Question: What is God?
Answer: God is an idea—a powerful one. Many Gods have existed as ideas throughout human history, and many still continue to exist. For example, the Christian God was established in the New Testament and has been more or less the same since. If you consider it as a continuation of Jehovah, that makes God at least 3000 years old.
Question: How can an idea persist for so long?
Answer: Ideas exist purely in people’s minds. So in order for an idea to persist, the people who carry it need to persist. So the idea of God must have certain properties that make the societies that carry it more likely to survive, compared to ones that do not carry it.
Question: How does the idea of God make a society more likely to survive?
Answer: In many different ways. Major ones are: (1) It serves as a handle by which individuals’ emotions, and hence actions, can be controlled. (2) It decreases individualism, increases altruism and assimilates the self into the collective identity. (3) God-fearing individuals are more receptive to indoctrination of virtues and habits which make them more likely to survive in the face of adversity and dominate weaker cultures. (4) It makes it easier for people to unite and cooperate, by guaranteeing a cultural fit between individuals who have received the same indoctrination.
Question: How does the idea of God allows one to control people’s emotions?
Answer: The idea of God alone does not allow one to control emotions. Being exposed to accompanying lore and imagery creates a personality that is susceptible to evoking of certain feelings. For example, exposing someone to the Passion of Jesus for a long time—e.g. “He died for our sins”—makes it easier to evoke shame. Similarly, exposing someone to the Crossing of the Red Sea—where Moses leads Jews to the Promised Land—makes it easier to evoke pride and feelings of exceptionality. Strategic evocation of pride, shame, fear and love is at the heart of every religious indoctrination.
Question: How does religious indoctrination work?
Answer: There is a fundamental principle to religion, which is revealed by Hebb’s Theory. When a group of neurons are stimulated repeatedly, the connections between them get stronger. In other words, cells that fire together wire together. During indoctrination, religious concepts and ideas are repeated strategically in order to make them more resilient. Different types of stimuli are used to “attack all senses”, such as vocal/auditory (prayers, chants, mantras), visual (religious imagery, symbols, totems) and literary (scripture). Over time, religious practices have been perfected to leave the maximum impact on the individual, that is, convert them as fast and efficiently as possible.
Question: What does it mean to convert an individual?
Answer: Converting means making someone believe in something.
Question: What is belief?
Answer: Belief is when a certain proposition about the world resonates with an individual, or in other words, feels right or true. Religious faith is essentially a collection of interlinked propositions, such as “God exists.”, “Jesus is the son of God”, “Mary gave birth to Jesus”, and so on.
Question: What is the difference between belief and faith?
Answer: Belief, faith and confidence all describe different flavors of the same neurological phenomenon. With belief, the feeling of “rightness” is more superficial, whereas with faith it is more visceral. It also depends on the context: faith generally evokes Christianity, confidence is generally about one’s self, and belief is independent of the context.
Question: So faith is a generic neurological state?
Answer: Yes. This is what the so-called neurotheologists are studying, though some of them still make it exclusively about God.
Question: Then, can I have faith in anything I want?
Answer: Yes, anything. If you wanted, you could feel about “The first 5 digits of π are 3.1415” as strongly as a Christian feels about God. You could have faith in yourself, the Universe, the Nation, Love, etc. If it feels counter-intuitive, it’s because Christianity has a monopoly on faith in the West.
Question: So I could use these practices on myself to make myself believe in anything?
Answer: Yes, you can. People already do it in a way with affirmations, to build self-confidence for example.
Question: How do I do that?
Answer: (1) Write your own prayers—affirmation is the cooler term—for whatever purpose you want. (2) Repeat them every day. (3) The affirmations will evolve through time as they get ingrained. Feel free to update them so that they sound better and more meaningful. (4) Most importantly, be careful not to repeat anything that doesn’t feel right, or you will have a hard time. If you want to say something, but it makes you cringe, modify it until it feels believable (for example, you can make your affirmations more modest).
Question: Does that also mean I could have faith without believing in any myths or unprovable assumptions?
Answer: Yes, you are free to choose what to believe in. You can choose to have faith in only what you see, i.e. the scientific reality.
Question: Does this have something to do with the feeling of holiness?
Answer: Yes, holy is what you repeat. Repetition consecrates.
Question: If I removed God and the myth from religion, what would I be left with?
Answer: You would be left with pure, unadulterated faith. Specifically, you would be left with adaptable and reproducible procedures which can be used to induce any belief you want.
Question: Would that still be called religion though?
Answer: Probably not.
Question: Would religion still be religion without God?
Answer: I don’t know. Maybe we could come up with a new name.
Question: What would you call it?
Answer: We have in our hands practices used to create faith, so it has to have something to do with that.
Question: What is Greek for “faith-creating”?
Answer: Faith in Ancient Greek is πίστις (pístis). So you would have something like Pistogenics. But that sounds awful.
Question: What else could you try?
Answer: Well, theo- seems to be popular in this context, though it still means God. It wouldn’t be irrelevant though, since we are inspired by religion in the first place.
Question: Then, what would you call the Art and Engineering of Faith?
Question: Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it?
Answer: It does.