Stop Calling Religion a Mental Illness


Chris Stedman has a column in which he lists five reasons atheists should not call religion a mental illness. He quotes quite a bit from FTB’s own Miri Mogilevsky and I agree with both of them and I wish that people would stop saying this.

It seems clear to me that religion isn’t a form of mental illness, and that calling it one reflects a shallow understanding of both mental illness and religion—or, worse still, a knowing attempt to use mental illness as an insult…

“Religion and mental illness are different psychological processes,” said atheist and mental health advocate Miri Mogilevsky in a recent email exchange. “[Religious beliefs may] stem from cognitive processes that are essentially adaptive, such as looking for patterns and feeling like a part of something larger than oneself.”

In The Belief Instinct, Jesse Bering also argues that religious belief is adaptive. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, clearly reflect maladaptive processes.

“People who cannot leave the house without having a panic attack or who feel a compulsion to wash their hands hundreds of times a day are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives,” Mogilevsky said. “Except in extreme cases, religion does not operate this way.”

Simply put: You may find religious beliefs irrational, but that doesn’t mean they’re a manifestation of mental illness.

Exactly right. There are undoubtedly people with mental illness among the religious, as there are among any group of people, but to claim that religion itself is a form of mental illness is absurd, insulting (to them and to those who actually do struggle with mental illness) and counter-productive. I’ve tried really hard to remove words like “crazy” and insane” from my writing because people I care about who suffer from mental illness have told me that it marginalizes and stigmatizes them, but this is something even worse than that. When I used those words in the past, I used them to describe specific people spouting irrational ideas. To claim that religion itself is a mental illness and therefore all religious people are mentally ill is considerably worse, I think.

There’s much more to Chris’ article and it’s all worth reading. So is Miri’s long post on the subject from December. And if you’re one of those who goes around flippantly claiming that religion is a mental illness, please stop.

Comments

  1. says

    I also cringe when I hear atheists say that religious people are idiots. There are a countless intelligent people who hold religious views. Calling them stupid is insulting and doesn’t do anything to support skepticism and nonbelief.

  2. says

    I concur, which is why I was disappointed to receive the latest issue of The American Rationalist newsletter the other day. I think it’s published by CFI. Anyway the lead opinion piece just out declared that all religious people are “insane.” Don’t have the issue at work with me so can’t provide the authors name.

  3. says

    The one word I find most apt to describe the religious is lazy, not crazy or stupid. They want easy answers that require no work to achieve, and to absolve and excuse themselves from any responsibility or effort (e.g. “praying” is their idea of helping after a disaster).

    Useful facts require education and study. On top of that, “reality has a liberal bias” – testable beats testament in any contest. Nothing kills belief faster or more effectively than knowledge.

  4. says

    Yes. I can imagine someone with a broken brain expressing that in a religious way but most religious have brains that work just fine.
    They just are operating with false data.
    Primitive brains such as insects’ can’t learn, they can only do what is hardwired into them.
    More advanced like mice can learn from their own experience.
    A baby bear can learn from it’s mothers experience by following her and watching what she does.
    Humans are the only ones that can learn from someone thousands of miles and thousands of years away. It is a huge evolutionary advance but it comes at a terrible cost since the brain has no way to tell shit from shinola.
    Skepticism doesn’t come naturally, you have to learn it.

  5. eric says

    Jesse Bering also argues that religious belief is adaptive. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, clearly reflect maladaptive processes.

    The problem with trying to define sane is that we are social animals, and our societal rules themselves don’t always make sense. Following a nonsensical rule can yield benefits and breaking them can result in exile or penalties. So at the same time, following a rule may be adaptive in a social sense but maladaptive in a personal, objective, or “outsider test for faith” sense. Is it sane to flagellate yourself, fast, or refuse efficacious medicine? How about traveling to a highly crowded and dangerous location in order to participate in a mob walk in which people die every year? Well, in terms of physical health these actions are maladaptive. But if they carry with it a social benefit or cache, then they may be socially adaptive. So…sane, or insane?

  6. dingojack says

    “It seems clear to me that religion isn’t a form of mental illness, and that calling it one reflects a shallow understanding of both mental illness and religion—or, worse still, a knowing attempt to use mental illness as an insult…”

    And the evidence for this naked assertion is….?

