the dice bag contained our dreams
Reading Time: 7 minutes (Alperen Yazgi.) It's like a flag.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Hi and welcome back! The world got some great news yesterday: a Catholic archbishop, Dermot Farrell, lamented that visible evidence of his religion ‘has for all intents and purposes vanished’ in Ireland. Then, he said some curious stuff that caught my attention in a major way. See, he’s upset that everyone in Ireland isn’t cooperating with his Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. That lack of cooperation has led to a vastly decreased sense of in-game immersion, which in turn has led to a serious decrease in his playerbase. Today, let me show you why immersion is so incredibly important to Christianity’s players.

the dice bag contained our dreams
(Alperen Yazgi.) It’s like a flag.

Oh Noes! Belief Has ‘Vanished’ in Ireland, Y’all!

On August 16, I caught this story in Irish Times (archive). The headline definitely earned my click:

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin says belief has ‘vanished’ in Ireland

In the story, we learn that the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, gave an interview with a seminary not far to the west of Dublin. In this story, Farrell lamented about the general state of Catholicism in Ireland these days:

Evidence of Christian belief in Ireland today “has for all intents and purposes vanished,” Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has said. This “underlying crisis of faith” was “particularly acute among the younger generations,” he said.

That part, we knew. Ireland has de-Catholicized itself at a breakneck pace over the past 10 or 20 years. As far back as 2012, a journalist with The Guardian declared that they’d finally seen “the end of Catholic Ireland.”

Still, in some ways that declaration felt like it went just a wee bit too far, too fast.

Ireland: Still Pretty Dang Catholic.

As of 2020, almost 80% of Irish people said they identified as Catholic, and 1/3 of the Irish claimed to attend church services every week. American evangelicals can only wish and dream for their country to boast such stats.

But both stats represent a stark, sharp decline from the previous religiosity of Ireland. Whatever the claims might be, church attendance is downright dismal — and congregations are almost entirely geriatric. In addition, Ireland has repeatedly thumbed its collective nose at the Catholic Church’s culture wars against human rights. Every year, too, fewer and fewer men choose to study for the priesthood, while many of the priests they have now are over 75 years old.

Oh, and the pandemic seems to have dealt a death-blow to the dominance of this already-staggering religion.

So yes, Catholicism still has a lot of power in Ireland. But it’s losing power very quickly, and its masters really don’t like the idea of losing even a speck of power.

They suffer, oh they suffer! Y’all! Where oh where will their child-rapists and conjobs hide if Catholicism truly dies in Ireland?

The Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game in Ireland.

For a long time now, I’ve called Christianity a Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. The phrase simply means that it’s a deeply immersive roleplaying game that’s played by people who feel rewarded somehow for playing it. The phrase’s creator writes of it:

You are playing a game where you use the impersonal magic of the Internets to pretend to be superheroes or fantasy characters or characters on a television show or goofy anime movie. YOU CANNOT TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY.

He was talking like this to make a point: people’s feelings can go from 0 to 60 in these games sometimes, and it’s really important to maintain perspective: to remember the boundary between the player and the character so that in-game drama doesn’t spill into interpersonal drama. Gamers need to know when to set the game down and handle real stuff in a healthy, constructive way.

I like the phrase in relation to Christianity because Christians themselves almost always show us through their behavior that they know perfectly well that their religion doesn’t reflect reality. Rather, it’s just a game they like to play. They play it when it’s convenient to do so, and at such times they gain all kinds of rewards for playing. But ultimately, they can and do set it down so they can go do real stuff whenever they must.

That’s why fervent Christians are almost always complete hypocrites. It’s also why decent-hearted Christians know they must carry health insurance and do background checks on their volunteer staff.

Yes yes, Jesus is all great and fun and all, but he won’t stop a predator from joining the youth ministry. The Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game must pause briefly while the game-master (GM) pastor does a quick real-life (RL) background check.

Why Immersion Matters in Gaming.

A really good game-master (GM) can help a cooperative gaming group create some truly stunning stories. We humans seem to be uniquely driven to play-act together.

The key to the best gaming sessions is immersion. Immersion isn’t just suspension of disbelief, though that can comprise one component of immersion. Instead, it’s just a feeling of really and truly living through the story being told.

When players get really, really into their game, when they feel like they’re really right there, they’re immersed. That’s when roleplaying games are their most fun. At such times, a group finds itself poised to create lifelong memories together.

All kinds of things can break immersion, of course. Bad-faith players might represent the biggest risk to immersion. In this 2019 comedy skit from Key & Peele, an insincere player transforms a gaming group:

YouTube video

In this case, of course, the group prefers the new guy’s take on the game over their regular GM’s showrunning. That’s the joke. Normally, gaming groups greatly resent these sorts of players. In reality, Tyrell would absolutely wreck the game’s immersion.

