If you ever wonder how religious stories -- Adam and Eve, Krishna, Moses, so many others -- are believed by billions of people, go into a movie theater. (Or remember doing this, if theaters are closed where you are because of the Covid crisis.)
If it's a horror film, likely you'll hear shrieks of terror. If a thriller, gasps of surprise. If a romance, tears being wiped away.
We humans have no problem being drawn into a fictional story to such an extent it arouses much the same emotions as if the drama was happening to us in real life. Yet part of us recognizes that we're watching something made-up.
So we embrace a "willing suspension of disbelief."
This has been on my mind lately because a few days ago I re-discovered a series on Netflix that I watched a single episode of years ago, "Designated Survivor."
I've become addicted to the show, having watched about half of the first season. It features Kiefer Sutherland, who I loved in "24," though he plays a very different character this time. I love politics, mysteries, thrillers, and intelligence agency intrigue -- all of which feature prominently in Designated Survivor.
The strange thing is, and given what I said above, actually it isn't really very strange, I get so immersed in the engrossing plot lines that I become worried about what will happen to the main characters who are heroes, not villains.
"No, Hannah, don't trust him," I'll scream inside my mind, "likely he's part of the scheme to kill the President." (Hannah being a FBI agent.)
Yet I'm watching the plot play out on our TV or my laptop. I'm perfectly aware that I'm streaming a Netflix show. I know that I'm seeing actors speak scripted lines. I can tell the difference between reality and this bit of fiction.
But I still worry that the good guys will be fooled by the bad guys. I agonize if there's a cliff-hanger at the end of one episode, being eager to find the time to fire up Netflix again and see what happens in the next episode.
In short, I'm acting almost exactly like religious believers do when they feel deep emotions upon, say, hearing a moving sermon about how Jesus' love for humanity was so great, he died for our sins.
I don't think this is true, of course.
And I strongly suspect that if pressed, a large percentage of Christians would admit that they aren't sure this is true either. They simply love the story as told in the New Testament, which I readily admit is a compelling piece of fiction -- in my atheist opinion.
A big difference between my devotion to Designated Survivor and the devotion of people to religious stories is how serious we are about the object of our attention.
I have minimal interest in converting people to become a Designated Survivor fan. When I've watched every episode I'll move on to viewing or reading other works of fiction. If someone tells me they can't stand Designated Survivor, I wouldn't argue with them. I completely understand that what I'm fixated on is made-up, not an inherent aspect of reality.
Still, there's a common element between me and religious people. We both love a good fictional story.