    “Religion and mental illness are different psychological processes,” said atheist and mental health advocate Miri Mogilevsky in a recent email exchange. “[Religious beliefs may] stem from cognitive processes that are essentially adaptive, such as looking for patterns and feeling like a part of something larger than oneself.”

    And this differs from delusional thinking in what way exactly….?

    ‘In The Belief Instinct, Jesse Bering also argues that religious belief is adaptive. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, clearly reflect maladaptive processes’

    Except the evidence does not show this supposed non-correlation to be entirely clear-cut, how does the author explain this?

    Dingo

  7. ludicrous says

    I think it would be great for atheists to get on top of this issue. Skeptics should by nature avoid mischaracterizing people. A comment above suggests believers are lazy, I think we should see clumsy stereotyping of our antagonists also as lazy. There is another pet peeve I want to associate here and that is the use of the young in criticizeing people. “Childish, immature, puerile is also lazy name calling and is disrespectful of the young.

    The religious usually get into it by being misinformed, and stay there by fear, by ignoring contradictions and other evidence and opinion.. None of that is crazy. They need help with their fears and information, not condemnation.

  8. matty1 says

    @7 I think being maladaptive is a necessary but not sufficient criteria for mental illness. If all it took was maladaptive behaviour things like unhealthy eating would be included, which diminishes the usefulness of mental illness as a category for understanding people. It might be interesting now I think of it to find what definition(s) are commonly used by professional counsellors.

    It is my understanding though that insane is a legal category not a medical one, it means something like not responsible for your actions by reason of mental illness. Mental health professionals would either talk about specific conditions or about mental illness, which is a much broader category than the legal insane e.g not everyone with depression would be considered insane by a court.

  9. says

    left0ver1under,

    The one word I find most apt to describe the religious is lazy, not crazy or stupid. They want easy answers that require no work to achieve, and to absolve and excuse themselves from any responsibility or effort (e.g. “praying” is their idea of helping after a disaster).

    I’m guessing you don’t see the lazy thinking involved in offering simple-minded explanations that merely stereotype billions of people as lazy thinkers.

  10. eric says

    @10 – okay, I was being a bit loose with my terms. Replace my uses of “sane” with “mentally healthy” and “insane” with “mentally ill” in @7. I still think one of the problems here is that calling someone mentally ill for following a (objectively nonsensical) socially accepted rule of behavior runs the risk of ignoring the fact that we are social animals, and trying to fit in even when doing so involves arbitrary or personally costly actions is part of our normal operating behavior.

  11. spartan says

    I’ll admit up front to having a shallow understanding of mental illness, but to piggy-back on what I think dingo mentioned, at what point does something like, to use a stereotypical example, the delusion that the CIA is constantly watching you become a mental illness? I’m assuming it’s possible at least for people to believe something like that or many other delusions yet function normally in every other way and not have that delusion affect their lives in other negative ways. Are delusions only mental illnesses if they have other negative impacts? Is there some difference, from a delusion/mental illness standpoint, in believing that God is communicating with you through prayers and signs as opposed to your toaster mentally communicating with you, other than the popularity of the belief?

  12. says

    Fuck. Is this gonna be like the not calling KKKonservative asswipes, “moron”, “idiot”, etc.,?

    We live in a world where polite language is used to mask all manner of despicable behavior.

    You don’t want us to define them as “nuts”. Okay, they’re just bigoted, cowardly, lying fucking assholes for JESUS. And, no, I’m not talking about garden variety christians. I am ALREADY pretty much not calling THEM nuts. It’s the delusional fuckwits that are convinced that GOD is gonna come here, FOR REELZ!, just to save their particular bacon. If that is not fucking delusional, I don’t know what “delusional” looks like.

    I have next door neighbors who are devout and pretty close to fundamentalist christians. They are wonderful, caring people with three young and delightful children. They don’t preach to me, I don’t call them crazy. If they want to come on the intertoobz and rant about how JESUS is gonna save them and fry my fat for eternity, well, that might get a rise out of me.

