Hi! My first post here in CFI. So:
Is religion a “mental illness?”
Is spirituality a “delusion?”
Lots of my fellow skeptics think so.
And I see their point. After all, there seems to be an undeniable association between religion and mental illness:
Schizophrenic delusions and hallucinations often take on religious themes.
Religious indoctrination can cause anxiety, sexual repression, and depression, among other issues.
Scrupulocity (religious OCD) is a thing. So is Religious Trauma Syndrome.
Spiritually-induced visions and other experiences can be similar or identical to those found in mental disorders.
On the other hand, this subject is difficult to discuss because language fails. How are we defining terms? Colloquially or clinically?
And most importantly, what is our intent?
Let’s say religion became a legit diagnosis in the DSM-6. If religion were a mental illness, what would that mean? That:
》This mental illness is normative, culturally and psychologically.
The vast majority of human beings over the centuries, in most cultures all around the world, have believed in some sort of gods or spirit world.
Until fairly recently, this was the only explanation for mysteries of human existence. So everyone who lived prior to modern scientific discovery was “mentally ill.”
And so are all the 6 billion Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs (etc.) currently alive. (Apparently, all unbelievers would be “sane” by definition.)
》 This mental illness is acquired by learning from one’s parents or culture. It isn’t inherited, or spread by bacteria or germs. It’s taught.
Those of us who once believed, and no longer do, were “sick” but then got “well.” But our “recovery” depended on our culture, as well. Atheism IS the “default,” in that nobody’s born believing. But for most humans, atheism’s only “logical” if it remains an option as we grow and develop in our culture.
》This mental illness manifests differently, depending on geography. It takes different forms in Tibet, Iraq, Italy and Appalachia. And actually in each of the 30,000+ Protestant Christian denominations in America alone.
》This mental illness has caused incalculable harm over the millennia … AND been a source of comfort and joy — a major driver of art, music, architecture, medicine, migration and every human endeavor, ugly or beautiful.
》This mental illness is similar to dreams, trance states, sexual ecstacy, and lots of psychological experiences we can’t explain.
Hallucinogens, hunger, and stress can cause transient symptoms of mental illness, as can prayer and meditation. They don’t generally indicate a person is “mentally ill.”
》This mental illness has influenced some people to commit atrocities (David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Osama Bin Ladin), and other people to benefit society (Dr Martin Luther King Jr., JRR Tolkein and Fred (“Mr") Rogers).
》 This mental illness could not be cured with medication, vaccines or any current medical treatment.
As religion is in decline worldwide, it’s already being alleviated through science and education. Humankind continues to evolve emotionally and intellectually, setting religion aside. A "quick “cure” would involve punishing “thought crimes,” Soviet-style.
》This mental illness causes “delusions” that are different from the delusions in other mental illnesses.
In most cases, when a religious person says God spoke to him or influenced his life, he means one thing. When a person with schizophrenia says a lamp spoke to him and that the CIA is controlling his movements through his dental fillings, he means something else.
What’s more, most of the religious folks around us manage to work, raise families, own property, and function in society. Many folks with severe mental illness cannot.
》This mental illness is an insult.
Let’s be clear: When we nonbelievers refer to religious people as “sick,” we don’t mean it as a compliment.
And when those of us with actual mental health diagnoses like depression or bipolar hear that, it’s pretty stigmatizing. And dismissive of real suffering. And we’re hearing “mental illness” as a synonym for “asshole.”
AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY:
If religion were a “mental illness,” we could not criticize it.
Do we ridicule people with OCD?
Are we angry at people for having phobias or anxiety?
Do we debate people with schizophrenia on Internet forums?
Do we decry the immorality or lack of ethics of Autism Spectrum Disorders?
I really, really hope not.
As an Ex-Christian who has a bone to pick with religion, particularly as expressed by the Religious Right in America, I WANT to criticize, debate and blame.
I want religious people whose dogma affects others negatively to be held responsible.
And I don’t want “religion” classified as a “disability” for SSDI. Do you?