And, uh, not to put too fine a point on it, but Catholic leaders are super-upset that a nation full of Tyrells are wrecking their campaign.

Just Give Away the Grift, Why Don’t Ya, Catholic Dude?

So in that Irish Times story, Archbishop Dermot Farrell laid blame in some interesting places.

He barely even mentioned the child-rape scandal that his organized gang of criminals have still failed to adequately address. No, that merited an “also dealing with” and some hand-waving. Nor did he mention at all the other scandals — the graveyards full of babies and toddlers, the women killed and imprisoned, the huge frauds perpetrated — that have rocked his organization for years now.

No, instead he blamed Catholicism’s decline in Ireland on less buy-in on his Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game. I’m not kidding. Here’s what he said:

Public commentary in the media in Ireland has not been positive in its understanding of the Church and its need for vocations, and for public support of those trying to preach the Gospel. [. . .]

There is a major decline in the number of people who actively practice and live their faith. Faith needs ritual, embodiment. One must see in people how faith is lived. Today the visibility of faith has for all intents and purposes vanished.

Y’all, those quotes floored me.

He’s seriously blaming his fellow Irish people for not playing along with his game. That, to him, is why Catholicism is really in trouble in Ireland. The game is far less immersive for the ones who still play it. Thus, it’s not as appealing a game anymore.

In a Way, He’s Right Though.

Forget about Jesus and the Holy Spirit and all that blahblah. Dermot Farrell knows exactly what keeps his religion successful: cultural dominance and permeation throughout its community. These two facets keep his religion at the front of everyone’s mind. It’s like a self-reinforcing marketing strategy.

In the 2000s, the new CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, decided to push advertising of her company’s healthier products. For the first time in years, Super Bowl viewers in 2010 and 2011 saw no ads for Pepsi.

It turns out that with soda, out of sight is out of mind. In 2011, Pepsi slid to third place in soda sales — behind Coke and Diet Coke. Nooyi immediately retooled her marketing strategies. Her shift included pouring half a billion dollars into Pepsi ads. Once the ads put Pepsi back into people’s minds, they bought it again — and by 2012, things looked like they were turning around again for Pepsi.

As mind-blowing as Farrell’s admission is, then, I can see where he’s coming from. In Ireland, Catholicism used to be omnipresent. Now threadbare patches appear regularly in its cloak.

Once people know that disaffiliation is an option, it never stops being an option. Increasingly, people in Ireland are voting with their feet. Catholicism offers very little to them compared to the price it demands for affiliation — and its leaders seem very unwilling to change anything they’re doing to better appeal to religious consumers.

Heck, Farrell himself thinks that the solution to The Big Problem Here is letting Catholic teachers indoctrinate schoolchildren more thoroughly. Yes, because obviously, parents will be happy to let Catholic priests near their kids when they’re not around.

Trying to Find Good News Amid the Worst News Ever.

But Catholic leaders won’t admit that their religion has died in Ireland. They’ve got to keep the donations rolling in, and nobody likes contributing to a dead project. So the subtitle to that Irish Times article reveals their game plan:

Reduced numbers may afford an opportunity ‘to reimagine the institutional Church’

In the article, Dermot Farrell declares that in addition to indoctrinating children, he also wants to get more Catholic laypeople participating in services and volunteer efforts. He thinks that’ll trick potential recruits (and disaffiliated ex-members) into thinking Catholicism is all about charity and kindness now. He said:

When young people volunteer to look after the sick, or the elderly, or the poor, when accompanied, it may facilitate a dynamic where the Lord starts to speak and move the heart of the young person. We need to start here rather than telling people to go to Mass.

Yes, because his god definitely can’t talk to people in any other way. Catholic leaders in Ireland must apply a bit of english, so to speak, to their recruitment plans in the form of emotional manipulation.

Why I Don’t Think Their Big Plan Will Work.

Unfortunately for Catholic leaders, very few people in Ireland seem likely to ignore that this sudden simpering emphasis on charity comes from the same organization linked to centuries of abuse against women and children, not to mention various other groups. It doesn’t matter how much charity the Catholic Church does if it hasn’t yet definitively, proactively addressed those scandals.

(So far, they seem to be still playing catch-up — and desperately hoping we don’t find out about the rest of their scandals.)

And I don’t think they’ll fool anybody, either, since Farrell’s already revealed that he’s only pushing for this charity as a means of making more sales. If someone wants to do charity work, more and more secular groups are happy to have them.

Unfortunately for Farrell and his pals, Catholic leaders broke immersion years ago. Their onetime players have found other games. They have already left with Tyrell Kanye the Giant in his SUV to go find some Alizé. They won’t be back.

NEXT UP: Facing anger. See you tomorrow!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...