The joy of Christian psychodrama

Who can grow up in the 1980s and not think that religious belief was not the rock solid metaphysical ground of existence? Adults became intellectual preschoolers on television, publicly panicking over fantasy literature that they treated as a genuine competing mythology and thus in some sense true. Hobbit stories, Hobbit music (Zeppelin), and Hobbit games (Dungeons & Dragons) were genuinely feared as gateway drugs to the Dark Side.

If a religion that worships literature A sees literature B—which is understood by everyone to be fiction—as a threat, what might we conclude? Only that the two literatures must belong to the same ontological stratum. I think that’s a helpful insight. Christianity just is Dungeons & Dragons, but with lots of money and members. Christians just are RPGers, but ones who mistake the game for reality.

But games played with a straight face yield real effects. Culture itself is such a game. The game of Christianity is a psychodrama that people love because its simple and handles our darkest emotions. We hate when others don’t obey us. So God must also hate. We want to hurt others that don’t obey us. So God must want to hurt us—all of us, actually, since following all 613 commandments is something that no one can accomplish. When we feel the rush of Christian guilt, it is because we already know the rush of human anger. When I am angry, the other ought to feel fear. The most satisfying display of fear is self-harm, or guilt. When God is angry, then I ought to feel fear and, finally, guilt. When I am forgiven, my obligation to self-harm suddenly stops, and there is a burst of happiness. This is the Christian psychodrama and people love it because it can lead to profound happiness. But you need to follow all the steps in the cycle: Sin → anger → fear → guilt → forgiveness → happiness.

Yes, this cycle is myopic and pathological. But it’s better than nothing, and on cable at the time it was the only option.