people and nature. My wife just hates it when I point out all the flaws.
One of these fantasy worlds was that the world existed just for my benefit. Nothing existed outside of my experience. All the people in New York City? When I wasn’t in NYC, they went away. It was as though I was the only person alive, and someone else created all these people and locations and natural features either to test me, or perhaps to entertain. The movie “Matrix” incorporates some of this fantasy, although in my fantasies I alone was the object of the deception. In a small way, this particular fantasy forces you to examine the nature of your experiences, and to think about what constitutes your own store of knowledge and beliefs.
Part of what I was doing with this fantasy was assigning to myself an importance that was quite above what it really is. Could I have been less enthusiastic about the assignment? Well, sure, but if your building a fantasy world, you might as well go all the way. Going back to movies, it seems that no matter how many others are fighting, the final contest always come down to one man. In the hands of Frodo hung the fate of middle earth. Or Luke Skywalker, the rebellion.
Aside from the self-importance enthusiasm, what is the fundamental difference between this fantasy, and the fantasies of most religions? Sticking to Christians, they believe that God made man in His image, and that His only son died to save them. So not only is Homo Sapiens special and unique in all the universe, but Christians are even more special. Given the number of people claiming to be doing God’s work, I’d bet that the specificity of God’s favor extends right on down, in some cases, to the individual. If that weren’t sufficient, Christians believe God cares about each one of us individually, hears our prayers, individually judges us when we die.
Each of us is, after all, trapped with the same perspective where we remain constant and the universe revolves around us. Its pretty natural to assume our individual world is larger and more important than it really is. Its also a normal inclination to want to believe you are part of something bigger than yourself, that you are special, and as long as you’re building a fantasy, why not make it a good one?
One major difference is that I know my fantasy is such. While many faithful understand that parts of their faith are symbolic, too many others take a religion’s teachings literally.
All the above would seem to represent quite an indictment of religion, especially Christianity, reducing long- and deeply-held beliefs to mere fantasies. However, the universe really is a wondrous place. Although I think it could have arisen without an intelligent guiding hand, I can understand that other people can reasonably think otherwise. I have no problem with people finding God in the making of that world, having faith that there is something beyond what we can observe and taking comfort from that faith. Where I start to get annoyed is when people think they (or their group) are somehow special, and I get more so when they use that specialness to justify their behavior. Or sometimes, their mis-behavior.
March 2, 2005