Is religion a mental illness?

Several readers have sent me this link, but I have to say I’m not that convinced that the views expressed in this news item have any substantive content, or will catch on in society.

The piece, “Leading neuroscientist: Religious fundamentalism may be a ‘mental illness’ that can be ‘cured’” (note the scare quotes), is from The Raw Story, and refers to a talk at the Hay Literary festival by Kathleen Taylor a neurobiologist at Oxford University who studies the psychology and neuroscience of  belief. This is the part that got all the attention (my emphasis):

During a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor was asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years.

“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, according to The Times of London. “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”

“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults,” she explained. “I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness.”

“In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm.”

Well, in what respect is religion is a “mental disturbance” as opposed to a “personal choice”? Even the free-will compatibilists among us don’t think that one can “choose” to be religious any more than one can “choose” one’s political affiliation, taste in foods, or friends. It’s all a matter of your genes and your environments, and environments include what you’re exposed to—including childhood indoctrination. There is no such thing as the “pure free will” that Taylor is discussing here. (Granted, I was not at her talk, and am going on the news report.)

And yes, religion might be a “brain disorder,” in the sense that it resides in the configuration of your neurons, but so is being a Republican.  But I doubt that it’s anything like a genetically-based neurological disease. It’s based largely on wish-thinking and the credulity of children: two things endemic in almost everyone. Yes, religious belief delusional, but so is being a Republican. And yes, we know that in some cases religious belief can be cured—many of us were once believers. But that cure may well involve getting rid of childhood indoctrination, as well as exposure to the arguments of atheists.

Going by the brief news report, I think Taylor sees religion as a ‘mental illness’ on two grounds: the fact that it isn’t based on real evidence, and that it has, as she implies, harmful effects on society.  But so are many ‘beliefs’ that aren’t seen as mental illness—for example, the Republican view that increasing taxes on the wealthy will destroy the economy or that legalizing assault weapons is good for society. I’m not convinced, either, that being an “Islamic fundamentalist” has radically different causes from being an observant Catholic. It’s all what you’re exposed to in your culture, and how that exposure interacts with your neurology.

If religion is to be extirpated, it’s useless to begin that endeavor by identifying it as a “mental illness”. Such illness, however unfairly, is seen as a stigma in many societies, and telling believers that they’re mentally ill is not going to make them suddenly flock to psychiatrists. (The alternative, forcible treatment, is simply not in the cards.) It’s better to identify faith, as New Atheists do, as a delusion, and try to “cure” it simply by convincing people that they need good reasons for what they believe.

Finally, as I’ve said many times, the best way to “cure” religious belief is to eliminate the conditions that promote it, and that’s best done by building a more secure, just, and egalitarian society.


  1. Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. There are those who believe the bible dropped out of the sky from a god. That sounds looney to me.

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      I know no one who thinks the Bible dropped out of the sky from God and few who think it is the inerrant word of god, but they get most of the press.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        absolutely right. the bible did not drop out of the sky. it is the word of god as recorded by his prophets. having said that, i find some humor in that every religion claims their prophet is not only a true prophet but also the last true prophet.

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          Only if you define religion as having a prophet and that prophet being the only true prophet. Many Christians, Jews and Muslims do not and religious humanists have no god or prophet.

          • Leon Cejas
            Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

            if you don’t have a prophet, how are you going to know the word of god?

            • Gordon Hill
              Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

              Where does it say a religion has a god requirement? Buddhists, UUs and many others don’t.

              • Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

                I play soccer (football).

                I don’t use a ball. And I don’t use large nets for goals. Also I play it while sitting on my couch rather than running up and down a grass field.

                But I play soccer.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink


              • Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

                For the purposes of this discussion, let’s define “god” very loosely as some kind of supernatural entity.

                If the system or worldview or set of practices/beliefs in question do not entail at least one god, why would we call it a religion?

                When we gnus rail against “religion”, we rail against a system that includes unsupported beliefs about the supernatural and treating faith as a virtue. If those kinds of faulty thinking were absent, religion wouldn’t be objectionable.

                And it wouldn’t be religion.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 12:16 am | Permalink

                Well, if you don’t have one or more prophets, then the only way to know the word of god is for direct revelation.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:50 am | Permalink

                If there is no god requirement there is no word of god, but there is insight, wisdom, understanding, meaning of living… much of it seemingly collective, but, in the end, always individual as none of us experiences identical comprehension. How can we… unique DNA, unique biology… unique experiences, each with unique perception(s)… unique language skills. To suggest it is possible to share a common religious belief is an arrogance approaching hubris.

                It’s a question of whether one’s prophets are seen to transfer insight or enable it’s discovery.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                As has been pointed out many times, one’s religious beliefs are largely an accident of geography. Had I been born in Malaysia, I would most likely have been raised Muslim; in India, Hindu; in England, Protestant. The day I learned how to reason, how to ask the question ‘how do you know that?’, to examine assertions critically – that is the day I began to develop models of reality that have some chance of consistency. Delusions and hysteria can have a wide following, but they ultimately collapse when confronted with reality.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                This thread began with a simple premise: there is no god requirement for religion.

