In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) Sigmund Freud wrote:
"The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to
anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that
the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this
view of life."
He was right. Obviously the relationship the believer thinks he has with his invisible friend is modeled on that of child and parent. This was not an accidental choice for various reasons.
First, it is the very same model that believers use to justify their thinking that only god can explain their existence. Just as they couldn't have existed without parents (they reason--incorrectly), the universe couldn't have existed without a creator. The analogy is completely unjustified, however, because the two types of things involved, people and universes, are not even remotely comparable.
Second, that model was chosen because it was a very basic paradigm in all human brains. The universality of the paradigm and its position in the hierarchy of a person's thinking make it ideal for those wishing to control how others think. Because the paradigm is so basic, one could even argue that it is the most basic of all in the human mind, all others, all other cognitive functions above it, grow from it.
Third, the paradigm was learned at a time when people are completely dependent and utterly incapable of doubting what they are told. In other words, by causing the members of the flock to revert to this paradigm, the religious leaders automatically cause them to become compliant and uncritical. Individuals trapped in this state look to others to tell them what they should do and think. It encourages a dependent and submissive state of mind. This makes them easily manipulable by the unscrupulous.
Clearly, this is morally problematic. It makes the believers both potential victims of the manipulators and victimizers of those the unscrupulous wish to target. Regrettably, this latter group may not even be intended victims of the unscrupulous. Once the members of the flock have lost their ability to think for themselves or make moral judgments for themselves, they can strike out at anyone without adequate--indeed, any--thought.
This is a particular danger with the Abrahamic religions. The "father figure" in those religions is depicted as a narcissistic, psychopathic, racist bully. Children and those trapped in an infantile state will always try to emulate their parent as closely as possible in order to win the approval they so desperately need.
The constant, vicious, violent competition between believers and those not of their particular religious persuasion is evidence of the infantile nature of the religious delusion. The religious are all trying to prove to "daddy" that they are the "good children" and the others are "bad". It is just sibling rivalry writ large--and deadly.
This is one of religion's great evils--perhaps its greatest. The parent-child model encourages believers not to mature and think for themselves. It helps to trap them in their infantile psychological issues and thus in an infantile state of mind. Because they have been deprived of a true moral code--their own superego--and left in an infantile state, believers can become quite vicious for no adequate reason.
Furthermore, religion traps people in a psychological stage in which people are not at their best--at least compared to what they can be at maturity. It keeps people in a stage in which they are little more than a barely controlled id, all willfulness, lacking adequate control or a true identity of their own. A stage when their moral development is almost nonexistent, when they truly only have fear of punishment to guide them.
As I have mentioned before, many people don't really believe in god, they believe in belief. They have been told they need belief, but, in truth, the only reason they need belief is because they have belief. It is like an addiction.
Religion creates the demand for itself by preventing people from growing up. The points I have made above can be used to help illustrate this if a believer tries to tell you that he needs to believe or that all people need to believe:
"The only reason you, or anyone, needs religion is because your religion has prevented you from growing up and replacing it with a more mature worldview."
"You've been deliberately kept in a childlike state, where you don't think you can even tell right from wrong without help, where you think you need someone to tell you what to think."
"Don't you see how easy it makes manipulating others if you train them to think they need you to tell them what to think and do?"
"If your church really has your best interests at heart, why doesn't it teach you to think for yourself instead of teaching you that you can't or shouldn't think for yourself."