As I've noted before on this blog, I'm a big believer in good stories. I enjoy reading fiction. I enjoy watching fiction.
It never fails to amaze me that I can be sitting in our bathtub every evening, nestled in hot water with a vaporizer full of quality Oregon marijuana, holding an escapist thriller book (I love Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp novels; he's a CIA operative), getting excited about whether Rapp is going to succeed in his latest exploit -- while I know full well that Mitch Rapp is a creation of Flynn's imagination, or in the case of the Mitch Rapp book I'm reading now, the imagination of the author, Kyle Mills, who took over writing the series after Flynn died.
It seems clear that one reason religions are so successful in drawing people into their fold is that they're skilled at telling compelling stories. About the religion's founder, such as Jesus. About the religion's divinity, such as God. About what the divinity has done, such as creating the universe.
Those stories wouldn't be nearly so captivating if the human mind wasn't capable of what I effortlessly accomplish each night in a bathtub: look upon fiction as being real, even as we understand that it is made up.
OK, in the case of religions, the stories are usually officially considered to be non-fiction, being based in reality. But I'm confident that many, if not most, religious people recognize that the stories told in their church, temple, mosque, gurdwara, or wherever, probably aren't real.
A good story grabs us and inserts our mind into a made-up reality that bears a lot of resemblance to actual reality. We get excited. We get sad. We can't wait to find out what is going to happen. We worry about the fate of characters we like. We rejoice in the downfall of characters we don't like.
It'd be interesting to know if highly religious people are more prone to embrace fictional stories than less religious people. This strikes me as a distinct possibility.
Here's an observation based on a sample of two: my wife, Laurel, and myself. Laurel is even more avidly atheist than I am. She's also less into reading fiction and watching certain types of fictional TV shows than I am.
Currently we're making our way through the streaming series, Yellowstone. We've just begun Season 3 of what I believe are four seasons.
Laurel likes what she watches to make sense. Not complete sense, but fairly close to what typical people would do in reality. Me, my attitude is that if I want to see reality, I just have to look around at the world.
When I watch a fictional TV show, I want to be drawn into a different sort of world than the one I'm familiar with. I want the writers and actors to captivate me with a story that's so intriguing, I forget that the story is made-up.
So my wife and I have some gentle disagreements about Yellowstone.
She'll point out why it is so unlikely that this or that would have happened the way it did. Even though I agree with her, I'll reply that when I'm watching this show, I want to relax and let what the writers and actors have created wash over me with minimal commentary or criticism from my mind.
Of course, I know that what I'm watching is fiction. Like I said, the human mind, naturally including my mind, has an amazing ability to simultaneously feel like something fictional is real, while knowing that it isn't real.
Preserve that feeling when you're exposed to religious stories. It's fine to enjoy them. Just don't forget that the story almost certainly isn't true. That way you can find enjoyment in fiction while realizing it's unreality.