I want to express something that means "Serving a master that only exists in our imagination", but don't want to use "serving the imaginary master". Is there a word for it?

Example: "We spend our entire lifetime serving an imaginary master instead of using the limited lifetime in our service."

Edit: Rephrasing the sentence: "Our limited lifetimes should be used in our service instead of us using it to serve an imaginary master"

  • 1
    "slave to an idea", "under the spell of" are a couple related thoughts that come to mind. Really we need a sentence and context to narrow the question.
    – Tom22
    May 5 '17 at 23:10
  • 2
    Obsession or Monomania come close.
    – Spencer
    May 5 '17 at 23:54
  • 1
    For clarity could you please rephrase the example at least two different ways? Example: We spend our entire lifetime serving an imaginary master Rephrasing: Our limited lifetimes should be used in our service (not to) serve an imaginary master Noticing the actual meaning: No; there ins’t a word master that exists only in imagnation May 26 '17 at 19:57
  • 1
    It should be pointed out that "god" fits this definition pretty well.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 24 '18 at 20:58
  • 1
    @HotLicks For little kids, that would be Santa Claus! It’s right there in the jingle: “♫ He knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness’ sake! ♫ ”
    – tchrist
    Mar 26 '18 at 13:31

false god

or if God were not to exist, then simply God.

A god in many cases is as you describe. I'll only make a list of the commonalities shared among many gods, and you can be the judge. Gods:

  • have power over us
  • expect servility, worship, or praying to them
  • lays down laws about which of our actions are forbidden, such as:
    • which foods we may eat
    • how we must treat other beings
  • what actions one might take to earn favour from the god including:
    • worshipping/praying
    • sacrifices, either materially or of self-abnegation/abstention
  • looks after and protects us if we are good

The word "god" does double duty here because as a word it can also mean something that a person follows or holds in high-esteem. So:

4. One that is worshiped, idealized, or followed: Money was their god.
American Heritage Dictionary

So even disregarding god the transcendent power, you may say, to use your example sentence:

"Our limited lifetimes should be used in our service instead of us using it to serve the false god of materialism".

There's a line in the Bible that says no man can serve two masters:

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Bible Hub

And here mammon is being used in the way I mentioned before, "mammon" meaning either money or:

2. avarice or greed
Collins English Dictionary

Using your other sentence, "We spend our entire lifetime serving an imaginary master". Riches and wealth are real things, but the pursuit of these things in the hope that they will make you happy may be elusive or imaginary, therefore, generally speaking, serving the god of riches and wealth is serving a false master, so to speak.

Feel free to tell me it makes no sense.


Make-believe (as an adjective), according to Collins Dictionary:

"You use make-believe to describe things, for example in a play or film, that imitate or copy something real, but which are not what they appear to be."

Example sentence from ODO:

"‘It weakens their precarious hold on their make-believe world.’"

"‘But the 42-year-old Cruise shrugs it off as just another make-believe soul that grabbed him.’"

Your example:

Our limited lifetimes should be used in our service instead of us using it to serve a make-believe master.


1 "Definition of 'make-believe'." Make-believe Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary. Accessed March 24, 2018. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/make-believe.

2 "Make-believe | Definition of Make-believe in US English by Oxford Dictionaries." Oxford Dictionaries | English. Accessed March 24, 2018. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/make-believe.

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