Cross posted at God is for Suckers!
We are often puzzled, befuddled, nonplussed, and otherwise bewildered at the way religious folks cling tenaciously to their beliefs (much like a terrier worrying a dead rat). Obviously this isn't something as simplistic as intelligence - history abounds with examples of incredibly intelligent people who were religious. There are valid points to be made here - upbringing usually has a deep sway over people. It's difficult to admit that the people we grew up with and around are trapped in a morass of superstitious anachronisms.
The other piece of the puzzle, I think, lies in the participation of religious rituals.
Let's talk about possession. This is a predilection of mine (of sorts): hopefully when I'm done, you'll be nodding and telling yourself, "Hey, that makes sense."
This link is one I discovered years ago. It's a fairly well written piece about how high priests, preachers, shamans [insert-head-of-hierarchal-religion-of-your-choice here] and their ilk manage to sway masses of believers at gatherings. (Editor's note: yes, Sutphen is indeed a New Ager. Yes, he indulges in that romantic nonsense of 'past lives', and yes, he's got a blurb from a publisher that he's the 'foremost psychic researcher'. Be that as it may, his insights into this matter make a great deal of logical sense.)
Three distinct and progressive states of transmarginal inhibition were identified by Pavlov. The first is the Equivalent phase, in which the brain gives the same response to both strong and weak stimuli. Second is the Paradoxical phase, in which the brain responds more actively to weak stimuli than to strong. Third is the Ultra-Paradoxical phase, in which conditioned responses and behavior patterns turn from positive to negative or from negative to positive.
With the progressions through each phase, the degree of conversion becomes more effective and complete. The ways to achieve conversion are many and varied, but the usual first step in religious or political brainwashing is to work on the emotions of an individual or group until they reach an abnormal level of anger, fear, excitement or nervous tension.
The progressive result of this mental condition is to impair judgment and increase suggestibility. The more this condition can be maintained or intensified, the more it compounds. Once catharsis or the first brain phase is reached, the complete mental takeover becomes easier. Existing mental programming can be replaced with new patterns of thinking and behavior.
Other often-used physiological weapons to modify normal brain functions are fasting, radical or high sugar diets, physical discomforts, regulation of breathing, mantra chanting in meditation, the disclosure of awesome mysteries, special lighting and sound effects, programmed response to incense, or intoxicating drugs.
The same results can be obtained in contemporary psychiatric treatment by electric shock treatments and even by purposely lowering a patient's blood sugar level with insulin injections.
It sounds quite a bit like psychological alchemy, does it not? It takes no degree to see how people get swept up by their environment - the attendant synchronization sweeping across the five senses, triggering a plethora of chemical responses, your neighbors grooving to the beat, all those scents, sights, sounds pounding into your brain until you feel that sweet sensation that everyone else is feeling - ever been to a concert? A festival? Any large gatherings of like-minded folks? Ye ken me drift, moving onwards.
For a more skeptical look, here's a bit from the Church Of Reality.
Further out in left field, I'm going to drag in (as some of you may have guessed by the picture in the right-hand corner) an example from a religion little-discussed in most atheist blogs: Vodou (or, as it's better known, Voodoo). This is, as some of you know, a syncretic religion composed of Catholicism and a wide variety of pantheistic African religions. More interesting still, it contains multiple instances of spirit possession, by supernatural critters known as Loas. The phrase is that the loa is 'riding the horse'. Even more intriguing is that, unlike the more Westernized Catholicism, possession is not feared - indeed, it's accepted with open arms.
There are hints, rumors and whispers that sometimes outsiders (read: non-believers) sometimes 'fall under the spell' and become possessed. This isn't very well documented. Mostly anecdotal - no names, places, dates, etc. I found this bit via Googling - but I fear it may be suspect, as missionaries tend to let too much of their own biases creep into the observations. Sutphen mentions it in the link, but no attribution, name, etc.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the human mind can be tricked into displacing itself, and also, our species tends to experience hallucinations on a fairly frequent basis. So, it also seems that we can indeed be conned into thinking we're a completely opposite identity too? A supernatural one at that?
Confusion seems to be a steady element in the human condition.
Color me confused, and turn the page.
Till the next post, then.