As a teen I was an evangelical Christian for a couple of years.
Then when I couldn’t find evidence for God’s existence, I became an atheist for most of my adult life.
Then in August 2019, I hit crisis point. After consuming enough mind-bending drugs to kill an elephant, I started attending Narcotics Anonymous.
And that’s when my atheism gave way to lots of spiritual and religious ideas for several weeks & months.
And weirdly, I didn’t seem to make the connection between the two: between attending NA (which is very spiritual) and my own new-found spiritual ideas.
Until a few weeks ago. Then, I made an uncomfortable realisation… I realised NA had been having quite a major influence on my ideas about God and a Higher Power.
Disturbed somewhat, I went back to my former rational, scientific, atheistic beliefs. Mostly.
So What Is God? Why Do We Need Religion?
Here’s my theory.
We have at least 2 parts to our minds: the conscious and the unconscious.
It seems to me like the conscious mind is quite tightly attuned to rational, logical thought.
And the unconscious mind is more closely associated with emotions and feelings.
Note: I may be conflating concepts here. But at the very least, we have two sets of dichotomies:
- Conscious vs unconscious mind
- Intellect & reason vs feelings & emotions
In our conscious mind, we can clearly hear our own internal voice. We think mostly in a linear fashion, using language.
Our unconscious mind seems to think much more in pictures.
You know how they say, “A picture tells a thousand words”? Well, that’s the way I imagine the unconscious mind works.
Whereas the conscious mind is pretty good at being exact, precise, accurate… the unconscious mind tends to be more approximate.
The unconscious mind tries to sum up vast amounts of information into a picture, or a series of pictures.
This is what happens when we’re dreaming. We get mental images which are strongly associated with certain emotions.
They don’t necessarily make much sense to the conscious mind, but it’s a mistake to dismiss them as meaningless.
Look at the work of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Both psychologists felt that dreams were deeply significant in terms of the unconscious mind, hidden motivations etc.
Jung in particular developed the idea of psychological archetypes… we can think of them as figures and stories which are so common to the human experience that we recognise them instantly and universally across all human cultures.
There’s the Hero, the old Crone, the Devil… you get the idea.
They’re visual and emotional constructs which we can instantly understand.
I don’t think our rational mind needs a God. He seems superfluous and there’s little to no evidence for His existence.
But religion and spirituality appeal deeply to our unconscious mind, to the part of us which thinks in pictures, emotions and archetypes.
The part of us which dreams. The part of us which comes up with all of our creative ideas.
The part of us that’s responsible for our strongest motivations and desires.
And this is the key thing…
Human beings are not 100% rational.
“If you’re a scientist or a mathematician, it’s tempting to think of the world purely in terms of logic and reason. But that’s like standing on an iceberg and declaring there’s nothing worthwhile under the water. We all know that what’s above the water is just 10% of the story.”Bollinger, R. (2020)
If you know anything about marketing, advertising or even behavioural economics, you’ll know for sure that humans are not rational beings.
It’s emotions (not logic) that governs our lives. It’s emotions which motivate and compel us into action, not rational argument.
And I’m starting to believe that God and spirituality are a helpful ingredient for our unconscious mind.
A belief in God can help us to feel emotionally safe, protected.
It can help motivate us to engage in behaviours we’ve identified as “Good”.
Maybe you’re someone who feels they don’t need God to feel in control of their lives. You’re stood on your 10% of the iceberg, peering below the water with mistrust.
As far as you’re concerned, your life is going well and there’s no need to delve below the surface of your mind.
And that’s fine. Really.
I think each of us needs to decide for ourselves what God is, what we believe (if anything).
The important thing is that we don’t try to force our beliefs on others. And we don’t sneer at others’ beliefs simply because we can’t understand them.
God In My Own Life
I’m starting to come around to believing in God and spirituality again.
Not in the sense that I think there’s a literal man with a beard sat in the clouds…
… But in the sense that there’s a bit of God inside me, inside all of us, that calls us forward to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. It calls us to be Good people.
The God inside me interfaces with my unconscious mind. It protects and guides me on the right path.
God reduces my fears and my anxieties. It helps the emotional/non-verbal part of my brain to deal with life.
And I think I’d be an idiot to ignore that.
Sure, maybe I don’t strictly “need” God in my life, but why turn my nose up at something which feels so beneficial? Where’s the logic in that?