This is a sequel of sorts to my theory of Functional Illusions. I wanted to expound on the topic because I think we start asking some big and important questions when we wonder about what things around us may be Functional Illusions. The biggest and most important of these questions is: “Is God a Functional Illusion?” The answer to this is hard to tell because the term Functional Illusion implies that everyone is aware that the notion of God is a lie, and obviously many, many people truly believe in a god, with logical reasons for doing so. However, the idea is not out of the question.
Upon further pondering of the “Idea America” concept I presented in my Functional Illusions essay, I found that there are many things in our culture that we think of this way. For example, I’ve read that Hitler loved the circus, and I’ve heard that he really liked children. However, we don’t think of Hitler of having a human side at all. The Idea Hitler is just a monster, with no human side, so that we may use him as an example of what pure evil is like. Think about it – we refer to Hitler and/or Nazis multiple times a week because the Idea Nazis are so useful as an example. This is remarkably similar to the Idea America, consisting of the American dream, equality, liberty and justice for all, etc. There is a good purpose behind believing in it, and we want to believe in it because of its purpose, so it becomes a very strong Functional Illusion that may distort our view of reality.
I eventually decided that putting the word “idea” in front of something does not clarify this, so I instead have decided to make up the word Eidome (eye-du-mee) to express this concept. I might change the word I use for this concept later, but for now, I like Eidome because its structure implies its meaning; Eidos means “idea or form,” and Epitome essentially refers to a prime example, so Eidome implies the idea or image that best exemplifies. To be more specific, Eidome means a concept (or simulacrum) of a thing that embodies what a culture or community wants to believe is reality because the belief serves a purpose. When one sees how the Idea America, or Eidome America, fits this description, it becomes clear that the Eidome is one of the strongest Functional Illusions, if not the chief of them all.
Lawyers are a good example. Everyone hates lawyers, except that everyone needs lawyers. The average middle class American might claim to hate lawyers because they take all of our money and are a huge pain, but he/she actually hates the lawyer Eidome. The lawyer Eidome is a conniving rat that’s out to rob everyone, and is therefore easy to hate, in spite of the fact that one could easily befriend a lawyer that does not meet this description. Hating the lawyer Eidome really only serves a few small functions: expressing annoyance with the court system, making funny lawyer jokes, warning others of the danger of sneaky lawyers, etc. Frankly, even if every lawyer on the planet suddenly became nice and generous, we would still want to hold onto the Eidome because it’s too fun.
Another good example might be little children. We all have met someone who claimed she loved children, but after working/living with them, she’s discovered that she only loves children “in theory.” This means she loves the child Eidome. She loves children making Valentines out of construction paper, children running into the bedroom during a thunderstorm, children gleefully giggling as they lose a tickle fight, and so on. The reality of children is that they’re noisy, the ask too many questions, they make big messes, and they never listen, but the child Eidome serves the purpose of making sure people still want to have children. With only truth and no Eidome, the species might die out.
Now it is possible to discuss the God question again. It would certainly seem that every western religion or church has a God Eidome. The god in the holy book may be wrathful, unjust, or deceptive, but this is all seen as irrelevant. Instead, the God Eidome – the one that wants what’s best for everyone and offers a message of hope – is worshiped because it’s more comforting to believe in him than it is to believe in the true god of the book. Saturday Night Live once did a sketch in which Jesus enters a football locker-room wearing athletic socks, and he appears to be a big fan of Tim Tebow. Religious people who saw this as a parody of Jesus were naturally offended, whereas religious people who saw it as a parody of the sports-fan’s Jesus Eidome – a Jesus who really cares about sports – knew the intent wasn’t to mock God. SNL mocked an idea of Jesus, not a reality, as plenty of Christians have done before. While we do not have to totally abolish Eidomes (since they do have purposes), we do need to recognize and question them in order to find truth, even if it means taking a stab at the Eidome we worship.
So, regardless of whether there is a god or not, the god that a given church worships is still probably a Functional Illusion, just as there are both a real America and an America Eidome. Being such an important Functional Illusion, the Eidome scares people, or at least the idea of exposing Eidomes scares people. Much like most other Functional Illusions, they are not necessarily evil, they just need to be addressed. The reason we allow the illusions to continue should be the fact that the purposes they serve are good, and it should by no means merely be wishful thinking. The challenge, therefore, is for each person to consider how his or her belief is merely and Eidome, because that is how we can dispel our fantasies and embrace the truth.