Why Religion Is Not Inherently Delusional

As Matt Rossano, the head of psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University, sees it:

There really is a critical difference between someone worshiping Chewbacca the wookiee in his basement and someone going to church. Since most of us believe that Chewbacca is a fictional character (albeit not one without a certain hairy charm) and not a deity, the wookiee-worshiper is largely singular in his liturgical activities. He must disengage from the community, while at the same time doing a fair amount of mental work to maintain his “wookiee-as-deity” beliefs in the face of a “wookiee-as-Star-Wars-character” world. This may or may not be delusional, but it’s at least worrisome. By contrast, religion requires engagement with a community and this typically facilitates adaptive functioning.
Religion therefore contains a host of properties that actually militate against pathological delusion: (1) its general notions and practices are not obviously contradicted by evidence, (2) it requires very little mental effort to sustain most religious notions, and (3) it encourages community integration which promotes healthy psychological functioning.

Category: Observations


8 Responses

  1. Dean in LA says:

    What about Michael Jackson worship or other parasocial relationships such as w/ Princess Di? How is this different from veneration of Catholic Saints?

  2. Clif in Nati says:

    In function I don’t think there is any difference. There is, however, a slightly different criteria. MJ + Di = Entertainment; Catholic Saints = Altruism. I am not catholic so I will not defend the veneration part. I will say thought that Christian beliefs are not always (nor do they need to be!) floated down to its adherents upon a golden cloud. A believer is not automatically exempt from social tendencies just because they have found a new way of experiencing and thinking about the world.

  3. H.S. says:

    Catholic saints are not considered saints in isolation; they are saints because of their relationship to something larger: saints understood in a religious and metaphysical context. Not so for celebrities.

  4. Dean in LA says:

    I wonder if intrinsic religion is just a way of consciously modulating the dopamine in your nucleus accumbens to mitigate the effects of trauma. You actually have to believe in it.

  5. Tom Thornton says:

    Why Religion is Inherently Delusional.

    Many theists get upset when some people say that religion is a system of delusions, or when some people say that there is a taboo against criticizing mass delusions that are in the form of religion.

    This article will explain why religions (i.e. systems that hold a belief in one or more supernatural forces) are inherently delusional.

    Let us start out by examining a set of criteria for determining if a belief is delusional. Karl Jaspers, a German psychiatrist who had a strong influence on modern psychiatry, defined a delusion by three criteria:

    -1) Certainty (held with absolute conviction)
    -2) Incorrigible (not changeable by compelling counter-argument or proof to the contrary)
    -3) Impossibility or falsity of context (implausible, bizarre, or patently untrue)

    Let’s see if religion meets the criteria:

    -1) Religious individuals do hold their beliefs with absolute certainty. For example: When asked what would make them become an atheist, many Christians say “nothing, because I have found god.”
    -2) There are compelling counter-arguments against religious belief (lack of proof, ‘celestial teapot’, etc.), and there is circumstantial evidence that would suggest that all religions were constructed by people.
    -3) The belief in an omnipotent deity, or ANY supernatural force, is implausible (there is ZERO evidence to even suggest that supernatural forces exist), and bizarre (yet again, purely magical forces are quite a bizarre notion).

    As we can see, religious belief clearly meets Jaspers’ criteria for delusion.

    Let’s examine a more simplistic dictionary definition.

    1. The act of deluding or state of being deluded.
    2. A false belief or opinion.

    To deceive the mind or judgment of. – American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition) Convincing oneself that a belief is true when there is no proof for it, and, in fact, there is circumstantial evidence against it, is deceiving the mind and judgment thereof.

    Yet again, religion meets the criteria for delusion.

    Now, I will explain why some people say that there is a taboo against criticizing religious belief.

    Let’s examine the DMS-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition) criteria for delusion (p. 765).

    “A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g. it is not an article of religious faith).”

    The DSM-IV criteria clearly states that a belief that would usually be considered a delusion gets a special pass if it is held or accepted by other members of the culture.

    This is evidence that mass delusions are accepted by society. This means that, if I could convince all people within my subculture that a silver spoon is Satan, then that belief would not be considered a delusion by the DSM-IV criteria. This is clearly absurd.

    Why would a delusion suddenly NOT be considered a delusion simply because it is culturally accepted? It’s absurd that delusions get special treatment if they are mass delusions.

    Why is it acceptable for a million people to all have the same delusion, but it is not acceptable for one individual to have a different delusion? Why does society protect mass delusions from criticism? It is time to admit that a delusion is no less of a delusion simply because many people suffer from it. It is time to stop giving mass delusions special treatment.

    In response to this explanation, some theists will say something to the effect of:

    “There are highly intelligent scientists who are religious, are you calling them delusional?”

    Yes, they are delusional.

    Faith and religious belief are often compartmentalized. An otherwise highly intelligent individual can still be delusional. Pointing out that someone is delusional is, in no way, calling them stupid.

  6. John says:

    “(3) it encourages community integration which promotes healthy psychological functioning.”
    ..such as Inquisitions and anti-Semitic pogroms

  7. Religion is the search for the meaning of life. God, however one defines God, is the Source of that meaning. Given this definition religion in general is a delusion if life has no meaning, and if life has no meaning it is irrational in any case. This is what some atheists, like Dawkins, seem to believe.

    A religion can be delusional if the meaning it provides is false. Religions are not true or false, but are both partially true and false.

  8. john says:

    so if enough people are crazy together, then they are not crazy? Start a new socitey with a bunch of schizos on an island, and it becomes the normal?

    Sorry, but talking to an imaginary friend makes you crazy. Talking to an imaginary god makes you double crazy.

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