How Religion and Self-Help Exploit Us

I was somewhat fortunate to have strong reservations about religion from an early age. It didn’t stop me from becoming Christian, but it caused me to look at religion critically, ask questions of the clergy, get the lame answers, do my own research and then leave.

The simple answer to why people don’t leave and why I didn’t immediately disregard religion is because of indoctrination. If you live in a society that props up an idea as correct through various media and institutions, you wouldn’t challenge the idea. You would think “it is what it is”.

Until the internal inconsistency rears its beautiful mane and you shake yourself loose.

However, there are times when this doesn’t happen and there are people who do not experience any discrepancies in their belief system, even when it is said directly to them. I can relate to this, not in terms of religion, but in terms of self-help.

I was on my way out of religion but had not fully left yet, and negative thoughts started to corrupt me. I couldn’t rely on God to get me through, but I found self-help very shortly thereafter. I credit “The Secret” for saving my life because I was in a very dark place but I also blame it for presenting information in a way that corrupted my mind in a different way.

I heard the stories of people’s lives changing by simply changing their thoughts. How could I not believe them? Now I realise that this must be what religious folk go through. They live a particular life and then they find someone who tells them about how their devotion to Jesus, Allah, Buddha or Ellen G. White made them whole again.

How can you argue with them? They wouldn’t lie about something like that.

After years of trying to put self-help techniques, primarily the Law of Attraction to use, I got frustrated and gave up. I started to look for proof as to why it wasn’t true and realised that what I read from the agnostics as it were, were things I had asked myself many times before but dare not question, else I wouldn’t get what I wanted.

A great thing came out of letting it go: detachment. One of the tenets of the law of attraction is that in order to get what you want, you have to not care about whether or not you get it. In other words, you have to be okay without it.

I can’t lie. The shit worked. To be honest, it’s something that has worked my entire life. Once I don’t need it or I’m calm about it, I usually find success. I realised that this was my error all along, but because I still carried a fatal issue, I reaffirmed my belief in the law of attraction.

The fatal flaw was that I craved certainty in an unpredictable world.

Certain conservatives aren’t conservatives at all. They’re con men and women, who prey (or pray) on this very fear — uncertainty — in order to amass money, power and position. They don’t give a shit about gods. They live a life of luxury and will approach the pulpit to entertain on the day of worship. Some believe some things, but don’t believe others. And, of course, some chug the kool-aid. There are certainly con men and women in the self-help circle too. They utter a half truth, and to an unprepared and/or immature mind, they destroy the mind that believes in them.

Eventually I was again led to look critically at self-help and I found resources that took the things that intuitively felt right, left out the things that I never believed and presented a picture that was more accurate. I was happy, but I still fought it.

Ultimately, I had to remind myself that I was someone committed to finding the truth. I had to let go of the magical thinking, because that was truly what I believed in. Magic. They never called it that and I never dared to call it that. I thought there was science behind it.

In reality, whatever science might’ve been there didn’t matter because I was paying attention due to my wishful thinking, a fear of living in accordance to my values, a need for things to be handed to me and a dread that life would not be okay. I needed my dreams fulfilled and if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be happy.

Pains me to admit it, but I wasn’t any different than tons of religious folk. They pray and beseech their deity for stuff or enlightenment or entrance into Heaven, but they don’t just get the stuff they want or decide to be happy or create peace on Earth themselves.

Aside from eternal damnation or painful reincarnation, the other reason people cling to religion is to get some desirable thing that their happiness depends on. In truth, to bank your happiness on getting a specific outcome is the cardinal sin (i.e. a serious error in judgment). But it’s one that virtually everyone is making and may never correct.

I left religion and its dogma only to pick up a new belief system and its dogma all because I feared uncertainty and needed the sure-fire way to happiness. It used to be an almighty being who would give me what I wanted if I did what he wanted, then it changed to doing particular things in order to get what I wanted.

Now, I’m thankful I have the opportunity to do anything at all. I get a chance to live in accordance to my values and pursue what matters to me. I’m learning and realizing that there are a ton of things I’ve wanted in life that I never got that I moved on from. The uncertainty of gaining peace and happiness isn’t uncommon. It’s damn near constant.

The question is, will we choose to embrace it? That may be the only real salvation.

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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