If religion were a "mental illness"...

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:

:heavy_check_mark:Schizophrenic delusions and hallucinations often take on religious themes.

:heavy_check_mark: Religious indoctrination can cause anxiety, sexual repression, and depression, among other issues.

:heavy_check_mark: Scrupulocity (religious OCD) is a thing. So is Religious Trauma Syndrome.

:heavy_check_mark: 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.”


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?



Tee, very nice job in laying out your viewpoints.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or Scrupulosity is the subject matter.

Using your viewpoints, I would have to say that majority overrides of the population would cause any mental illness to be set as the standard. Just like in the movie Idiocracy.

  1. 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.”

What is the common factor of the (some sort of gods)?

I would argue that the common factor of all gods is control of some type of “knowledge”. The word god itself means “knowledge”.

Mankind has always strived to know all knowledge or admire and respect those who control knowledge. I’m not judging the knowledge as good, bad, right or wrong. That can change over time.

  1. Religion has been around a lot longer than any of the deity gods. You don’t need deity gods to have religion. Examples today might be Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Syntheism, Raëlism, and Neopagan.

My view.

Is religion a “mental illness?”

Answer is no. Religions go back into pre-history and are a building block for civilization. We all want to get rid of religion for the most part. Religion is a system to teach our children morals. And we have no better system in use. If you have a better system, then we can get rid of religion.

Is spirituality a “delusion?”

Answer is no. Again, spirits go back into pre-history and before deity gods. Use to show remembrance of those you loved and respected. When a person dies, we could just eat them, that would be the logical thing to do. Not waste the protein. But that would not be spirituality accepted, except the Christians drink the blood of god in the Eucharist. But I am no expert on the spirit. I understand it started as a way to show respect and then evolved into part of the reincarnation concept. The God RA moved it in another direction with superstitions.

Scrupulosity comes from the Age of Enlightenment and is part of the progressive movement. I would call it a “label”. Like “Climate Denier” is a label use by people who think they are progressive. Could you use some of your same viewpoints and apply them to the term “Climate Deniers” and claim they have a mental illness?

Welcome to CFI Tee.

Thanks for your comment!

I will try my best to respond, but I want to say upfront that I don’t understand some of what you were trying to say…I suspect English is your second language…?


》 The word god itself means “knowledge”《
Actually, you are thinking of the word "gnosis." Gnosis means "knowledge." The Gnostics believed they possessed secret knowledge. The word "agnostic" literally means "not knowing." The etymology of the word "god" includes lots of ideas, but "knowledge" per se isn't one of them.

That said, who knows where the religions came from, originally, but I suspect that early man needed to understand weather and birth and life and death, and ascribed these things to supernatural “parents.” And rituals developed in hopes of pleasing these “parents” to avoid “punishments” like illness and storms.

》Religion has been around a lot longer than any of the deity gods. You don’t need deity gods to have religion. 《
I think you are making a distinction between theistic religions (that revolve around a monotheistic diety or creator) and polytheistic or nontheistic religions (that revolve around multiple deities or spirits, or that don't require a creator).

Yes, this is true, but it’s irrelevant to my post. I’m trying to discuss belief in a supernatural realm, regardless of the structure of that belief.

》Is religion a “mental illness?”Answer is no. Religions go back into pre-history and are a building block for civilization. 《
》We all want to get rid of religion for the most part. 《
Well, some people do and others do not.
》Religion is a system to teach our children morals. And we have no better system in use. 《
I beg to differ. We assume our morals come from religion, but when you look closely, this isn't always the case.

I’m not sure if you are here in the US, but American Christians often demand the 10 Commandments be posted in public places because, they say, they form the basis for our legal system.

But they don’t. Only two of the 10 are laws, and a lot of things that are wrong or illegal aren’t listed at all. Our secular legal system covers them.

That’s simply one example. And religion also teaches tribalism, xenophobia, misogyny and lots of other IMmoral things.

Almost every culture, though, regardless of religion, has laws or rules against murder, stealing, and promiscuity. And most people realize, early and innately literally as infants), that if we are nice, others are nice to us and if we are not nice, people are not nice to us. (The “Golden Rule” existed centuries before Jesus.)