                Considerable energy is expended here to be precise in scientific discussions. My thought is that would be appropriate for religious commentary, too. That creationists us the conventional definition of theory to dispute evolution is widely understood within both the religious and non religious realm. That the religion is narrowly defined by many here as requiring one or more deities is also well understood.

                The simple question is: If non-scientists are encouraged to use scientific terminology as defined by scientists, is it appropriate for the religious who visit here to also request that scientists use the language of the religious as well?

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                touche! there are poly-theistic, mono-theistic and non-theistic religions. the common denominator is following a teacher, a prophet, some authority and taking on a belief system, typically to avoid suffering and seek salvation, nirvana, paradise, enlightenment or any number of virgins.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                …thanks for recognizing the existence of non-theistic religions. As a UU we begin our service with, “Love is the doctrine of this church…” there’s more but our focus is on meaning and belonging, not only to our UU community, but the community at large… of course we’re a bunch of heretics… we have Christians, Jews, Pagans, atheists, agnostics and some who truck no label… no teacher/prophet unless you choose one or more, no belief system except the doctrine stated no salvation, unless that’s important to you… none of the perks you suggest, but we are a large force in our local food bank, juvenile detention center, the poorest of the elementary schools, fly the rainbow flag every Sunday… we’re just folks who believe love is an appropriate doctrine for a church.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                no beliefs. no prophets. no salvation. but you get the tax deduction. sounds good to me. let me go check it out. i see there is one on 35th st.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                You don’t have to be a religion to get a tax deduction. Don’t know our status, but I suspect we qualify as a 501 (C)(4) based on our social action… and we don’t have to go to confession, but we do have coffee and cakes between services.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

                You said the magic word: coffee. I’m right there.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

                Instead of wine and bread we partake of coffee and whatever cookies or cakes or muffins congregants bring… some of which , especially the chocolate ship chocolate cookies, are sinful… maybe we’re not a church after all… 😉

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                The simple answer is “no”. The question implies a false equivalence. Religious language is very often muddled and incoherent. It is not reasonable for religious visitors to expect us to speak that way.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

                Religious language is only muddled by the religiously ignorant as is scientific language to the scientifically ignorant. The field of religious scholarship is well populated with intelligent and thoughtful scholars as is science. It’s a matter of attending to those who know their subject, not the gadflies.

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                Oh! You mean Sophisticated Theologians™!

                Sorry. But those are the most muddled and incoherent of commenters. The answer is most definitely “No” now that you’ve clarified the question.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                No, I would begin with the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions instead of creating a mythical group, which is creating your own mythology 😉

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                People like John Haught and Karen Armstrong are not mythical. The answer is still “No”.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

                Neither are Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, John Dominic Crossan, Loyd Geering, John Shelby Spong and hundreds more… so what’s your point?

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

                The point, I thought, was self-evident.

                Religious language is full of incoherency. You claimed that this was only true if you listen to the “religiously ignorant”. That is a non-starter of an idea, as evidenced by two notable religious “experts”, neither of whom can make a coherent argument despite being Sophisticated Theogians™.

                There is no reason for scientifically literate people to accept the language of religion. It is demanding that they adopt the obfuscation and mushmindedness that is rampant among theologians. Thus, the simple answer to your simple question is simply “No”.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                When we refuse to investigate an issue the answer is always, “No.” but denial is not refutation.

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                That statement, Gordon Hill, is an example of a deepity. It sounds profound but is, in fact, devoid of meaningful content.

                A pretty good illustration of why the answer should be “No”.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Your to choose. I’ll go with the religious scholars for religion and scientists for science.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                I contested your (Gordon’s) claim that a religion doesn’t require a god.

                If we can agree that a supernatural force or entity of some kind fulfills the criteria for being a “god”, then I don’t agree with your claim.

                Tell me what religion it is doesn’t entail supernatural forces or entities.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

                I do not agree that the supernatural force or entity fulfills the god criterion. Many view the god criterion as transcendent, beyond knowing, but not beyond reality.

                As for religions that don’t entail supernatural entities, religious humanism, Taoism, non-theistic Christianity, non-theistic Judaism, but then you may not consider these religions, which religious scholars do… and that is the point. we can make any claim we want when we define the terms, hence creationists denigrate evolution as ‘just a theory.’

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                indeed. gravity is just a theory. if you want to test it, there are a few tall buildings in this city.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Not to the point, but interesting.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

                scientific theories are testable. how do you test the existence of one or more gods?

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Don’t know why you would ask me this… the idea of an existing god makes no sense to me, nor the Christian scholars I know, specifically John Shelby Spong, the retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark (no jokes please). One of my favorites is Lloyd Geering of New Zealand, whose latest is Coming back to Earth, from God to gods to Gaia.

                Just as science changes with new findings, the contemporary religious–who see religion as a way of belonging and determining meaning–embrace science and focus on human behavior. For many of us, the notion of deity is past, but we get no press.

