Some fifteen years ago or so, I watched an episode of a program called “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” The episode, titled “Lost in the Snow” (available here), told the story of the Stolpa family, a young couple who got lost with their infant child in very remote northwestern Nevada during a snowstorm in the winter. They started driving from the Bay Area in late December 1992, heading to Idaho for a family gathering. Hoping to make time and avoid a heavy blizzard hitting the Reno area, they headed north and took a small highway into a very sparsely populated portion of Washoe County. Unfortunately for them, the sign on the highway notifying motorists that it was closed, was buried under snow. They got stuck in a frozen desert and eventually ran out of gas, and their harrowing adventure was just beginning. Luckily they survived, but the lessons of their experience are worth considering.
For me, the story brings home an important point: our minds do not have a built-in signpost telling us when we’re departing reality and wandering into the realm of the imaginary. Religion is like a road into a fantasy-land with no signs warning drivers that they’ve gone beyond a fundamental boundary. When believers read the gospels, for example, and imagine the Jesus depicted therein preaching and performing miracles, they can be so engrossed in what they consider a solemn experience that they do not realize how far they have ventured beyond the realm of fact and into a figment of their own mental creation. What’s more, they think they’ve arrived at some sacred destination which they like to think of as a spiritual awakening of sorts, when in fact they’ve shut down their reasoning by going off-course and getting stranded in a wilderness far from reality.