    The people I save the bulk of my ire for are those who actually SEEM to be reasonable and intelligent and yet use the cover of religion to hate on others. FUCK THEM and whatever church they belong to. Yeah, the church, too, ‘cuz, if you’re not educatin’ them outta their hatred, you’re abettin’ it.

  13. John Corbett says

    To claim that religion itself is a mental illness and therefore all religious people are mentally ill is considerably worse, I think.

    I agree. Labeling religious belief as a mental illness clinicalizes what appears to be a normal deviation in perception and logical processes. The main difference between religious people and atheists is what they consider to be evidence for or against the proposition that a deity exists. In many ways, that’s similar to the differences in political thought, such as views concerning the failure or success of Obamacare or a given foreign policy. People routinely disagree on what constitutes evidence in support of or refuting a whole host of propositions. Calling religion a mental disorder is really no more productive than calling liberalism or conservatism a mental disorder.

  14. corwyn says

    This argument need refining:

    “People who cannot leave the house without having a panic attack or who feel a compulsion to wash their hands hundreds of times a day are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives,” Mogilevsky said. “Except in extreme cases, religion does not operate this way.”

    Washing your hands is an adaptive process, people who spend all their time praying are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives. Except in extreme cases, hand washing does not operate in this way.

    Instead of just asserting that religion stems from processes that are essentially adaptive, one needs to show that the actual process of religion is adaptive. Otherwise the comparison with hand-washing (which stems from an adaptive process) relies on a comparing the normal operation with the extreme operation of some other process).

  15. A Masked Avenger says

    In The Belief Instinct, Jesse Bering also argues that religious belief is adaptive. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, clearly reflect maladaptive processes.

    My therapist would dispute that statement. Were dinosaurs “maladapted”? They were exceedingly well adapted… until the environment changed. My therapist would say that mental illness (excluding those with an organic basis) generally represent behavior that is adaptive in the warped environment the patient experienced. It becomes maladapted when the environment changes. In many cases, though, the only “change” is that the patient is no longer a child.

    In my case, for example, there’s all kinds of anxiety around having irresponsible parents who made the family homeless. Moving out was a change in environment, of course, but the real noteworthy change is that then I was helpless: if they didn’t put a roof over my head, I didn’t have one. Now I’m not helpless. But the things that caused me night terrors then, still do. My anxiety is perfectly rational, but only in the context that gave rise to it.

    I can see some analogies to religion (and politics). Our psychology seems to be heavily biased toward functioning in small family groups. It’s easily manipulated when generalized to a nation of 325 million people. For example, we respond to celebrities as if we know them, and rationalize their bad behavior as we would a family member’s We react to rulers much as to parents or grandparents. We tribalize our politics, and otherize those who disagree with us. The sky daddy is a supernatural extrapolation from “head of tribe” to “the great all-father,” but it has elements in common with the messianism exhibited by both political parties. Etc..

  16. A Masked Avenger says

    Washing your hands is an adaptive process, people who spend all their time praying are experiencing symptoms that interfere with their ability to go about their lives. Except in extreme cases, hand washing does not operate in this way.

    Good analogy. Except for one thing: people spending “all their time praying” is also an extreme case. Even fundagelicals don’t typically do that. If you compared obsessive-compulsive hand-washing to a monk in a monastery, or a fundie whackjob in their prayer closet, then that would be an excellent comparison.

  17. Reginald Selkirk says

    It seems clear to me that religion isn’t a form of mental illness…

    How can I argue against “evidence” like that?

    In The Belief Instinct, Jesse Bering also argues that religious belief is adaptive. Mental illnesses, on the other hand, clearly reflect maladaptive processes.

    1) The sickle cell gene is also adaptive in some environments, yet sickle cell anemia is clearly a disease. I get annoyed when scientifically ignorant people attempt to make scientific arguments.
    2) I have not read Bering, but it is very unusual to hear religious belief described as “adaptive,” and very hard to substantiate. Rather religiosity, the tendency towards religious belief, is sometimes described as adaptive. If Stedman does not understand the distinction he can leave the room and leave the adults to discuss.

  18. A Masked Avenger says

    Reginald Selkirk, #20

    I lack particular expertise in this area, but I think there are basically two solid reasons not to describe religious people as mentally ill. First, it effectively insults the mentally ill by using their condition as a pejorative. And second, because it’s literally not true in the sense that we wouldn’t expect CBT, drugs, or other therapies to correct the problem.