                God does not exist… except as an idea, not a supernatural being.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                If we can agree that a supernatural force or entity of some kind fulfills the criteria for being a “god”, then I don’t agree with your claim.

                This is actually a very important point.

                Many religious people, even in common mainline denominations, deny that one or more of their gods are actually gods and that the things they do are supernatural. Jesus wasn’t a god, for example, but the divine light of the world — which definitely isn’t a god. And his resurrection wasn’t supernatural; that was an entirely natural phenomenon.

                And almost no Christian would describe Satan or Adam and Eve as gods, even though basically everybody would agree that Hades, Prometheus, and Pandora were all gods.

                In other words, we can’t rely upon the labels and claims of those inside the faith to accurately catalog their beliefs, for they will very often privilege them in ways that not only nobody else would but that they themselves wouldn’t for exact parallels in other very similar religions.

                TL/DR: Despite protestations to the contrary from Buddhists, Muslims, and Unitarians, the Buddha, Muhammad, and the Pan-Cosmic Ultragasm are all gods.



              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                You make two citations: mine and one from musical beef. My question is “where does it say a religion has a god requirement?”

                Musical beef will have to answer the “supernatural force or entity” claim with which I do not agree, as I believe all forces and entities are natural, meaning a part of “reality as such” to use Karl Jaspers’s tidy phrase.

                OTOH, I would agree that the original concept of deity would include the transcendent which is that beyond knowing, which could include the natural we can not know, if there is such, but how would we know?

                Don’t know what TL/DR means in this context, but just as I go with scientists on science, I’ll go with the religious scholars on their work.

              • gbjames
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                And I guess you’ll also go with astrologers on their work, homeopaths on their’s and bigfoot explorers on their’s. You have given up your ability to comment rationally on just about everything since you’ll take the word of any self-declaired authority.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

                A real dodge. My references to what constitutes a religion begin with The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, which opens with a few pages as to the difficulty of doing same.

                As web references I suggest:

                and then there’s always Wiki

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                gbjames’ comment is not a dodge at all. You don’t take someone’s word on a subject just because it happens to be their field. Not even scientists do that. They look at evidence.

                Anyway, there are a couple of ways I might take your comment about god being completely natural: 1) Ok. Any theist would make this claim, in the sense that they claim yes, god really exists. Here in the universe. But this god has powers not allowed by the laws of physics, and so I would still call it supernatural. Or 2) You are claiming god is a totally natural, physically possible entity of some kind, like a tree or a cloud or a tuba.

                Are you claiming 2? If so, I’d say you’re in a minuscule minority, and I’d have to ask what the point is. If there are no powers, if it is just a thing that can exist in the universe like any other thing, then what makes you want to call it god?

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                Not sure how we got to this point. It all began with a question: Where does it say god is an essential in religion?

                First, I make no claim w.r.t. god other than as an idea, not a reality. As for taking someone’s word for something just because it happens to be their field, I agree. Within science disagreements are recognized where the evidence is inconclusive.

                As for evidence in religion, there is none for me. Science is the defining word w.r.t. reality. The question is, how does one view that which lies beyond knowledge.

                There is considerable scholarly work in the field of religion. there is also a wide ranging disagreement as to its meaning, mainly because there is no evidence. Religion is the fruit of imagination, not inquiry. Also, the dedicated religious person practices an individual religion no matter their affiliation. Mystics are probably the best example of this.

                Did not mean to mislead.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                Unsurprisingly, musical beef has it nailed.

                Gods are fictional characters who are personal manifestations of the literary device of miracles. And miracles, by definition, are instances of the impossible. If something’s possible, it’s not a miracle even if it’s still impressive.

                Gods and miracles are an opportunity for authors to play fanciful “what if” games. But, naturally, they don’t actually exist; if they did, they’d no longer be miraculous. It’s the very impossibility which makes them miraculous and so fascinating.



              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                The question remains: Where does it say religion has a god requirement?

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

                There is considerable scholarly work in the field of religion. there is also a wide ranging disagreement as to its meaning, mainly because there is no evidence.

                Those two claims taken together are mutually contradictory.


              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

                …and yet they are correct.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

                The question remains: Where does it say religion has a god requirement?

                Most dictionaries, which are generally in line with this one:

                • the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.
                • a particular system of faith and worship: the world’s great religions.
                • a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance: consumerism is the new religion.

                The first is explicit. I think we can discount the third as irrelevant. You may be suggesting that the second requires no gods, but what is the object of worship if not a god? And what is religion without worship?

                A religion with neither gods nor worship is like a pizza with neither crust nor toppings.


              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                Precisely, which is where creationists find their definition of theory… there are religious dictionaries as there are scientific dictionaries which I suggest offer more accurate definitions.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

                Precisely, which is where creationists find their definition of theory

                That exact same dictionary — the one shipped with every copy of Mac OS X — gives this as the very first definition for the word, “theory.”

                a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained: Darwin’s theory of evolution.

