Peter Gray on Religion as Play


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I was collecting some thoughts on the word delusion the other day, when I asked why, on the Net, it is common to find articles which liken sport to religion whereas none liken religion to sport . So I decided to test this bold assertion, and so Googled " Religion as Play" and found this article "Play Makes Us Human III: Play Is the Foundation for Religion". It closely follows some of my thinking. I am pleased to find some one else who shares the same thoughts. The article is magnificent and full of profound insights as are the other five in the series.        I        II        III        IV        V        VI

Notes on Delusion.

Etymology of delusion

The word delusion derives from the Latin de meaning from and ludere meaning to play.   If you are playing and don't know that you are playing, then that is delusion. If you are playing and think that it is real, then that is also delusion.

Johan Huizinga writing in 1938, in Homo Ludens, described how culture, which includes religion, consisted almost wholly of play.

Psychiatry and delusion

Delusion is usually used these days in its formal psychiatric sense; A false personal belief that is not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and is not explained by a person's usual cultural and religious concepts. It is those last two items that obscure the diagnosis and result in a cop out, because both culture and religion are delusional because they are based on play. Culture and religion are both delusional systems, even though they are considered normative within that culture. I use the word delusion here in its etymological sense of from play from the Latin de ludere.

Religion as a competitive game.

Browse the Internet and you will find many articles likening sport to religion. They all miss the point however, which is that religion is like sport. In fact religion is not just like sport; religion is a sport - a competitive game -  and the fact that it is not recognised as such is where the delusion comes in. Consider that music, choral singing, laughter, nativity scenes, myths, imaginary friends, becoming and misattribution are all part of the religious experience and that they all have play elements. It becomes clear that religion consists of a series of play phenomena which are experienced as if they were real.

The God Delusion means literally The God from Play.

The way to disprove the existence of God is to prove that the experience of God is play.

We need to understand the nature of Religion. It is not the enemy. It fulfils a need to pretend and to play. It dissolves with the insight that it is play and illusion. The delusion is in thinking that it is real. That is the problem.

The cleric is an illusionist. As such he should subscribe to the ethics of the Magic Circle and acknowledge that the experiences he creates are not real, but illusions.

Religious people who are sexual perverts - a not uncommon occurrence -  are only cheating on the rules. The problem with atheism is that it destroys the play-world itself. It is to religion what the spoilsport is to the game. It denies the legitimacy of the game.

I have a problem with the word Hypnosis. Every time I mention it to friends, their eyes glaze over and reach for the ceiling. They may have a point, because hypnosis is a delusion formed from multiple play phenomena. It is a well researched delusion however, because most researchers think that it is real. When you are playing and do not know that you are playing, then that is one definition of the word delusion.

Even though hypnosis research is the basis for my thoughts on religious experience I have found it unhelpful to mention the word. Hypnosis reifies itself in peoples minds and makes religious experience more complex to understand than it need be. Rather, when trying to explain religious experience, it is well to drop any mention of hypnosis and concentrate on play. I have simply snaffled the phenomena of hypnosis, by which hypnosis is usually described, which are simply play phenomena, and applied them to religious and play experience.