A Spanish philosopher once said: “Yes yes, life is full of disappointment, disillusion, and despair, but please don’t tell the children.” How carefree and worry free life seemed to be in childhood and how much more difficult and demanding it becomes when we take on the burdens of adulthood. Reality then often becomes full of rough, jagged edges and unhappy states of being that can cause us great harm. But how much smoother and mellow life can be if we allow ourselves to believe in various states of delusion as if we were crawling into bed and covering ourselves with a heavy quilt on a cold winter night.
I remember seeing a documentary about certain sects in India where the women did all the work including raising children, cooking and cleaning while the men, from the moment they arose in the morning, would puff away on opium pipes that would put them into a dazed stupor. But it allowed themselves to enter a world of delusion where they didn’t have to recognize how meaningless, irrelevant and wasted their lives had become. In other words, if they didn’t have to face the reality of empty lives, existence would be tolerable for another day in this parallel universe of self-delusion. Yet to a large although less drastic extent, most people take on various delusions to mellow out the jagged edges or emptiness of their own lives. Let us count the different ways.
The first biggie is religion. For many people, praying to the invisible man (as the comedian George Carlin once put it) is their salvation. Such prayer will show God what good people they really are, and if bad things still happen to them…..well it’s God’s will and nothing can be done about it. It’s a way of absolving themselves of personal responsibility. Of course, what they are really praying for is that God won’t crush them like a bug. In this country religious fanaticism (more politely known as evangelicalism) seems to reach new heights by the day. Currently there is a big political kerfuffle (don’t you just love that word) going on because Catholics are claiming that the Obama administration will force them, as part of providing health care for their workers, to pay for contraception(God forbid.) Can you imagine that here in the 21st century we are still arguing about the use of contraception. At a time when every drugstore has aisles of condoms, every supermarket that carries drugs also has aisles of condoms, and birth control pills are readily available with an easy to get prescription. Yet providing health care coverage for contraception would somehow offend God.
My own belief is that you don’t need religion to distinguish between right and wrong. If you crush in your neighbor’s skull with an axe, and chop him into little pieces, I think even nonbelievers will recognize the evil of such an act. And though anecdotal evidence from near death experiences would suggest a hereafter and thus a God, I think that all exists in a different dimension that we in this life are not privy to. Hence what counts in this dimension is our integrity in interacting with our fellow man, and we should not worry about life in the next dimension, if it exists. But of course religious extremists would consider such obvious truths as heresy.
Another big source of delusion is politics. In this year of highly charged political partisanship watch the faces of the crowds as they listen to speeches being made by the candidates of their choice. There is a look of adoration and total acceptance in the belief that what is being said will magically occur and their lives will overnight become so much better. Taxes will be cut, jobs will suddenly be plentiful, the economy will steam ahead, abortion will become non-existent, etc. just because their favorite candidate said so. And thus their lives will also be magically transformed when all this takes place. Many people refuse to recognize that it’s so much easier to make promises when running for office than it is to govern when actually elected to office. If their candidates do win, after all the hoopla and celebrations, people still have to go back to living their personal lives with all its flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings. As for myself I believe that whatever I achieved in life was through my own undertakings, and as much as I would like to blame Richard Nixon for my failures and mistakes, sadly it just doesn’t work that way.
Of course there are many other forms of delusion like numbing oneself with drugs or alcohol, gambling in the casinos or at the race tracks, burying oneself with work to the exclusion of everything else in life and so on. And while delusion may be an essential way of coping with life one day at a time, in the end it leads you into a land of empty existence.