Probably the most intriguing curiosity we’re presently providing future historians with is how the ancient tradition of explaining away natural phenomena through colorful stories of superhuman ancestors has somehow made it into our enlightened, modern-day era in the form of authoritarian, mythological propaganda, presented to us still in such a way as if it’s meant to dictate every facet of our daily lives, through religious institutions. The view may be growing within Christian circles that the stories of the Bible weren’t meant to be taken literally in the first place and should instead be understood figuratively, as symbolic truths, however that view of mythology in general was already present in Plato’s The Republic (from 380 BC). In ancient Greece there may not have been a clear-cut distinction between myths, legends and folktales, though today religious texts and fiction have been clearly boxed into two distinctly separate realms of reality. In psychology, our need for fictional entertainment has been explained in terms of a need for escapism (“the tendency a person has to escape from the real world to one of delight or security” – PsychologyDictionary.org). Though the view that the purpose of religious mythology is to explain the inexplicable can pretty much be considered common sense by now, it may still be less clear whether our need for religion should be seen as separate from our need for escapism, at all.
To suggest the opposite would be to imply that the variety of religious mythologies throughout history were originally conceived by visionaries who didn’t merely understand the importance of symbolism but escapism as well, before their mythological creations were adopted by individuals who had no understanding of either, who instead would cling on to a literal interpretation of the myths, where the “characters” in the texts needed to be perceived as real entities. From this idea we can then deduce a model of reality that may still be applicable today, that of the population as being divided into two types of people: A, those who understand escapism, and B, others, who don’t. Regardless of the relevance of any debate over literal vs figurative interpretations of the Bible in modern-day society, the dichotomy of said type A and type B individuals can still be detected in discussions on the damaging, real-life consequences of escapism in the form of video-games, TV, films and pornography (and, yes, I am including pornography under the header of escapism, without dwelling on that decision any further). Those debates perhaps shouldn’t be narrowed down to merely two sides, with the view that escapism is harmful, on the one hand, and of escapism being harmless, on the other, but also a third side, with the perspective that lack of exposure to escapism can be harmful in itself – the kind of harm that leads to casual, imaginative, figurative ideas (mythology) being turned into literal, oppressive power (religion); and the risk can come out in the sufferer developing a more moderately distorted perception of reality, as well.
If we accept that our need for escapism is real, then depriving ourselves of escapism must therefore have its consequences. Furthermore, if our need for escapism is a need for feeding our imagination, it stands to reason that insufficient amount of escapism would mean that our imagination could consequently start running amok, affecting and contaminating other thought processes of ours, such as reason, distorting our perception of reality, even to the extent of leading to paranoia, or other types of delusions. Furthermore, people who don’t display strong need for escapism may already be satisfying their imagination’s hunger with their perpetually distorted view of reality. Exposure to fiction would therefore be therapeutic (and interestingly enough, engaging in religion is a common theme of rehabilitation programs, though that may be understood in terms of a quest to find meaning in life through religion, however the escapism factor shouldn’t be dismissed outright – isn’t substance abuse itself primarily a matter of escapism anyway?).
The longevity of religion in an age where pretty much every mythological claim has been scientifically disputed might derive from a need for escapism rather than merely a need for meaning or optimism. Given that, we shouldn’t expect religion to go away at any point, but perhaps the next step in its evolution would be the introduction of a religion that’s consciously pure escapism, without any authoritarian affiliations, consisting instead of a variety of imaginative, symbolic truths. We could imagine oxygen as being a magical compound that was released into our atmosphere with the destruction of some mythological creature that thus became the spiritual ancestor of every living being on earth. Modern-day religions have already given us the precedence for ‘followers’ officially holding a belief without taking it literally. Of course, as with all other religion, the risk would be that ours would eventually be infiltrated by individuals who have no understanding of escapism, who would start taking all of it literally. Perhaps that could be averted by never referring to that religion as anything other than Escapism.