Reality, Anxiety and False Idols

In Ghana, it is common to hear the phrase, “We’re suffering oo”. It’s almost undoubtedly caused by the realities of living but also by a perception that life is better outside the country.

Like people all over the world, we believe that if only there was more money, a better government, or if we owned more ‘stuff’, that we’d experience a sense of completeness and suffering would be alleviated.

“Religion…is the opium of the people” – Karl Marx

religion-as-a-drug1Many Christian churches (often the Charismatic and Pentecostal varieties) market religion as a solution to life’s problems. They claim Jesus can make you whole, will take away your suffering and fulfil all your worldly desires.

But the truth is the challenges of life are never solved. When we get what we want we still feel dissatisfied, and, being unable to blame God, we blame ourselves. It’s a never ending spiral of depression, sending us back to church for our next fix.

Religion becomes an object – an idol. It becomes like a drug, giving us a high whilst in a church service, through the manipulation of our emotions. But out of that environment the effects wear off and self-pity can result.

Perhaps that’s why some pastors can appear overly obsessed with the “evils” of drugs, alcohol, clubbing, masturbation, secular music, etc. recognising them as competing forms of the same quick, unsatisfactory, temporary, feel-good fix that they are offering.

A typical example of the kind of pastor that markets God and religion as a solution to people’s problems and as the answer to their (selfish) desires, is from a comment on a pastor’s Facebook page:

tetteh quote

The comment is indicative of many of the bland, feel-good statements by pastors. The idea that only good is coming is obviously ridiculous, as is the idea that you have to “receive” it. It also does not prepare us for the bad which is certain to come and gives us no tools to deal with that.

“Today the ‘Good News’ of Christianity…is sold to us as that which can fulfil our desire, rather than as that which evokes a transformation in the very way that we desire” – Peter Rollins

In The Idolatry of God: Breaking the Addiction of Certainty and Satisfaction by Peter Rollins, Jacques Lacan’s concept of ‘The Mirror Phase’ is used to highlight why we feel anxiety in our life, and that sense that we are not complete and need something to fill a void (often called a ‘God-shaped hole’). At the age of around 6 months we develop a sense of self. This awareness of our individuality highlights our feeling of separation with the world and we feel have lost something. In truth we never had it. Rather than deal with that reality we look for ways to overcome that sense of loss, believing the problem exists outside of ourselves rather than inside.

Anything that claims it can fulfil our feeling of emptiness by making us complete – consumerism, religion, etc. – is effectively misleading us. They all become objects that we start to idolise as the answers. The truth is we need to understand this feeling as the human condition and embrace it.

The scientific method helps us understand our world as it really is. What we seem to need are philosophies to help us deal with that. Any philosophy or belief that prevents us engaging with reality will fail to equip up with the tools we need to deal with our condition. When we realise there are no external answers to our problem, that we will always feel a sense of incompleteness, we can find peace and move on.

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About Graham Knight

I was a music teacher in a college in London. I became allergic to my culture and disillusioned with the decline of the education system. I came to Ghana and thought I had arrived in paradise. Then I noticed the cracks, learnt to value things about my own culture again and also form a more balanced view of that life. Unexpected events have led me back to the UK again.

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