We evolved with a need to belong, for our own safety. If mankind was as evil as many religions make him out to be, I honestly don’t think we’d have survived this long.

》Scrupulosity comes from the Age of Enlightenment and is part of the progressive movement. I would call it a “label”《
I'm sorry, I should have defined what I meant by "scrupulocity." My reference has nothing to do with the Enlightenment or Progressivism.

As I briefly indicated, it is a subset of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

You may have heard of people with OCD who are compelled to wash their hands a hundred times a day, or tap doorways to prevent loved ones from being in an accident, or whatever.

“Scrupulocity” is the term for those whose OCD takes religious forms. Some common examples are being obsessed with the idea one has committed the unforgivable sin without remembering, or needing to light a certain number of candles each day.

I want to be very clear that I’m talking about an actual illness, not simply extreme religious devotion.

In fact, Scrupulocity can affect people of any religion, and no religion, including people who don’t believe in God at all. It is a symptom outside of, or beside, one’s particular faith. (You can be religious, or have Scrupulocity, or both. I had both.)

And those who suffer from Scrupulocity almost always have other forms of OCD as well. Any reputable mental health professional, whether religious or secular, should recognize it.*

Any comparison to “climate denial” (whatever you were trying to say) does not have anything to do with the illness of Scrupulocity, nor to anything I have said in this post.



*More here:


The upper and lower gods were in pre-history. They were the people of knowledge. Gnosis is a 17th century term that referred to the older teachings of knowledge and wisdom that had many names. For example, The Learned. If you want to know where religion came from originally. We are not able to pinpoint it to the date and geo location. But we know the eras and that religion started in India.

The etymology of the word “god” is German and was first used in the 6th century. What the upper and lower gods were really called in pre-history, we don’t yet know. But what we do know is the common factor of all the gods is control of some sort of “Knowledge”. Etymology does not go back in time to pre-history. I wanted to understand religion some years back. So, I started by reading the bible. One thing I found was that in the translations, the term god was not used. What was used was the names of the gods. And the problem I was having was there were different gods from different religions. Some of the ruin churches of these gods you can still go and see today. This bothered me. I talked to a rabbi scholar who worked with the Dead Sea Scrolls and he told me that was correct, and religion should be looked at as a concept that has helped mankind. If I remember correctly the OT uses eleven different gods.

As far as religion needing a deity. What for? The Rig Veda has some of the oldest religious stories and no deities. Deities evolved and that’s not hard to follow. But as you say, you want to discuss the supernatural realm. It is good to establish the parameters of the subject matter. Just makes it a lot easier to communicate.

I would debate that most people want to get rid of the deity part of religion. So, you are correct on some people do not want to get rid of religion. From what I have seen in my life, only a small part of religion is about deities. As far as the social part, that should be kept. Nothing wrong with singing songs and enjoying your neighbors. If it was really about “GOD”, everyone would live their life differently is my feeling.


Religion is designed for civilization. The bible for example is about morals. It is not about god or heaven and hell. If it was, it is the worst book ever written. Good morals make better civilizations.

Yes, the Ten Commandments are about the legal system, because they were the legal system at one time. The laws came to Babylon from pre-history. And in Egypt, from the same beginning as Babylon – The Word. Deities had not yet evolved from the animal form.

For example, Caesars were made gods. So were their fathers and mothers. Along with their brothers and sisters and wife. It was not for the lack of gods. It was for having more judges in the legal system.

Jesus was all about the legal system. Not so much about god. That why the gnostic texts were never used in the NT. Our founding fathers were mostly deists and America was designed for deism. For the teaching of morals, which was critical for a good nation. Jefferson wanted the teachings of Jesus. But he did not want any deities. Thus, he created the Jefferson Bible. For the most part Jesus never had any original quotes. Books have been written tracing his quotes to older quotes from India.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the topic of the post.

Is religion a “mental illness?”

A friend took me to a Pentecostal church where everyone was babbling. It scared the hell out of me. These people were way beyond mental illness. Jesus was a drug for these people.

