I was raised by parents who attended the United Methodist Church. I was baptized and joined the church in my own right as an early teen, but I seldom went to church as an adult or even thought much about it while I was busy going to school, being a Peace Corps volunteer, and building a twenty-year career with telephone companies. But when an early retirement opened lots of “free”-thinking time for me—and with the Internet streamlining the gratification of any intellectual curiosity—I started to explore. I was intrigued and excited to discover the wealth of serious challenges to mainstream opinions about revealed religion. I was drawn in by the writings of George Smith, Corliss Lamont, and Paul Kurtz, and then later, wow!, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel C. Dennett appeared with unabashed criticism and viable alternative options to (and explanations for) thousands of years of mistaken religious thinking.
After about three years, I had a breakthrough. I liberated myself from theistic paradigms and found myself immune to emotional appeals to believe in what, I was sure, was never true. I became an evangelical atheist and humanist. Having had an epiphany about my sexual orientation at age twenty-five, this “revelation”—this coming-out—felt very much like that one. I was similarly afraid to tell my family and close friends. I again felt like an outsider, a despised minority in my own society. I had to find new friends, which I did, thanks to the Center for Inquiry, the Washington Area Secular Humanists, and the American Humanist Association. But this time, I felt more confident and empowered to advocate, rather than just look for a comfortable community in which to lead a secret life. Experience and maturity produces courage and confidence. With the aid of a handheld blow-dryer, I was officially de-baptized by Margaret Downey in a ritual declaration of my independence from supernatural control agents, paternalistic postmortem justice, and social compliance with ancient and obsolete sacred texts and churches.
Free at last, free at last. Thank reason almighty, I was free at last!
Having thus freed my mind and empowered myself to think things I was always warned not to think, I was able to look at theism and particularly Christian theism in a new light—with new eyes, unencumbered by social constraints and taboos. Eventually, I noticed many parallels between the relationship a believer has with God and that of a child with his or her parents. A child experiences and perceives his or her parents as all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing; the source of all things; a savior from fear and want; the ultimate judge, arbiter, teacher, and rule giver; in other words, in much the same way a Christian would describe his or her God!
Both God and parents are perceived by the believer or a child as:
• all-knowing—omniscient—the ultimate explainer of all mysteries;
• all-powerful—omnipotent—the ultimate cause of all events;
• present everywhere—omnipresent and always available;
• calming—removing discomfort and stress;
• immutable, constant and unchanging; something to be relied upon and trusted;
• always right;
• the beginning and cause of everything;
• a merged subjective (emotional) and objective (physical) experience;
• the creator of oneself and the world (a literal truth for a child!);
• immanent, inside, a part of oneself, inseparable (true for children, prior to individuation which occurs between age one and two years); and
• the ultimate judge, providing rules, laws, awards, and punishments.
The nearly parallel perception of God by a Christian and of the parent by an infant are so striking as to tempt one to posit a hypothesis that one is the precursor or model for the other. The Christian relationship with God is modeled on, and mimics, the early-childhood relationship with parents. Every infant experiences his or her parents as gods, and this experience, being satisfying, pleasurable, and indeed essential, is, later in life, longed for by some. It can be re-experienced again and again by adults through prayer, faith, and attending church rituals, which create an environment that provokes this satisfying and temporary regression into an infantile paradigm or view of the world.
Religious practices promote a kind of virtual or psychological return to the universal initial human experience: that of a dependent infant. Religion tries to recreate the feelings of the infantile paradigm—a dependent child and an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, always-right, perfect parent. It is a return to an experience that every human has as an infant and child—that of being completely dependent, loved, and provided for in a happy, contented, wonderful world that is innocent, naïve, safe, and secure and where every need is supplied, even anticipated, by a caregiver. (See M. D. Faber’s book, The Psychological Roots of Religious Behavior: Searching for Angels and the Parent-God, Prometheus Books, 2004.)
This state needs a name. I call it “Dependicitis” or “Dependiphilia”: the attraction to, or a preference for, being dependent as opposed to independent.
Unlike other imaginary friends of childhood who fade with maturity, the imaginary Christian God, perceived as a loving parent, is promoted, maintained, taught, and encouraged by adult Christian parents in front of their children. God becomes a substitute parent, replacing the caregiver of infancy and early childhood: protecting, rescuing, loving, feeding, answering all questions, providing justice and rules of behavior. God and parents are always right and always available. I call this emotional attraction to, the need for and dependence on a parent “Parentiphilia” or conversely “Solophobia”: the fear of being alone, independent, or being parentless.
Theism itself is a kind of psychological neoteny: the retention of juvenile psychological traits—dependency and powerlessness, the need for constant guidance and security from a powerful provider—into adulthood. The Christian religion promotes an exaggerated sense of guilt (from the commission of sin) so as to sell or create demand for its main product: forgiveness. It creates a need for a product that, it claims, only it can provide. Guilt is the antecedent and prerequisite for forgiveness. Without sin and guilt, there would be little need for Christian forgiveness. More guilt means more forgiveness is needed.
God-belief is like a drug—an addictive, psychotropic, paradigm-shifting drug—that produces feelings of well-being and completeness. One gets “high” on God. Like alcoholics and drug addicts, Christian theists seem to have an undeniable and nearly insatiable appetite, a need for something that I do not need. This is why I find them so hard to understand. Christian theists are encouraged to become addicted to dependency, thus giving rise to “dependicism.”
When I see other adults, Christians, being constantly thankful to an imaginary agent instead of to nature or to each other, assuming causality where there is only circumstance, begging for assistance or forgiveness, asking for salvation when they are not lost, reverting to the infantile dependent state, I feel shame.
A church service seems to be a kind of group folk therapy for adults who share emotional needs and appetites that I do not. God becomes a portable, personal therapist. Participating in group affirmation rituals (therapy sessions), such as church or prayer, sustains this paradigm. Surrounded by other addicts practicing the same therapy makes the addiction and
the drug not only permissible and credible but downright socially acceptable! Watching or being in a church worship service makes me feel servile, childish, dependent, wrong, angry, demeaned, like a beggar, weak, unempowered, immature, diminished, small, and insulted. I do not like feeling like this.
In short, the reason I am not a Christian theist is . . . it embarrasses me!