Fantasies are fun. They're a big part of being human. Fictional books, movies, dreams, music, paintings -- all these and so much more is founded on imagining an alternative reality to that which surrounds us now.
Other animals may also fantasize (our dog seems to have "cat/squirrel chase dreams" where she makes excited noises and moves her paws), but we humans are the top fantasizers on our planet.
Problems arise, though, when fantasies are mistaken for reality. Or, taken too seriously.
Recently my wife and I were transfixed by the Netflix film, "Homecoming," which shows Beyonce's astounding performances at Coachella in 2018. I wrote a post about the film on my HinesSight blog.
There were many shots of extremely enthusiastic young people in the front rows nearest to the stage.
Black girls seemed to be the most energized and awestruck by Beyonce and her hugely talented crew of dancers, musicians, and singers. It isn't an exaggeration to say they were in a state of ecstasy, watching the Homecoming performances.
Yet likely every person in the vast audience knew it was a performance. I say "likely" only because psychedelics like LSD can temporarily alter someone's perceptions to such an extent, a musical extravaganza could be viewed as an alternative reality.
Leaving aside that possibility, though, the two-hour show crafted by Beyonce and her artistic directors would have been recognized as a performance even as audience members were whole-heartedly embracing the sights and sounds of Homecoming.
There really isn't much of a difference between the artistry of the Coachella performances of Homecoming and the fantasies conjured up by the world's religions, mystical paths, and supernatural fables. All were created by humans to entertain, inspire, and captivate.
However, religiosity is a strange mixture of fantasy and delusion.
Meaning, true believers forget that much of what they're embracing has minimal or no connection with reality. They mistake concepts and abstractions -- God, soul, spirit, heaven, Devil, and such -- for something substantively real.
A Pearls Before Swine comic from March 18, 2019 captured this phenomenon nicely.
Self-delusiontopia is where religious believers spend a lot of time.
I know, because I used to make that place a frequent home. Sure, mostly I was in contact with reality, or I wouldn't have been able to work at a job, raise a child, play tennis, drive my car, and do all of the other things that require a close connection to how things actually are, as opposed to how we fantasize them to be.
Non-religious fantasies also can be powerful, of course. Here's an excerpt from an article in the September 3, 2018 issue of The New Yorker, "Bad Bargain: Nicki Minaj and the power of fans."
In 2014, Billboard launched the "Fan Army Face-Off," a bracket-style online vote that pitted pop stars' fans against one another. The crowd-sourcing exercise was not exactly original, but its language -- which set fan bases up in imaginary battles -- encapsulated the increasingly combative state of pop-music fandom.
Some fan-group monikers have become household names: Beyonce has the Beyhive, Justin Bieber has Beliebers, Rihanna has a Navy, Selena Gomez has Selenators, Taylor Swift has Swifties.
Unlike, say, the way Deadheads followed their band from city to city, this modern style of adoration takes place chiefly online, where it is driven not only by jubilation but by fierce defensiveness. Followers pounce on anyone -- big, small, notorious, anonymous -- who criticizes their idols.
There is a dark, obsessive energy to such devotion; fittingly, these crusaders are now often referred to as "stans" -- a reference to a song by Eminem, from 2000, which tells the story of a fictional fan named Stan who writes increasingly unhinged letters to the rapper before driving his car into a river.
Reading this, naturally I was reminded of the decidedly weird phenomenon of the religious believers who likewise obsessively defend their chosen faith or guru (often Gurinder Singh Dhillon) in comments on this blog.
I've been surprised at why someone would spend so much time and energy reading posts on a Church of the Churchless blog, given that they are clearly in the "churched" camp.
The New Yorker article gave me a new perspective on this. These are fans of a particular religion who are so immersed in their fantasy life that they can't stand any reality-based criticism of their idols.
Weird? Yes. But equally weird is freaking out when someone criticizes Nicki Minaj or Beyonce. People are simply weird -- though obsessive "fandom" is especially intense in the religious sphere.