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Monday, August 27, 2012

Religion as a Drug

A friend sent me this link:

The title got my attention: "Attending a Megachurch is Kinda Like Doing Drugs, UW Study Finds"... yes, a 'professional' website used the word 'kinda' in a headline.  Already the credibility of the article has been undermined.  But, then again, in the age where 'Casual Fridays' are everyday and an entire generation thinks that you only wear a tie for your senior picture and the prom, then it should not surprise anyone that proper spelling in what represents itself to be a news article is just too hard.

End of rant from a recovering journalist.

So, let's get to the real core of the article: megachurches specialize in a controlled stimulation experience.  They have a type of 'liturgy' which, despite the 'kinda' informal attire, is entirely formulated.  It is designed the draw the person into a trance state.  For those of you who have not experienced this, here is a comedic interpretation of how this works:

Some of my recent-convert parishioners sent this to me and said this is what their Sundays were like.  Yes, it is that cynical, but very effective.

This type of hypnotic activity has been around since the early history of man.  Many 'pagan' religions rely on the same susceptibility to hypnosis for their rites.  We see it in Voodoo, Santeria, the 'Whirling Dervishes' of the Sufi (, etc.

You want to see how intense these hypnotic sessions can get?  Just watch:

You can also get the same effect from a heavy metal concert when you start shaking your head, called 'head banging.'  The trauma of the brain being sloshed around in the skull releases all kinds of chemicals which drugs also do.  The music provides the basis, whipping the emotions up until chemicals are released, and physical activity (like a mosh pit or head-banging) increases the effect.

That's why you can go to a 'Straight Edge' concert with no drugs or alcohol and see kids get high off of the 'adrenaline rush,' which is actually part of this same brain chemical cocktail.

And, yes, it can become 'addictive' (I would not argue in the same sense as alcoholism or drug addiction, but it can become a gateway addiction to these or other addictions) to the point where you can sacrifice a great deal to get that 'high.'  We have all seen people destroy their lives for the 'concert scene' or through weird religions and cults.

So, it is true that ecstatic religious worship can become a 'drug' in the sense that it causes chemical releases within the brain, but the same is true of music and even video games.  Any pleasurable activity, if amplified, will have the same effect.  The Germans harnessed a basic understanding of the human brain to design the Nuremberg Rallies ( exhaust a crowd through a day of marching, feed them heavily, then march them into a dimly lit arena to hear a speech: the combination softened the mind to the point where a type of hypnosis worked to enthrall the crowd.  That wasn't a religious service, but it looked in many ways like one.

Ecstatic worship is dangerous because it lowers one's critical thinking apparatus.  You must think about what you are being told in a religious service.  That's why I don't think these 'megachurch' services do much to communicate real information, which is why, overall, basic Christian knowledge has plummeted in recent years:

Drugs don't communicate truth.  So, a service that essentially tries to create an 'experience' also won't communicate truth.

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