Dissecting a “Healthy Delusion”: Why I Don’t Talk To Volleyballs…and You Shouldn’t Either
Note from George: This is a response to a comment over at my friend Kate’s blog Just Another Inkling. She asks me why I want to take away her God, even if he is imagined. What is the motive for attacking personal belief?
First To Dispense With The General Answer
I can understand the frustration felt by many theists when they encounter anti-religious sentiment on the internet:
“Even if I am wrong about God, what harm does it cause?”
“Why does it matter so much to you if I am a Christian?”
“Why do you need to question my personal beliefs when they do no harm to you?”
The answers to these questions are simple.
If it were as simple as a personal, internal belief system it would not really matter. If you were suffering a delusion (and you may not be) that had no bearing on how I or others lived our lives then I would be less inclined to question it. The simple answer is that it does have an impact on the lives of others, and we’re not just talking butterfly wings here.
The belief in a dogmatic religious system leads to an Us vs. Them dichotomy, where religions sow the seeds of xenophobia and moral superiority. I am not moral, or less moral, because I lack a personal relationship with your God.
My feeling is that this comes from religion’s assertion that it has a monopoly on truth. If a theist believes that theirs is the greatest truth, then anyone not accepting that truth must be faulty in some way. When you agree that someone is faulty, it naturally leads to trying to describe those faults.
If someone had an “imaginary friend” but lived their life in such a way as to not let that interfere with their interaction with others, it is doubtful that they would find themselves in a mental hospital. If your imaginary friend insisted that you shout obscenities at anyone who could not see her, then you would likely find yourself in the care of medical professionals.
I am not saying God is necessarily imaginary, and I’m certainly not saying that God impels theists to shout obscenities at atheists. I am implying that religion is not strictly “personal”. It forces its own beliefs into the world I live in. It asks that as a society we afford it special privilege in spite of expansive evidence to the contrary. It asks us to maintain archaic moral judgments so as to not offend its believers.
The reasons to fight back are twofold:
- Atheists are questioning Christianity’s monopoly on truth; if Christians are put to task, the moderate ones are less likely to make sweeping assertions that affect us all.
- Atheists are fighting the battle to define themselves. If the only reference a Christian has with which to judge an atheist is the propaganda of their church, we risk the demonization afforded to those who spoke outside of church doctrine before us.
…..And Now, For Reasons Completely Different
I thought I would get that brief discussion out of the way before addressing this comment by Kate on her site. I may have started off talking to her to satisfy both those goals listed above; but as with all people we come to consider friends, it is about more now.
From the comments section of her post I Repeat: Atheists are NOT Lacking in Imagination, I wrote:
I don’t want to come across as attributing thoughts to you, but I wonder if you really are a skeptic who has Stockholm Syndrome. You seem so willing to make every step toward agnosticism save the very last one. Like staying in a bad relationship because it is comfortable.
I mean this in the best possible way. I have rarely met a Christian so open to the idea that they may be wrong. I respect Kate’s faith much more knowing that it is in some way subject to critical analysis on her part. Her answer I find more surprising still:
Here is the thing. As Einstein needed that static universe in order to “be okay,” I need Jesus in order to “be okay.” This may not be an objective reason for my stubbornly clinging to faith in the face of a barrage of facts refuting it, but it is the way I keep functioning. Does that make sense? This world is far too large and vast, wasteful and lonely for me to divorce Jesus Christ, even if he is nothing more than the “Wilson” volley ball Chuck created while on that Island [from the movie Cast Away].
I need my “Wilson,” George…and I do come to the defense of my Wilson. Have you ever seen that movie? A grown man grievously sobbing at the loss of his imaginary friend of 4 or 5 years—a volleyball, for crying out loud!
That’s me. On the day I wake up and find my Jesus is gone, is the day I begin my grief and my own vigorous sobbing.
I need more than just someone more competent to train me in managing my life honorably, I need someone to go shoulder to shoulder with me through this, sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying, sometimes peaceful, sometimes tumultuous thing called life. I am better for it.
Trying to prove to me that my “volleyball” is not real, but just an extension of my own ego feels like an assault upon my camp–even if you are wholly correct. I wonder, what is the point in destroying my relationship with a volleyball, if that’s what works for me? It just happens to be a volleyball who can teach and train me in the rigors of becoming a more honorable human being, who is finally humbled enough to fully trust to his care my entire being–my will and my life.
I accused Kate early on of arguing the deist perspective in favor of her obvious Christian faith (see Why I Can’t Imagine a Christian Skeptic and the nasty exchange in the comments, admittedly mostly my fault), yet now I am left with the other impression. She seems to be arguing like an agnostic who sees some benefit to maintaining a delusion.
Kate asks me outright in her comments:
Trying to prove to me that my “volleyball” is not real, but just an extension of my own ego feels like an assault upon my camp–even if you are wholly correct. I wonder, what is the point in destroying my relationship with a volleyball, if that’s what works for me?
My answer is this. Why would anyone want to have a delusional relationship with a volleyball? Even if it serves some purpose for you, would not a better way to deal with these things lie within reality? What possible advantage can a relationship that is unrequited save your fanciful imaginings be? More importantly, and you mentioned this yourself, what happens when the ball pops? If you invest too much in the imaginary, what detrimental effects await when reality sets in?
My second answer is this. If you have been using “Wilson” to cope with a difficult world, and you can come to the realization that he’s only an inanimate volleyball, do you not see the consequence of that realization? It means you were the one helping yourself, it means that all the meaning you invested in him actually lies within you. It means that was important wasn’t “Wilson”, it was you, what you made of friends he introduced you to and ideas he introduced you to. You could have done all those things yourself, and if “Wilson” is in fact an imagining, you in fact did.
Chuck created “Wilson” to deal with the mental strain of being isolated on an island. It is doubtful that he would have continued that delusion had “Wilson” made the trip home with him. I argue that “Wilson” is keeping you on a self imposed island; that opening your eyes to a bigger world beyond the sea that you have created is nothing to be afraid of.
I also don’t think that that takes anything away from “Wilson” as a mechanism to help you. He was there when you needed him. He may still remain, as you have mentioned.
I hope you won’t fault me for wishing better for you than a simple coping mechanism. I would be angry if my friend “let me have my Wilson” if it kept me cast away.
I don’t talk to volleyballs, and you shouldn’t either.