                Creationists quoting the dictionary to discredit the word, “theory,” are, in fact, very transparently misquoting the dictionary.


              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 4, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink

                When I want the definition of a term from a specific field I prefer a dictionary for that subject, if one exists. Oxford University Press publishes dictionaries on all fields. I use The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions for religion which begins by noting how elusive defining religion is. The Oxford Dictionary of Science, ironically, does not define science, although the ones on Physics and Chemistry define their field.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

                — oh, and if you’re suggesting that two mutually contradictory statements are both true, then this discussion has come to an end. The principle of non-contradiction is at the heart of all logic, and nobody who rejects it can even in theory be reasoned with. Rejection of non-contradition is the ultimate expression of irrationality.


              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 4, 2013 at 4:03 am | Permalink

                One was a question. The other a statement. No conflict unless the answer to the question is such.

              • Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

                If a supernatural whatzit is not the defining criterion for a religion, then what is?

                What is it that puts a religion and the Democratic Party (USA) in different categories? Or does the Democratic Party count as a religion in the thinking of these religious scholars?

              • gbjames
                Posted June 4, 2013 at 4:21 am | Permalink

                Oh, Lordy!

                It all comes down to evangelizing for the One True Dictionary?

                We might have saved a lot of perfectly innocent pixels.

              • Gordon Hill
                Posted June 4, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

                Innocence is in the eye of the pixies… 😉

          • Kenny
            Posted November 11, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

            Last I knew the bible was still written by humans. Their are many books written by humans that are not true. There called fiction. Why is everything written in “stone” considered non-fiction?

            • Posted November 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              Good question, but needs to be directed to another. Many people, including scientists, consider the current view the final one. The difference is, that there is no empirical evidence to support the words of sacred texts. My guess is that many consider these writings absolute to avoid a discussion. What do you think?

  2. peterr
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    “..Yes, religious belief delusional, but so is being a Republican…”

    At least in the case of “being a Republican”, is it not possible that a kind of strong selfishness could be there, with no delusion, no desire to even consider the longterm welfare of society in general?

  3. Marella
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    I read this too and I think it’s a bit worrying. Once you start diagnosing people who don’t agree with you as mentally ill, it’s a short road to Soviet style gulags full of everyone the government considers deluded or inconvenient. Notice she is not talking about all religious beliefs, just beliefs she doesn’t approve of, cults and extremists. This idea needs to be opposed vigorously.

    • gbjames
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I had a very similar response.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      “This idea needs to be opposed vigorously.”

      Not really; no one will take it seriously. Ignoring it would be the fastest way to bury it.

      • Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        I take a middle position. The idea needs to be examined very thoroughly. If there is truth in it, it should be taken seriously, because it does have worrying implications: that a pill (or other treatment – lobotomy anyone?) can be developed to “cure” certain false ideas – but not others?

        I still believe in freedom of thought (sorry Jerry, maybe in another sense from the freedom of will) including the freedom to believe ideas that are false. Evidence and persuasion are still strong weapons and I think should be our only weapons until we are a lot more certain what exactly is going on.

    • Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      I think Jerry means it in the sense that Republicans seem to have an inherent aversion to saying that they were WRONG, that they had a position, but, it has proven to be wrong, or siding with the other party’s stand, when it is the best for the country, hands down (e.g. universal health care).

      “Oh, there’s a newspaper clipping that sez Obama was born in Hawaii?? Oh, it must be fabricated by cunning, stop-at-nothing-socialists.”

      How long did the birther thing go on? Goes on? This is akin to the woman Oliver Sacks described, who was mentally ill. Everywhere she was, she thought, “I am at home.” When Sacks pointed to the hospital’s elevators, and said, surely, this shows you that you are not at home, she responded, “Doctor Sacks, do you realize how much money I spent, to put those elevators in??!”

      Even Obama got frustrated with Republicans when he made the comment in the HofR that every time he proposes something, Republicans take it as “some sort of socialist plot”.

      Like the woman and her elevators, I find the Republicans to suffer from some mental disability. Not overwhelming, like schizophrenia, that dominates your life, but like acrophobia, or fear of snakes. Aberrant mental defect.

      I just read “Young Stalin”, a fascinating book.
      No, Stalin, Tsarist Russia, the October Revolution, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, that was all another world, and completely removed from our system, our times. No slippery slope to gulags for political disagreements in the USA…we are far far far away from that, friends, so don’t trot out that straw man. Until you get political operatives like Lenin (used over 160 pseudonyms), like Molotov (“Hammerman”) Dzhugashvili (Stalin, “Man of Steel”, and two dozen pseudonyms) running around for twenty years, shooting people and robbing banks, we don’t slide on any slope to gulags.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        Ah, slippery slopes. In Cuba, we did not object too strongly when Castro and Che did their midnight trials of Batista henchmen. It was a bit too late, when my uncle got dragged out of his home in the middle of the night for asking “when are the elections?” After all the people who have rotted to death in Cuban prisons, it never ceases to amaze me how both Fidel and Che are still treated as prophets by the liberal glitterati. Belief that ignores all evidence cuts across class, income, race, party. As someone said earlier ‘woo is neither red nor blue’. The need to believe in something is pretty universal. It is us, who rely on reason and evidence that are a total aberration.