    We need a vocabulary for describing bizarre or disordered behavior that doesn’t imply a diagnosable condition and isn’t otherwise ableist or insensitive. There are lots of kooks out there, and we don’t want to describe them as mentally ill, mentally retarded, or anything like that, unless we actually believe it’s a factual statement.

  19. laurentweppe says

    Oh, come one, let’s be frank: unironically calling Religion a mental illness is a way to proclaim oneself inherently intellectually superior to religious people, and I for one, say: Keep. Doing. It.

    I want every sectarian supremacist to be upfront about their egotistical conceit, and that includes all the atheists nerds who fancy themselves as randologist demi-gods lording from their high-tech castles over religious rubes reduced to cattle and fucktoys: let them using shitty codewords to identify themselves so they can -alongside their fundies brethren- be kept as far as positions of power and authority as possible.

  20. A Masked Avenger says

    Oh, come one, let’s be frank: unironically calling Religion a mental illness is a way to proclaim oneself inherently intellectually superior to religious people, and I for one, say: Keep. Doing. It.

    Do you have to insult the mentally ill into the process? If you want to feel superior, why don’t you call them ghey, or retarded?

    Exactly.

  21. laurentweppe says

    Do you have to insult the mentally ill into the process?

    To insult the mentally ill, I would have to agree with the randologist douches who use “mental illness” as a short-hand for “I’m way smarter than you so fuck off you plebs
    Given that my contempt toward the aforementioned douches is quite open and obvious, one should assume that It’s unlikely that I agree with them about it, don’t you think?

  22. says

    “1) The sickle cell gene is also adaptive in some environments,”

    Are you speaking in terms of its being advantageous to some folks who live in areas where malaia is endemic?

    When the CEO’s of the various religious brands stop invoking their skydaddy to help them kill, main and otherwise despoil the people that they hate and are held accountable for the violence perpetrated in his name…

  23. A Masked Avenger says

    To insult the mentally ill, I would have to agree with the randologist douches…

    Not really. You just have to use the term as a pejorative.

  24. Reginald Selkirk says

    democommie #25: Are you speaking in terms of its being advantageous to some folks who live in areas where malaria is endemic?

    Yes I am.

  25. says

    “Mental illness” is when your mind is functioning abnormally, just as physical illness is defined as abnormal functioning of some parts of the body. Religious thinking and patterns of thought are not abnormal — for better or for worse, they’re a direct result of the normal hard-wiring of the human brain, just like food cravings, sexual desire, and response to music. Calling such thinking irrational or wrong is okay, but calling it “mental illness” is both silly and dangerously dehumanizing.

  26. Mark Weber says

    Are delusions only mental illnesses if they have other negative impacts?

    Delusion isn’t a mental illness; it is a symptom of a number of mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia, OCD, etc.,). Just as a runny nose doesn’t inherently mean one has a disease (it could be a response to an allergy, cold weather, or spicy food), it is possible to be deluded, but not mentally ill. There are many people who delude themselves about many things: political and economic theories and other people’s romantic interest come to mind, but we don’t refer to them as insane. I think it is conflating delusion with mental illness which leads to this meme.

    As a person living with a mental illness, I am not a fan of abusing the phrase, especially when it is used as an insult. Many of the religious are deluded, especially those like WLC, Habermas, and my wife who have been presented with the evidence that their religion is based in, at best, legendized accounts of an historical person and who continue to behave as though their beliefs are true. Many are simply ignorant of the facts. That doesn’t make them mentally ill. It makes them deluded or mistaken.

  27. corwyn says

    “Except for one thing: people spending “all their time praying” is also an extreme case.”

    Yes, that was precisely my point.

  28. dingojack says

    Raging Bee – ‘Normal/abnormal’?
    In London in 1347-8 was having Bubonic plague not a disease?
    In East Africa is Sickle-Cell anaemia not a disease?*
    Dingo
    ——–
    * note: AIUI, in this case the mutation(s) that cause this disease reduced the likelihood of parasitism by Plasmodium falciparum (which causes Malaria), this favourable mutation increased in prevalence within the East African population (and in the Mediterranean), however the parasite itself subsequently adapted to get around this problem. It seems, the unusually shaped red blood cells leaves patients of East African descent more susceptible to hepatitis B and C virus (but less susceptible to HIV/AIDS). Normal or abnormal? Adaptive or maladaptive?

