I really enjoy my daily runs through my neighborhood. The trail I take runs along a river, and on days like today, when the temperature is 75, the humidity is low and every rosebush and peony is in bloom, it is especially thrilling. The sun makes the water sparkle like diamonds, herons and bald eagles circle and the endorphins rush easily. I think I have trained my brain as well as my body, because it is very easy for me to reach a transcendent state.
I am aware that these experiences—where I feel at one with nature—are a product of the working physicality of my brain. But I can see how feeling “one” especially in a group can be a powerful force. Religious leaders are trained to create this feeling in their followers by playing with their emotional state and speaking in a familiar language laced with group code and with a defined cadence. They lie and tell their flock what they are feeling is the spirit of god, rather than just the experience of another human emotion.
Children are especially vulnerable to this type of manipulation. It is common for adolescents especially to feel a strong need to belong to a group. Religious groups like Young Life and Campus Crusade for Christ take this fundamental desire to belong and manipulate it for their purpose. The feeling of transcendence is particularly powerful in children who are unfamiliar with this emotional state. They are led to believe what they are feeling is god. With enough reinforcement, these experiences can be enough for them to believe they have “felt god” for the rest of their lives.
I try to always to point out this very same sense of unity when it occurs, especially when I am working with children. Being on a sports team, or in a play, in a concert, or even working on a group project—children have lots of experiences where the community comes together and their emotional state transcends the task at hand. It is my hope that by teaching them to recognize the feelings that come from working with others at a task or toward a common goal they will become less susceptible to manipulation.