  4. ReasJack
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    Taking the word of a large number of people, or even the word of a very charismatic individual is pretty normal human behavior.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Yes. My personal belief is that there are seven billion and one universes.
      One that is real and one that gets created in the imagination of each person on earth. My version of the universe is who I am. As a scientist I try to make my universe as close a parallel to the real one but I know that ultimately that’s impossible. I’m not (too) mentally ill and neither is anyone else who merely believed a story that was told to them as a child.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        hurrah. the model of reality that i have is that: 1) reality exists, 2) i have a model of it. of course that itself is a model.

  5. Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    I think perhaps those who have prevalent mental conditions are rather drawn too religion or religious outlooks. But that is not to say that all that are religious have mental conditions.

  6. ladyatheist
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Ahhh the battles over DSM VI have begun already!

    Many of the definitions in the DSM IV include a disclaimer that the symptom has to be unusual for the culture. So if someone grows up believing in demons because they went to a Pentecostal church, that person would be diagnosed differently from an Episcopalian that developed a belief in demons as an adult.

    Another facet is whether it disturbs the person’s ability to get on with life. The Pentecostals I’ve known get along quite well. My step-dad’s delusions were quite insane, and he couldn’t work. He wasn’t unhappy, though, as he frequently saw friendly ghosts and God spoke to him. My brother is completely unable to work and is homeless. He’s also unable to live with other people because he paces and yells in the middle of the night. Not what people want in a neighbor. My mom takes her meds but she’s still crippled by her mental illness.

    My other brother and I are only “crippled” by our inability to believe that Moses, Joseph, Joshua, Jesus and Paul had real experiences and not symptoms. (I would add Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard to the list, though they could also merely have been shysters)

    If there’s any connection between mental illness and religious extremism, it’s the leaders of the movements who believe they communicate with God who should be diagnosed, not the followers. Following a trusted leader is totally normal in a social species.

    • Jeff D
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      My Inner Cynic tells me that a “mental illness,” in general terms, is a set of behaviors and thought patterns for which “mental health insurance coverage” or prescription drugs or both are available. Once a personal problem or type of misbehavior is perceived to be common enough and serious enough to be an important social problem, drug companies will look for something to “treat” it, and therapists and psychologists will develop therapies. Eventually, some of these problems get “officially” labeled and listed in the latest edition of the DSM.

      I haven’t looked, but some types of “pathological” religious mania may already be listed in the DSM-V or VI. The key criteria seem to be whether (as pointed out above) the thoughts or behaviors are atypical of the individual’s culture and whether they prevent the individual from functioning normally in daily life.

      It seems quite unlikely to me that in the U.S.A., religious ideas or thought patterns (no matter how delusional, or how negative their consequences) will ever come to be officially categorized as mental disorders by the mental health establishment. The Free Exercise Clause might be implicated if a person with an alleged “religious mental disorder” were to be subject to emergency detention and to involuntary court-ordered hospitalization on the same basis as persons with non-religious mental disorders. And there is a sordid history, from Cold War years, of Soviet bloc governments “treating” religious belief as a psychiatric problem.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        “My Inner Cynic tells me that a “mental illness,” in general terms, is a set of behaviors and thought patterns for which “mental health insurance coverage” or prescription drugs or both are available.”

        You’ve obviously never met someone with a major mental illness.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          Or dealt with an insurance company.

          • ladyatheist
            Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            I hope that wasn’t directed at me!

            Someone with a mental illness is mentally ill whether their provider can put a number from the DSM onto their insurance form or not.

            Today we treat the mentally ill. In the past we killed them or locked them up for the rest of their lives. I wouldn’t disparage the system that saves lives even if it does have some hinky details.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

              No, it was directed at the original that you commented on as insurance companies notoriously try to get out of supporting mental illnesses. Indeed, I once caused quite a stir in a biomedical ethics course many years ago when I criticized the Canadian Health System for not supporting mental illness better.

              • ladyatheist
                Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

                The parity part of Obamacare is the best thing to come of it, imho. The apartment building I lived in in Texas was burned by someone who was “cured” at the 30-day mark, on the day before Easter. He attempted suicide by burning newspapers on his gas stove. Firefighters revived him in the nick of time but not before his neighbors’ apartments were ruined. How many people with cancer would be released at a magical 30-day mark?

        • Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

          Indeed. Mental illness still largely remains the redheaded stepchild of modern medicine.

          If you want a suitable target for profit-minded cynicism from “Big Pharma,” you need look no further than a comparison of research and advertising dollars spent on male sexual disfunction and female birth control as contrasted with female sexual disfunction and male birth control.



