Let's talk about a past time I thoroughly enjoy now and then.
For those unfamiliar, LARP is an acronym for Live Action Role Play. Essentially, a bunch of similarly minded folks get together and collaborate to have fun pretending scenes out of their favorite movies, books, comics, etc. This is strictly pretending, of course, but with rules involved. The basic goal of LARPing (yes, you can make the acronym a verb, how cool!) is to create a desired fantasy environment where participants interact in a way that produces an environment they enjoy being a part of. These participants follow set out guidelines in order to properly take part in events of their community they are playing a part in. This usually requires a posted rule book of sorts to study, follow, and enforce amongst themselves to help maintain the desired fantasy environs. Additionally, it isn't unusual for some type of hierarchal authority to be put in place to further interpret and lead others to appropriately follow the outlined rules.
Now, take this very basic understanding for LARP and overlay a religion on top of it.
Do we have a fantasy based environment? Check.
Do we have a set of rules and etiquette in place so members can participate appropriately? Check.
Do we have participants that work together to maintain not just the fantasy, but enforce the rules? Check.
Do we have leaders to guide, encourage, and teach participants how to be a part of the fantasy? Check.
Yes, religious ceremony matches with the basis of LARPing, just substitute Creflo Dollar for Gandalf the Gray, and Pat Robertson as Smeagol. Instead of polished leather Dwarven armor, picture a double breasted suit with complimenting tie and shined shoes. Scratch the orb holding staff, and imagine a rosary being clutched instead. No more Orcs chasing your party through the Haunted Wood of Candle Reach, it's just the Catholic priests rounding up choir boys in downtown Chicago. The foretold times of war with Zeus' children has become the battle for Earth between the arch angels of Heaven and the legions of Satan's hordes in the under realms. The fate of all mankind still hangs in the balance though, and it is on us pitiful humans that the futile struggle for divine acknowledgment resides in order to save us.
Sounds all so eerily alike, doesn't it? That's because it is. The fantasies of Allah's masses, Krishna's orgy laden temples, and a charismatic Pentecostal church are drenched in the tell tale hallmarks of role playing fantasy. Fantastic tales of man's conquering evil supernatural forces set out to punish us. Inspiring songs of self determination and victory against Lucifer's meddling influence. Sorrowful recognition of imperfections that are bringing us closer to the sulfuric acid filled pools of Hell. And the always popular prophecy of untold wealth and fortune on the golden paved roads to Heaven never cease to be retold.
Be wary of such adventures, readers. Not all who play the divinity RPG are truly welcoming. Much like the Borg, you must be assimilated to join their ranks of play, and like them, you might find yourself so lost in prophetic tales of exploring supernatural pleasures that you won't be able to tell reality from the game anymore. You could lose friends, and maybe some family, when you begin to incessantly play your role in the religious fantasy realms. It should be said that loss of long time friends and close family members will be by your own doing. When one takes LARPing to the extreme like religious ceremony does, you will find that you only want to be around fellow members of your congregation as you are too uncomfortable to face reality anymore.
Being addicted to the fantasy games and role play assigned to you by the local priest, mullah, or rabbi will feel more real than your actual life.
Psychologically speaking, role playing has been shown to be extremely addictive. The enticement of escaping who you are for a few hours a week is hard to resist. How about having the opportunity to completely set aside all the responsibilities, aggravations, pressures of your everyday life? This is what role playing offers - a momentary escape from your personal reality.
Religion offers this environment at least twice a day Sunday, and at least during one evening mid week. This doesn't include all the extra curricular activities as well, like a Tuesday Word of Power walking group., and more. During these myriad of events, players get to drop their everyday pressure and assume roles in their fantasy filled communities. Some are the clerics, offering console and understanding for the weeping sinner cast players during an altar call during Sunday mass. Some are psychic and directly connect with their God, prophesier visions of approaching dark days in a mysterious lost dialect.
During all this LARP style worship, there is no worry of being laughed at, judged, or ignored, because everyone else follows the same environment rules as you do. Unless you try to change or contest said regulations of play. Then you face possible banishment, prejudicial treatment, and mean spirited humiliation in front of your peers. So long as you observe the rules, everyone has to accept you.
I've tried to have a conversation with a pastor at a local non denominational church (name rhymes with wine), about the similarities between LARP events and religious services. Naturally, I tried to not us Lord of the Ring references or anything based on Dungeons and Dragons, since these franchises do not sit well in most of these kinds of churches. The pastor eagerly followed along, but as soon as I equivocated prophecy and speaking in tongues with some kind of fantasy role play, he shut down his listening skills and began to challenge. Unable, or unwilling, to recognize the similarities I pointed out between speaking Elvish and speaking in tongues. Both are clearly in the realm of pure fantasy.
"Of course Elvish is fantasy. It isn't based on anything real." Yes, he totally went there. Greg continued to insist that while predictions of dragons razing the world to dust were clearly ideas propagated by ancient mythology, I had "zero basis for dismissing personal experiences with God's awesome knowledge of space and time."
Needless to say, I thanked him for his time and the conversations was over. He wouldn't even entertain the idea that at least some, not all but just a bit, of religious fan fare was pure show and fantasy to keep the crowd coming back for more. He did acknowledge there is definitely a community rules aspect,"But an individual is still an individual of their own choosing, as long as they stick to the basic doctrine of our church, anyway." Greg also agreed that most Christians tend to take their belief more seriously while at church events.
"Birds of a feather," he told me, and then another awkward silence. So I pressed even harder, politely asking why he thought that was the case.
"Sheep need their shepherd so they don't wander too far off from the pasture." I shit you not, this was his exact reply. My reply? "So, you are the dungeon master who enforces or as you say teaches the rules and lays out the map to follow so adventurers stay on course with the games end goal."
"Kind of, but this isn't role playing. It's a life choice."
This pastor pretty much convinced me of what I had suspected, that LARP and religious ceremony or one and the same. Whether one truly believes the story line takes little difference when comparing the two. LARPers understand the collaboration they work so hard to create, and participate in isn't actually real.I know some who wish it could be their reality. Religion's participants seem determined to make the prophecies come true, and they don't care how much of society they alienate to achieve their goal.
Religious ceremony can be fun. No dice needed, just a prayer mat and a submissive personality is all you need to qualify!