  29. dingojack says

    Just to be clear here – I wasn’t arguing that religious thinking is a mental illness per se, rather that mental illness and religious thinking seem to have somewhat of a correlation. I don’t have any strong hypothesis on which is the cause and which is the effect (or if they are tied in anyway at all).
    Dingo
    ——-
    Remembering too that some ‘mental illness’ can be caused by hormonal, enzyme and/or genetic problems, physical diseases, parasitism and infections, chemicals building up in the body (such as deliberate or accidental poisonings), changes in environment and circumstances and so on.

  30. atheistblog says

    Culture is many things, Language is culture, art is culture. Also religion is culture as well. The very hardest thing to change in human is culture. There are good elements in culture. There are bad as well. As time progress sometimes good becomes bad, zeitgeist understandings demands change in culture. Change in culture follows struggles. Rational understanding of religion is a must, and rational people shouting at religious people like those vehement religious people is itself irrational.
    When religious people resist the change means you have impact on them, impacts flourish as time and generation passes. But disparaging at others without understanding or misconstrue them itself irrational.

  31. Nomad says

    Let me see if I have this straight. If someone believes that if I don’t wash my hands three times after turning on the television it negatively effects them, they have a mental illness.

    If someone believes that if I am gay married it negatively effects them, it’s religion.

    What’s the difference between those two situations? I mean besides the fact that one has had centuries of unearned privilege bestowed upon it, and one has had an equal amount of time of stigma?

    I would argue that religion is closer to a virus. It isn’t always adaptive. It frequently harms the people it infests, but from the perspective of the infection that’s okay so long as it gets new converts and can survive.

  32. anne mariehovgaard says

    Let me see if I have this straight. If someone believes that if I don’t wash my hands three times after turning on the television it negatively effects them, they have a mental illness.

    If someone believes that if I am gay married it negatively effects them, it’s religion.

    What’s the difference between those two situations? I mean besides the fact that one has had centuries of unearned privilege bestowed upon it, and one has had an equal amount of time of stigma?

    Nothing, really. But that’s the point: even though both of those beliefs are clearly delusional, the religious one is 1. taught, usually while people are young and impressionable; 2.socially advantageous if you belong to a group where this is a common belief. This means that having that particular delusion is not a sign that there’s anything unusual going on in your brain, i. e. not a mental illness. The same is true of all such delusions that are common in a culture/population, not just specifically religious ones. OTOH, if you invent your own religion (and really really believe in it), or become part of a small/new religious group with unusual beliefs (as an adult)… that’s a bit different. And those Christians who insist that they’re not religious, they just have a personal relationship with Jesus… if they’re actually serious about that, then yes, that’s a sign of mental illness. Fortunately, they’re usually just trying to be clever.

  33. says

    I looked up several definitions of delusion in online dictionaries. Here’s a typical one:

    “Delusion: A false personal belief that is not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and is not explained by a person’s usual cultural and religious concepts (so that, for example, it is not an article of faith). A delusion may be firmly maintained in the face of incontrovertible evidence that it is false. Delusions are a frequent feature of schizophrenia.”

    They do seem to separate clinical delusion from religious belief or faith.Other, but not all, online med dictionaries did the same. I wonder why? It fits the definition perfectly. I suspect they are being kind to religion.

    I never say religious people are “mad” or “insane” or “crazy” but I often say they are delusional and I will stick with that because it fits like a glove. I have on many occasions said their ideas are crazy. Good luck talking me out of that.

  34. Mark Weber says

    Let me see if I have this straight. If someone believes that if I don’t wash my hands three times after turning on the television it negatively effects them, they have a mental illness.

    If someone believes that if I am gay married it negatively effects them, it’s religion.

    What’s the difference between those two situations?