    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      ah, the herd instinct. and the cliffs we have fallen over. history is a litany of -isms. i guess i must be one of the odd ones – it occurred to me that logic is applicable not just to math theorems but also to my own existence.

  7. Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Though it is heartening she is publicly stating that religious beliefs are problematic and can be altered, her equivocation of religious beliefs with mental illness is problematic.

    Too bad she did not write what Jerry did. 🙂

  8. Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    I do think, though, that there are certain not uncommon facets of religious belief that are not significantly different from things we’d comfortably accept as mental illness.

    To pick an easy example, those who believe they’ve personally been abducted by aliens and those who believe they’ve personally been possessed by demons are both suffering from the exact same delusion, just with a different character standing in for the object of the delusion.

    Similarly, many of those who hear the voices of Jesus and angels and Satan are very likely garden-variety schizophrenics who’ve attached recognizable names to their auditory hallucinations.

    But I do agree that the 80% of Americans who identify with one religion or another are not, generally speaking, mentally ill. Mistraken and / or deluded, certainly.

    (Most, actually, I suspect, either haven’t really thought to question the beliefs or figure it’s best to not be identified as one of those evil unbelievers — but that’s another story.)



    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Hallucinations are curiously connected to a person’s personal beliefs. My brother the movie buff has hallucinations related to movie stars. My step-dad hallucinated God and classical music related hallucinations. My mom’s main symptoms are paranoia and intense anxiety. She’ll have abnormal fear about the weather and the FBI.

      And then there was Paul, who heard Jesus’ voice while traveling to Damascus. Wouldn’t it have been something if he’d heard Jesus’ voice before he knew who Jesus was?

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        i used to be jealous of all my friends who tripped on acid and saw beautiful visions. one day, i thought: “this is just the part of the brain that takes visual stimulus and turns it into images – lemme see what i can do.” i sat to meditate for awhile, eyes closed, but kept paying attention to what i was ‘seeing’. lo and behold – a cascade of impressionist art – one after the other – i misplaced my calling. is it too late to give up on software and become an artist?

        • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          I lightly experimented with drugs in my 20’s. I have to say that doing shrooms was a truly beautiful experience. Springtime, Inverness (small N. California coastal town), old houses giant flower gardens, forest and ocean scented breeze. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect. I had THAT moment where I had a connection with everything. I was insubstantial, rather my molecules were just a cluster in the giant web of the digitized universe. It was entirely as spiritual as an atheist could get. Oh…I also asked a cat that was perched on the redwood deck if it minded if I sat by it. Seemed the polite thing to do. It did mind, as it turned out. Snooty fucking cat.

          • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            After the cat rejection I moodily melted into an Adirondack chair for a while.

          • Kevin Alexander
            Posted June 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

            I experimented with drugs but now I can’t remember what the results were, or what the question was or, um, ah, what were we talking about?

            • Leon Cejas
              Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              that’s the excuse i use!

  9. Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    I like to think of it as “selective” psychosis. Ideas of reference should always be considered afflictive aberrations of cognition — regardless of whether they deserve clinical attention or not.

  10. Les Kaufman
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Hyper-religiosity is a known symptom of right medial temporal lobe epilepsy. This doesn’t mean that everybody who is religious has epilepsy, of course, but may explain the suite of symptoms associated with self-proclaimed prophethood.

    • µ
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      Do you have a source to back up this claim?

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        i always thought declaring yourself a prophet or guru was a really good way to get people to give you all their money, their daughters and agree to clean your toilets for free.

      • Posted June 3, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Wikipedia agrees.

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink


  11. johnnyrodgersmorris
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Believing in invisible people with magic powers seems like mental illness to me.

    • Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      But not an incurable one, right? RIGHT?

  12. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Could be. Calls for a study to determine how many people are mentally ill (whatever that means) and how many people are religious (whatever that means) then creating a table showing how many are MI/R, MI/not R, notMI/R, notMI/notR. My guess is we would never agree as to what characterizes MI and R… 😉

  13. Notagod
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    There is no such thing as the “pure free will” that Taylor is discussing here.

    “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”

    I’m not sure that Kathleen Taylor is stating that there is ‘that’ kind of free will. The “we” may be an acknowledgement that society in general has that view of free will.

    And when someone is hearing voices in their head that they attribute to an outside entity, ya, I think that could be a mental illness. So, anyone that thinks jebus is talking to them could benefit from some help from a mental health professional. Also, as to a society that thinks it is getting direction from a sky ferret, as the christians do, that is an indication of a society that is in need of help.

    • Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Many Christians who “talk” to Jesus and “hear” his answers refer to it as the “still small voice.”

      We all recognize that same phenomenon as our inner dialogue and conscience. All they’ve done is take a universal and healthy phenomenon and slapped the “Jesus” label on it.

      That can still have some very deleterious effects though. Oftentimes we need to wrestle with problems to come to optimal solutions, and it would be very easy for somebody actively listening for Jesus to mistrake the first hints of mental resolution for the authoritative voice of the ultimate creative force in the universe…thereby short-circuiting all hopes of further constructive contemplation.