Point being. These Pentecostal babblers are at far end of the religious mental state. Do we have mental illness here? The answer is still no. What I think I saw was the role of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior. What I would call the god gene. Some people might have more of those genes than others.

Some single genes have major consequences for behavior. https://web.stanford.edu/~wine/202/g-and-b.html and https://aeon.co/ideas/wired-that-way-genes-do-shape-behaviours-but-its-complicated

… that genetic heritability accounts for 50% of the psychological differences between us, from personality to mental abilities. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/29/so-is-it-nature-not-nurture-after-all-genetics-robert-plomin-polygenic-testing

Tee, there seems to be some research in this area.

I believe I understand now where you are coming from and you want to get the word out. If I was you, I would check with Dean Hamer a Harvard geneticist. He wrote the book - The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes.

Then I would continual with your web site. It is only a matter of time before the AI of the computers can go one on one with people. Basically, anyone with scrupulosity should be able in the near future to get help by the AI in the computer.

I don’t think I have been much help to you because you need the general accepted and established thinking for what you are doing.

I have taken the time to post a thoughtful reply multiple times and it isn’t showing.

I have taken the time to post a thoughtful reply multiple times and it isn’t showing.
Sorry to hear that. CFI doesn't put a whole lot of resources into this forum so have some sympathy for the volunteers. Software doesn't last forever if it doesn't improve, so hopefully the platform will get better. Meanwhile, I suggest creating posts in a word processor of your choosing then pasting it here. I've noticed problems occur when I edit a post, so I try to avoid that.

Nice post by the way. I like the Daniel Dennet approach of trying to find the anthropological forces behind religion and looking for how it might have value, if we understand it.


Thanks. I’m on Android. But yes, I have the text saved and I’ve pasted it … four times now. Not showing. Frustrated. Will try again later.

Thank you, Lausten!

Hi, Sherlock,

Hmm. Actually I have a program that estimates the time it takes an average reader to read what I write.

This one came to 3 minutes, 27 seconds. But it actually should be less, since I bulleted & subdivided my main points to make it scannable.

For me to summarize it would take ME at least 3 minutes, 27 seconds. So I think I’ll leave it as is.

My main point: Do I agree with Dawkins? No.



I’m on Android. But yes, I have the text saved and I’ve pasted it … four times now. Not showing. Frustrated.
Ah. It thinks you are duplicate posting. We suffer with that, or we suffer with more spam. The only solution may be to reword the post

@Lausten, I was not familiar with Dennett until your comment, but I just looked him up, and yes… I need to read his stuff! Thanks!

Thanks. Grr. Will do tonight.

Well, in the event anyone sees this… I came here for the first time just yesterday, and I’ll be logging out, most likely not returning.

It’s my own fault that I felt the need to clarify some things in response to @MikeYohe (in this and other topics), and I felt strongly enough about it to try on and off for much of the day to post it, even though it keeps disappearing. I’ve pasted and re-pasted and completely reworded…Nothing.

Now other responses I’ve made don’t show, either. I was dumb to waste the time, since I have a lot of other stuff to do today.

It’s too bad there are so few people here, so little tech support, and apparently, quite a few Twinkle Bunnies. I love CFI and had high hopes.


Thanks to the few who did correspond with me. Best, Tee


So odd this one shows but the one I keep rewriting does not.

Tried a different browser and the site does not recognize me at all.


Oh well.

Tee Bryan Peneguy, don’t go!! The sadness of having you leave so soon is compounded by the awesomeness of your posts.

We sorely need you here. You sound like a great person to discuss stuff with.

Hopefully my whining works here (it sure doesn’t anywhere else.)

TeeBryan, don’t go! We need more artists of the written word.

If religion were determined to be a mental illness, it would still be protected/limited by the Constitution. Congress shall make no laws effecting the establishment of religion. Thus laws that pertain to providing support to persons with MH disabilities could not, I don’t think, apply to persons whose disability was their religion.

Thank you so much, @3point14rat and @timb for your kind words. I was feeling frustrated with the forum, and I am tied up (actually, pitching a religion piece for The Atlantic today … wish me luck!) But I will pop in when I can, if my comments don’t keep disappearing!