    Well, one of those actually exists and the other doesn’t. People with OCD practice seemingly bizarre rituals themselves to alleviate the anxiety created by intrusive delusions (i.e. things they know are “crazy”, but which compel them nonetheless). They don’t involve other people performing the ritual. That’s all Hollywood. OCD is actually a maddening condition, because those who suffer from it realize that they are unwell, but can’t escape the compulsion without help (usually a combination of meds and cognitive behavioral therapy).
    .
    There are actually people, though, who think that you marrying a same sex partner negatively impacts them. Or more accurately, they think that it is a moral outrage which society shouldn’t condone. They see the ill more as affecting the Platonic Form of “Marriage” rather than any particular relationship.
    .
    Neither of those scenarios is okay, but as anne says in #39, one involves the brain working within spec and the other involves it misfiring. Sadly, the one which is easier to resolve is the one where it is misfiring, because everyone agrees that there’s a problem, including the individual in question. With religion, you first must convince the person there is something flawed in their paradigm. No easy task when faith is the favored epistemology.

  35. Mark Weber says

    They do seem to separate clinical delusion from religious belief or faith.Other, but not all, online med dictionaries did the same. I wonder why? It fits the definition perfectly. I suspect they are being kind to religion.

    As I noted in #31, delusion itself isn’t mental illness. It is a symptom of a number of mental illnesses when combined with other symptoms. I agree, though, that they give “articles of faith” an undeserved free pass. I also agree that religious beliefs are textbook examples of delusion, though only when held in the face of sufficient evidence to the contrary. After all, those who approached physics from an Aristotelian perspective prior to Newton weren’t so much deluded as mistaken. So with those who simply are indoctrinated early and never exposed to any alternative views.

  36. anubisprime says

    #OP

    And if you’re one of those who goes around flippantly claiming that religion is a mental illness, please stop.

    Sorry Ed I cannot sign up to that…

    “If it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck, roasts like a duck, flaps like a duck…then odds are the fuckin’ thing is a duck!

  37. says

    Of course religion isn’t a mental illness. Why? Because when the diagnostic criteria for mental illness were being written, someone went through and explicitly wrote in that the exact same behaviors that are considered symptomatic of mental illness don’t count if they’re religious.

  38. matty1 says

    While we’re at it delusion does not equal hallucination. This from the comments on Miri’s post sounds right to me.

    These people are not receiving any sensory input that the rest of us aren’t, they’ve just been taught that among this mostly random input, there will be *signs from god* that will speak to them. Once they have that belief, they’re operating from a huge confirmation bias. The pastor prays and he thinks, randomly, of some banal misfortune like being out of work, something that anyone might do, but he then goes “I think… god is telling me that someone here lost their job.” The difference is that other people would understand that the words of the prayer can be associated with worries about some kind of problems, that losing your job is a problem, and that chances are, in a mega-church, you’ll find someone who fit. It kind of reminds me of how people into numerology can scour all their receipts and such and *find keys* to understanding the universe or something. Confirmation bias, plus a lack of understanding of confirmation bias.

    I suspect there are commentators here who used to be religious so do you remember getting extra sensory input? Did you literally hear a voice when ‘God’ spoke or was it as the commenter suggests confirmation bias among your own thoughts and random events?

  39. gingerbaker says

    So, people who think stupid thoughts in stupid ways about stupid things when they are deliberately thinking on the highest plane possible, and do this often, these people are not stupid? Because they may have also, along the way, learned a skill or two by rote which lets them hold a job, these people are not stupid?

    So, people who think delusionally in delusional ways about delusional things should not be called delusional, even when they they use this delusional thinking to guide their most important decisions and actions?

    And delusional people whose delusions determine their actions – perhaps to the point where they harm and kill themselves and others – are not mentally ill?

    Seriously?

