3 Ways People Use Religion to Feel in Control

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

We like to be in control. Without control we can feel anxious, uneasy or overwhelmed. Religion and the idea of God can help us feel like we have control in otherwise uncontrollable situations. They are coping mechanisms that help us to face and manage unpredictability in an uncontrollable environment.

1. Promise of an Afterlife Gives Us Some Control over Death

Death is a reality of life we will all face. While we can take actions, like eating healthy and focusing on our health, death is inevitable and we have no control over it. Since we cannot control death it may feel uneasy or scary. Understandably so! With Religion and God we are given the promise of an after death -a heaven and hell. So while we cannot control the reality of death, and we cannot control what happens after death, if we believe in an afterlife we can do things that will control what afterlife we go to. We can do good deeds to get into heaven and we can avoid bad deeds to avoid hell. This is our roundabout way of controlling death. A coping mechanism, have you, for us to ignore a sad reality of life.

The best part here, is that a thing we can control (our perceptions and interpretations) can help us to have bad habits while also allowing ourselves to feel worthy of the pearly gates. Premarital sex and abortion are both considered a sin. However, a woman who does not abort a pregnancy that resulted from pre-marital sex is still considered able to get into heaven due to her decision not to abort. The pre-marital sex part is wiped under the rug. As for the man who got her pregnant, society adheres to their sex drive so he will be good for heaven as well. This is all our perception. We can control our actions > we can decide to do good deeds so we go to heaven > we can manipulate our definitions of good deeds > we have obtained the most amount of control we can over death.

2. God and Religion Can Help Us Feel Control in Uncontrollable Situations

If someone we love is sick and in the hospital there is not much we can do. We may try to make them as comfortable as possible, but the rest is out of our control. Understandably, this can be distressing and hurtful. The situation reminds us of our utter and complete lack of control (whether we realize it or not). Religion and God can help us here. We can leave things in “God’s hands,” to help us face the uncontrollable situations.

Our friend is sick and we have no control over that. If we pray to God we are able to say that we did our best, and we can relieve ourselves of any guilt and feelings that come from not being able to control the situation. We can sleep a more peaceful sleep thinking that God is working for us. This way, not matter what the outcome, we can say that it was God’s will, thus taking any pressure off of us, and relieving any anxieties that come with being in an uncontrollable situation.

3. Religion Can Provide an Excuse for Us to Try and Control Others

Something that has become a norm but seems very unnatural is the advocacy for people to stop living the life they choose. Or using Religion as an excuse to denounce other people for being who they truly are. I am all for advocating for a good cause but sometimes we need to just let people be… people. Unless someone is taking advantage of another or preying on the defenseless, I do not see reason to try and control their life style. Usually a need for control is stemmed from a feeling of anxiety or chaos. People can use religion as a means to try and control others and other people’s choices. Living near a Planned Parenthood in a gay section of a major metropolitan city I’ve seen the demonstrations.

Demonstrators scream and tell others they are going to hell for their choices because the demonstrators are scared they are going to go to hell for their own. People who try to control others are avoiding themselves. They feel like if they can control other people they will have a release from the uneasy feelings. God helps here by giving this kind of person an excuse for their unhealthy coping mechanism. They can use their perceptions to manipulate the cardinal rule of religion to “love thy neighbor” and they are ripe to try and control others. These demonstrations do not do any good. They are an outlet for the demonstrators to try and gain some of the control they seek. While the demonstrators may get a rush in planning, executing and the afterglow of the event – they will never find the control they seek unless they look within. 🌈

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