Here is an interesting illustration offered by my friend J. P. Moreland:
In medicine, we all know what a placebo is. It is an innocuous substance that doesn’t really do anything to help an illness. But the patient’s false belief that it works brings some mental relief. Unfortunately, a placebo works due to the naive, misinformed, false beliefs on the part of the patient. Sadly, the placebo effect is not limited to medicine. Many people have worldview placebos — false, naive, misinformed beliefs that help someone because they are living in a safe fantasy world of their own mental creation and not because of the truth of the beliefs themselves. To see why this is sad, consider the fictitious story of Wonmug.
Wonmug was a hopelessly dumb physics student attending a large Western university. He failed all of his first semester classes, his math skills were around a fifth grade level, and he had no aptitude for science. However, one day all the physics students and professors at his college decided to spoof Wonmug by making him erroneously think he was the best physics student at the university. When he asked a question in class, students and professors alike would marvel out loud at the profundity of the question. Graders gave him perfect scores on all his assignments when in reality he deserved an F.
Eventually, Wonmug graduated and went on for his Ph.D. The professors at his university sent a letter to all the physicists in the world and included them in the spoof. Wonmug received his degree, took a prestigious chair of physics, regularly went to Europe to deliver papers at major science conferences, and was often featured in Time and Newsweek. Wonmug’s life was pregnant with feelings of respect, accomplishment, expertise, and happiness. Unfortunately, he still knew absolutely no physics. People hated Wonmug and mocked him behind his back, yet being oblivious to the truth, Wonmug was as happy as could be.
Do you envy Wonmug? Would you wish such a life for your friends? Of course not. But why? Because his sense of well-being was built on a false, misinformed worldview placebo. People who disregard truth and simply care if a religious idea works, are worldview Wonmugs. If they are willing to be Wonmugs, they should be pitied because they don’t take their lives seriously.