  40. freehand says

    Some famous general, whose name I forgot, said (when discussing numbers of troops on the field), “Quantity has a quality all its own”. Yes, there is a difference between believing an untrue thing on your own and believing an untrue thing that a hundred million other people will tell you is true. They are both delusional, but one indicates a greater likelihood of brain dysfunction.
    .
    There are sound evolutionary and physiological explanations for our sweet tooth. But in the modern world the food available to us leads many of us into adult onset diabetes (AKA type II) and illness and death earlier than necessary. In the US, this is probably the most common state for 50 year-olds. Is it therefore not pathological, not a disease? Perhaps religious behavior was not detrimental at one point, but it is collectively a problem.
    .
    Calling someone mentally ill is not necessarily using it disparagingly. On the psych ward we had to sometimes tell the patients – firmly but politely – that they were acting on their delusions again, I do not consider the “simply religious” to be ill, but the worst of them clearly are. Like diabetes or obesity it is a matter of degree. Those problems can get so bad that a doctor should tell the patient “Your lifestyle is going to kill you. Maybe not for another twenty years, but maybe today. Please make these changes…” But those problems can also be barely detectable even in the old.
    .
    My two favorite work out buddies over the years are devout Christians. One earned his PhD in microbiology from the University of California. He didn’t try to convert me because, he said, he didn’t have any evidence to support those claims. He compartmentalized easily and open and cheerfully. Was he insane? If I tell folks they are insane, I am not insulting the mentally ill, I am telling them that their beliefs are wrong, they are clearly at odds with reality, and their behavior is troublesome and irrational, and a danger to themselves or to others.(1)
    .
    And BTW, if I say that their moral system is at the level of a toddler’s (true of most Fundamentalists) I am not insulting toddlers. I am claiming that they should have moved on to more adult ways of thinking about morality. (Very simply out, adult morality is not a list of required and forbidden behaviors handed to you by a punitive authority, it is how we treat other people – the Golden Rule.) OTOH, when I categorize artists and scientists as neotenous, I am not praising nor insulting babies, I am asserting that the creativity and playfulness of those two categories of adults are necessary for their roles.
    .
    (1) I have been known to tell some women that they are crippling themselves by wearing high heels.

  41. leonardschneider says

    Me? Crazy? Fuck yeah.
    Type 2 bipolar disorder, mild schizoid tendencies, social anxiety disorder, delusional/hallucinatory episodes (result of “high” swings in bipolar disorder, controlled via medication).
    Daily: Celexa, Klonipin, Adderall, Lithium. Ativan for emergencies.

    There, got that out of the way.

    So you can call me crazy, but not because of religion. I have no religion, I have faith… And even that’s pretty dull, since I’m a Deist. This may be the wrong thing to say in a board full of atheists, but I do believe God exists. Just not around here though: hey, it’s a big-ass universe, why should God care about the bipeds inhabiting one tiny rock?

    I do take issue with saying that religion equates to mental illness. Despite the horrors and atrocities religion has inflicted upon the world, I personally have seen religion accomplish some pretty awesome shit. Glide is a kick-ass place; follow that link and check out all the different programs and services they provide.

    So that brings up a question: are the volunteers at Glide driven by religion, or faith? There’s a pretty hefty difference between the two: one is a collective, uniform set of rules, the other is personal belief unsupported by empirical evidence.

    And obviously, religion and faith intersect. One could define religion as nothing more than a group of people sharing common faith… Yet no two people are alike, the odds of two people — much less a large group — all sharing an identical faith are very low. So for religion to get off the ground, people are making compromises and concessions in what they personally believe, for no other reason than to fit in with the group, the religion. Maybe others aren’t bugged by making those concessions; they think, “Ahh, close enough,” and put on their good clothes for Sunday services. It would bug me, though.

    So call me stubborn. I’ve got my faith*, I even go to church (Episcopal) sometimes. But to be a part of a religion would mean sacrificing little chunks of my own faith, and that makes me really fucking uncomfortable. I don’t begrudge those who have religion, and I certainly don’t consider them insane (for the most part), but I get along just fine without having to have a group; I am comfortable with my self-identity that I don’t need religion. (Besides, religion has done some fucked-up shit over the last couple thousand years, and I’d rather not be associated with it. Too many creeps.)

    One last thing: the very subject of “religion” seems to really, really piss some of you off. If you got really hurt through a church, confront ‘em. Otherwise… Dude, relax. You can’t walk around being that bugged all the time, it’s not healthy. And take it from me, I’m crazy.

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    *This isn’t the time or place, it’d take a while… And ultimately, isn’t it completely irrelevant? Tell you what: my favorite color is green. That’s about the same level of relevance as talking about my faith would have.

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