I consider myself rather adept at finding information and consuming a (perhaps too) large amount of what other people who ARE experts think on their particular fields. I take full advantage of the fact that my UTC user ID still grants me access to the enormous wealth of journals to which the school subscribes and frequently find articles about things I know nothing about. Perhaps it's just that I'm an amateur infophile (if that's not a thing, I hereby stamp it, officially, a thing), but I am obsessed with learning and proficiency. We often underestimate the power of our minds. Lately, the object of my fascination has been placebos - you know, "sugar pills," or whatever. Placebo medication is exorbitantly effective. For example, I found a Danish study in a Health Professions journal on the pervasiveness of placebo use - and they found 86% of general practitioners, 54% of hospital based physicians, and 41% of private specialists use placebo intervention.
The probability that what you're receiving as a prescription is not but a sugar capsule filled with nothing of consequence is actually rather high.
But placebos go deeper than just medicine. The majority of pedestrian crosswalk buttons (also here), the "close door" button on elevators, thermostats in cubicle settings, some HD tv, etc. have absolutely no effect to their cause. Press them, turn them, watch them, whatever - they do nothing.
I'm also no expert in the field of Philosophy, but I read a great deal of thinkers who are - and the things that they have to say on these types of things are fairly consistent: we have a need to be in control. We have this engrained necessity to relate cause and effect. Press the "close door" button on the elevator and watch the door close; you want to feel like it was your pressing the button that did it. In a world full of nonsense and far less pure reason than Epistemologically Internalist, Ethically Deontologist, Rationalist pedants like I would like to think, we need these little things to feel like we control something.
Your mind is more powerful than you think and far more useful than you'll ever be led to believe. We categorize every facet of our lives and slap a name on it. You're no longer just you, you're _____, the Moderate, Middle-class, Christian, college graduate who works three jobs and has a mild addiction to Thin Mints. Deviation from any of these categories raises eyebrows and simply shifts you to another category. "You're economically conservative like the Republicans but socially liberal like a Democrat? Oh, you're a Libertarian, not a Republican, silly me."
We categorize because we need control, and control comes through organization. The way to organize humans is to assign them numbers and slap them in the statistical group they best fit. And deviants are ostracized (don't believe me? simply look at the connotation of that word - we only associate it with negativity).
In his contribution to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Karl Marx calls the criticism of religion the "premise of all criticism." He continues a few pages later: "Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." I very much like Marxian thought on a great number of things (*in the same way that I enjoy the pledge and the turn of a magic trick, it's simply that without the prestige, it's left empty and open to be twisted - Marx was brilliant at seeing the first two steps, but left out the crucial final step almost every time. Thoughts for another day*), but this strikes particularly close to home. It is the ultimate method of control; the epitome of an obsession with relating cause and effect.
Here is how to finish a Marxian critique of religion (which I haven't begun to describe in this post), for I believe all good points should be made with questions: Are you religious or are you a worshipper? Do you look for answers within the rites and ritual and "God-talk" or do you respond honestly to something extraordinary and unfathomable that no number of explanations - religious or otherwise - can dare to explain? Does Jesus rescue you from the pit of your sin or does your rescue from the pit elevate you to shun those still in it? Does "going to church" serve only to distinguish Sunday (or Saturday) from the rest of your week? Does the word of God change your heart and the life of His son change your actions or do the words give you something clever to make a point with and look holy and the actions a bar to hold others up to? Is your religion a way to simply shrug off hard things or does your dependence on a Savior invite those hard things to buffet your sails so that you may cling to Him closer?
Religious institution has its place - do not misunderstand me. But its place is not to be a measure of control, for Religious control is precisely what Jesus reversed. You are not restrained by the law if the love of Jesus rules your heart - and that doesn't mean you get a free pass, it means against the things of Christ there is no law. Against humility there is no sword. Against servanthood there is no prison. If your only enemy is death, which has been defeated already, then there is no place in your heart for fear of it. My King came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly; so that we may be able to kiss the Face of Truth; so that we may be free from the bondage and oppression of ourselves and find freedom within the arms of the man who took it away.
He didn't come so you could have nice religious retorts on Facebook statuses or so you could vote Republican or so you could have a nice little escape from embracing pain - in fact He said, "following me is going to be painful and will probably suck sometimes. What you cannot forget, though, is that it's going to be worth it."
This part sucks for me to write: Do not let yourself get caught up in the religiosity of following Christ, in the culture of Christianity, or in bitterness and judgement once you are scooped up out of the pit. Let yourself get caught up in the love of your enemies and in the rejoicing that is natural once you see how fortunate and undeserving you are of coming as far as you have. If your religion is driving people away or making them hide themselves from you or feel the need to put on a front or get defensive, if is an excuse for your own intellectual laziness, if it serves only to delineate expanses of time, if it in any way becomes about you dividing people up into categories to deal with separately (Protestant/atheist/Jewish/gay/alcoholic/homeless/sinner/friend), it may be time to reevaluate things. It's time that I, rather than attempt to herd or change or use for my own self-serving ends my Lord's sheep, simply feed them.