To the right is the illustration I used in “Your Modular God“(2010) to show how people use the word “God” to package up functional modules which contain concepts, feelings, preferences, behaviors and more. In this model, “God” is not an invisible being — though that is the contention of theists — but instead, “God” is a way for theists to hold together certain valued modules easily so they can comfort themselves, bond with like-minded people and/or manipulate others into their values.
Theists use “God” as a reification of their hopes, fears, desires and loves. “God” is an abstraction that they concretize. This is true even if, by any slightest chance, there is an actual all-caring, all-knowing, interventional critter out there. In other words, even if a god exists, it is certain that “God” is a tool for most, if not all believers.
Objectifying that abstract term “God” is done unconsciously by a believer in order to talk quickly and easily about their hopes, fears, desires and loves. This objectifying of an abstraction is called “reification“. And as I explained in my post, “Secular Gods“, even though atheists may reject religious reifications of “God”, they also create reifications — we all do it. We largely don’t understand reification in general — we don’t see behind the curtain. So in a sense, Atheists incarnate their desires, hopes, fears and loves too — as if they were creating secular gods.
Below I have created a diagram to try to illustrate my point. On the right you see a particular Christian’s reification of “God” while on the left you see an atheist doing it with the word “Patriotism” (as an example). The atheist, like the theist, could then go around with his/her Patriot myth telling folks what a “real” Patriot is and what “real” Patriots should do. He may never see behind his own term. He may never understand all the cool feelings he gets when he thinks about “Patriotism”, because it is real to him — perhaps as real as an theist’s god.
If you don’t like my example, pick another, add or subtract your own modules — either way, I hope you get my point.
Some rightly attack religion by pointing out its contradictions, but I feel pointing out the process of reification gives us deeper insights and make the accusation less personal because it is something we all do.
For atheists, nothing should be sacred or closed to doubt or to questioning or to demands for evidence. So, discussing reification should be easy. I think most will have no trouble talking about religious reifications, but some may be defensive of their secular reifications — which illustrates that hands-off sacred attitudes exist in everyone.
Question to readers: Can you give another example of reification?