So much has already been written on the theory of the human brain being hardwired for belief in the supernatural that this post will be far better served by linking to more in-depth expert dissertations and articles on the matter instead of attempting to explore it myself.
Long story short, it’s been posited that people are instinctively geared towards worshipping a higher power.
Some religious folk seem to embrace this concept as proof of God’s existence. Others ask, “what about atheists and agnostics? Are these people just born without this supposed “God gene?”
It makes sense to me, though. I’ve been fascinated by extremities in belief from seemingly otherwise rational people my entire life. In the absence of religion, people will invariably find something to worship, even if it’s something something inconsequential like Star Wars or the MCU. That’s why people are so highly defensive of such properties, by the way. It’s become a sort of religion for them. They’re filling this God-shaped hole in their brains with it.
I used to struggle to understand how people could drive cars, go to jobs/schools, do their taxes and perform any number of other tasks like normal, sane, rational adult human beings but at the same time espouse beliefs that to me seemed outlandish.
As I got older I began to realize that to an outsider, the religious beliefs I grew up with, that seemed normal to me, would seem just as ridiculous to them as theirs were to me. That’s because it’s all irrational, but as illustrated in the screenshot above, I’d altered my neural functioning to adapt to one particular ideology. Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus, etc, they’ve all done the same.
It’s how someone like Orson Scott Card can both be a brilliant science fiction writer while fully subscribing to LDS tenets that seem downright odd to non-Mormons.
It’s how someone can get a PHD in his or her field and be as intelligent as all get-out but believe certain types of crystals are imbued with magical energy.
Bottom line is, if it’s not your belief, it’ll seem crazy to you. You choose to be brainwashed, and you pick the ideology. It’s voluntary. You give yourself to it. No one can “reprogram” you. Sure, you can be manipulated, but ultimately you’ll go in the direction that “feels” most truthful to you.
I’ve dabbled with brainwashing myself, for the purposes of creating more authentic characters I. My writing.
For instance, while writing Effugium, I convinced myself that transhumanism was a great idea. Then I convinced myself it wasn’t. I do that all the time with stuff. If I’m writing a nihilistic character, or a murder, I go to a dark place in my mind and live in it for a while, and then I snap myself out of it. Having a short attention span helps, too. The stuff I want to retain tends to stick around.
It’s all about empathy, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Say I’m writing a gay character, like the one of the kids in Liberty who gets sent to a deprogramming camp. I’m not gay, so how can I write about a teenager struggling to reconcile who he is with who everyone else wants him to be?
Well, because I understand what it’s like to be relentlessly harangued by religious authority figures who are driven to force you into a box you don’t fit in.
If I’m writing a black character, even if there’s no mention of race-related issues, I still go “Okay, imagine you’re this woman, and you’re pregnant, and everywhere you go people are scowling and assuming you’re on welfare,” or “Imagine you’re this guy and you feel eyes glued to you every time you walk into a store. You feel like a seal diving into shark-infested waters every time you get behind the wheel of your car. You’re prey. You live with a target on your back.”
And so on and so on and so on. Even if these issues aren’t mentioned or hinted at, they’re still there, lurking in the background. I don’t write a lot of characters as poorly-disguised representations of myself. I’m interested in people who aren’t like me. Self-transcendence.
The world is much bigger and much more complex than any one of us can comprehend as individuals. Some people simply don’t recognize that, and believe that their narrow perspectives on life are the be-all end-all of everything.
I’ve devoted a good portion of my bibliography to writing about cults, although I only realized this last night. The Effugium books are essential centered around a cult. Act of Laughing. Liberty. Cults abound in my writing. Of course, I was essentially in a cult for a short time in 1998, but recognized it as such right off the bat and didn’t want to be there. I was trapped, though. At the time, I thought those who fully subscribed to that bullshit were just idiots, but it’s nothing to do with intelligence, I now realize. One can possess the highest IQ on record and still believe in the unbelievable. We all have this capacity to one degree or another.
I’m an observer. At some point a couple of years ago I took a step back from it all and realized that I don’t have any serious convictions or beliefs of my own. I just don’t get those kinds of feelings, beyond temporary bursts of emotion. I don’t feel a need to be a part of something larger than myself, but it’s still interesting to me, trying to figure out the psychology of the way things work.
I try to write in such a way that whoever reads it will think I am speaking to them, validating their own personal beliefs. Whether you’re a Swiss cheese-brained MAGA monkey or a some woke-as-a-joke virtue-signaling blue-haired screechazoid, you’re my audience.
See? I’m not above petty insults, either. None of us are above anything, and that’s the point.