I enjoy believing in Gods that don't exist. You get the benefit of a higher power but without the drawback of taking a fantasy to be real.
A few days ago I started reading a book about a modern approach to Stoicism, The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient by William B. Irvine.
Irvine begins his book by relating a tale of how, after several attempts to repair a plane's cargo door had failed, with an extended delay in taking off, a gate agent announced that the passengers would have to wait until morning because no plane would be available until then.
A groan went up from the passengers. He assured us that the airline would put us up at a nearly hotel, an assurance that was met with even more groans. I was, I must admit, among the groaners, but then I realized what was happening: the Stoic gods had contrived this event on my behalf, as a kind of challenge.
"Game on!" I said to no one in particular.
I did this because I knew from experience that by treating this setback as a challenge -- by assuming, more precisely, that the Stoic gods had administered the setback as a test of my resilience and resourcefulness -- I could simultaneously reduce the emotional cost of being set back and increase my chances of finding a workaround.
When I read this, I wondered what was up with the mention of Stoic gods. Did Irvine, a professor of philosophy at Wright State University, really believe in them? If so, I figured that my enjoyment of his book was going to take a marked downturn after reading the first two pages.
But, no, such wasn't the case, as I learned on the next page.
It is important to realize that Stoicism is not a religion: its primary concern is not with our afterlife but with our time spent on Earth. That said, I should add that Stoicism is compatible with many religions, including Christianity and Islam. But here another clarification is in order.
Above, I made reference to the "Stoic gods." I do not believe that these gods actually exist, as physical or even as "spiritual" beings. They are, for me, fictitious entities.
By invoking them, I can transform what for many people would simply be an unfortunate setback into a kind of mind game. Doing this lets me respond to setbacks without becoming frustrated, angry, or despondent.
Those who dislike invoking imaginary gods as part of a psychological strategy may instead invoke an imaginary coach or teacher; the psychological effect will be equivalent.
And those who do believe in God may proceed on the assumption that the setback in question is part of God's plan for them -- or if they are Muslim, part of Allah's plan -- as many Christians and Muslims already do.