      Now, add into the mix those who think that Satan can hijack that mental channel, and you really set the stage for some serious cognitive problems in an otherwise-healthy individual.

      If, instead, you understand that it’s just another aspect of your own brain at work, you’re much more likely to rationally see everything all the way through — and, quite possibly, to a much different and more sophisticated solution.



      • Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        I like the phrase “constructive contemplation.” This is preferable to the level of destructive contemplation most recently witnessed in South East London.

  14. Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Who would dare say that throwing acid in the face of young girls on their way to school isn’t a manifestation of some kind of mental illness? Although it may be difficult to say precisely which forces are more responsible than another for such acts – religious indoctrination or a pathological brain condition – one could hardly refute that there is more than just a casual connection between the two. Contemplating whether or not religious indoctrination is a precursor to full-on mental illness or that a brain pathology gives rise to such gruesome manifestations is a difficult question. I tend to subscribe to the notion that both work in tandem to create the horror we observe in people who perpetrate this mode of madness.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      I think many actions of the religious can be seen as crazy – I don’t know if those people are mentally ill in the strict sense but from the article, Taylor suggests that religious belief itself is a mental illness.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I would say that the person who could throw acid in a girl’s face could have got to that state by various different routes, and that whether or not mental illness was involved would have to be established by additional evidence – e.g. did a disembodied voice tell them to do it, or an actual person? Was it a political attack meant to act as a threat to others (terrorism by definition) or supposed to produce some other effect by magical or spiritual means? etc.
      Of course you’d probably find the people involved had inconsistent stories, which could be explained either by lying, delusion or metaphorical rhetoric. It’s the whole history of religion, writ small.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Agree – throwing acid in a girl’s face seems like a form of intimidation and hatred that this person’s religion encourages.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        it ain’t just religion. it is any belief, fervently held that rationalizes behavior for the greater good – after all, the ends justify the means. it is the hard core revolutionaries that once in power, become the greatest tyrants.

  15. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Kathleen Taylor’s classification of religion as a mental illness struck me as quite odd given the amount of evidence in neuro science that identify cognitive biases like the illusion of external agency. It would seem to me that given how our brains work, we are more likely to follow a religion than not and choosing to overcome our tendencies takes concerted effort.

    If religious belief is classified as a mental illness, we’ll seriously have to take a look at some of the other zealous beliefs out there….what will become of those that fanatically like Ford over GM, Apple over PC or Meade telescopes over Celestron? Not to mention she identifies a person as mentally ill if they believe in beating their kids. What other beliefs are mentally ill? Is believing you should use non synthetic oil in your car engine also indicative of a mental illness?

    I’m hoping she was misunderstood or perhaps she was trying to be provocative and it went too far.

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      so we have a continuum: there is a diagnostic code for those hearing the word of god or satan – historically they were called prophets or mystics. and there are the crystal gazers, with the beads blessed by their guru, who drink only organic soy latte, believe anything natural is ‘good’, anything manmade is ‘evil’, yet still use the web, facebook, iphones. where do you draw the line between insanity and simple delusion?

  16. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Not a mental illness, but an aspect of normal human brain function that is suboptimal and prone to causing trouble. Like the appendix or the sinuses or the reproductive system.

  17. Leon Cejas
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    You might argue that being a Democrat is equally a ‘mental illness’. As for me, I am a Libertarian and stand with good ole George, the one who chopped down the cherry tree and declined to be the next king: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      You do know the whole cherry tree story was just made up (like those stories about what Jesus did as a child), don’t you?

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        of course i do – just trying to interject a bit of humor.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Right, and while fire may be dangerous, it is also one of the foundations of civilization. Without it, life would be mean, nasty, brutish, and short, a war of all against all.

      So by all means, you try to live without fire, and I will happily live with controlled, thoughtful use of government tasked to make everyone’s lives better.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        and there lies the question. anyone who has dealt with western style government knows that they are in the business of making rules that must cover in exquisite detail every possible circumstance and then create enormous bureaucracies to administer those rules with administrative and judicial mechanisms to punish those who deviate and reward those that conform. at some point, it simply becomes stultifying of all creativity and innovation – look at the example of the Chinese. those that have dealt with governments in other parts of the world know them for what they are – mafias engaged in extortion rackets. so my very strong preference is minimalist government, with the greatest freedom for creativity and expression to the individual. that’s me. others may prefer the cloak of security.

        • gbjames
          Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          I’m confused. The Chinese are an example of Western style government stultifying all creativity and innovation?

          • Leon Cejas
            Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

            The Chinese were at one point the largest, wealthiest and most advanced civilization on earth. Under the various dynasties, life became regimented, respect for authority, order came to dominate. This made them easy pickings for the Western powers and later on the Japanese. Their recovery comes now, as the Communist party has let go of its control of the economy (although not of political power).

  18. Andrew van der Merwe
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    One of my all-time favourite movies comes to mind: Clockwork Orange. Anyone else here seen it?

    • Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      One of my all-time favorites as well. I have the DVD and watch it at least once a year!

    • Marta
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      I watched it for the second time when I was at school.

      I thought it was chilling, both times, and it put me right off Stanley Kubrick, with the exceptions of “Dr. Strangelove” and “Spartacus” (although Tony Curtis in the latter is a bit of unfortunate casting.)

      • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Yonda lies da castle of my Fadda

        • Marta
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

          Yep, that’s the one.

  19. Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    “Idiosyncratic belief systems which are shared by only a few adherents are likely to be regarded as delusional. Belief systems which may be just as irrational but which are shared by millions are called world religions.” Anthony Storr

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      are you trying to tell me the earth isn’t flat? why don’t we all just fall off?

    • Lyndon
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      So there’s that problem . . .

      And I like what Jerry was saying, too.

      Part of me thinks we need to scale back “mentally ill” to something fairly stringent and of obvious brain malfunction, granted that will still be problematic. Beliefs and emotions that arise from socio-cultural and personal environment need to be kept out, even when they are idiotic beliefs that lead to idiotic behaviors and emotions. Such things, such as Tea Party Behavior, should socially be discouraged, and a little gentle nudging with social approbation will hopefully move us dialectically towards the sane.

      • Lyndon
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Speaking of sanity . . . I messed up by saying we would be moving socially towards the “sane,” thus not “mentally ill,” which is exactly what I was prescribing us not to define sane by . . . but by then I was speaking loosely, in slang terms.

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Maybe we could something with the “if its natural, it must be good, it its man-made it must be evil’ cult?

  20. Hempenstein
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Seems to me that the stridently religious types frequently, at least, display a sort of obsessive compulsive disorder. So if you begin to slide into OCD, religion is a convenient thing to obsess over. It may well be a vicious cycle. And surely a futile cycle.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      I’ve always seen the rituals of religion as rife with OCD. Especially Ancient Romans – the pontifex maximus (or whoever) would go through some ritual and if anyone sneezed or coughed or anything, he had to start all over. I thought the Romans had a lot of OCD.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        The Holiness Movement seems to have generated an unnatural perfectionism that isn’t quite OCD but causes a lot of anxiety. I know some people personally who fret about accidentally doing something un-holy. I would imagine much of their holy lifestyle becomes automatic, but if someone is prone to an anxiety disorder, growing up in one of those denominations would certainly exacerbate it.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          Yuck that Holiness Movement sounds terrible! Worse than playing tetris for the perfectionist/OCD sufferer.

          • ladyatheist
            Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            I think it explains some of the stranger forms of religiosity in the Midwest, especially in Indiana (home of one form of it)

  21. onceupona
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Having had plenty of experience with a mentally ill child and having been a born again Christian in another life-time, I am afraid she is marginalizing Mental illness if she is comparing the two. While it is difficult and almost impossible (witness my family!) to move from religious fundamentalism, the chaos of mental illness is quite different. And the difference that meds make in a person who is truly mentally ill… I don’t see how meds would help someone who is a fundamentalist.

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      maybe a lobotomy?

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        That’s in extremely poor taste, in reply to someone with a mentally ill child.

        • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I think they suggested the lobotomy for the fundamentalist in a tongue-in-cheek manner. I could be wrong.

        • Leon Cejas
          Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

          apologies, i missed the first sentence. i was indeed proposing lobotomies as the remedy for dogmatism.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Amen. You never hear family members of the mentally ill making absurd statements about mental illness, except perhaps in religions that believe in witches and demon possession.

  22. Stacey Hopp
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I can’t express how beautiful this is. MUST SEE! This is one of the most beautiful nature films I have ever seen. It’s the life cycle of cicadas.

  23. Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    We can throw the anti-vaxxers into this group as well – of those who believe with out evidence and whose belief causes societal harm – the big culprit here is not necessarily mental illness (although in some cases this is certainly the case – watching your child die over days and weeks while you pray and refuse to get medical help might fall into the mental illness category). I think the biggest issue is extreme arrogance, the same kind of arrogance that plagues the conservative movement.

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      lets’ be fair. as far as i can tell, the anti-vaxxers are primarily my crystal gazing, new age liberal friends.

      • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Woo is neither red nor blue

        • Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          I guess my point was that we have arrogance as a common thread, not mental illness. People who think they are smarter than scientists, doctors, the CDC, etc…THEY have the Truth(tm) and the rest of us are hapless sheep. It’s beyond arrogant to insist that herd immunity is a fallacy, just as it is arrogant to insist that your God has an opinion regarding our sex lives. I don’t brain is slow this morning. Slayed dragons til 3am, kid is up at 6am.

          • Leon Cejas
            Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

            i don’t think the common thread is arrogance. i think it is gullibility – the absence of critical thinking (along with a sense of humor)

            • Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

              When a person knows that God helped them find their car keys, or helped them win their local bowling tournament while an 8 yr old boy is tortured and beaten to death in their neighborhood, that screams of arrogance.

              • Leon Cejas
                Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                having been raised catholic, i was somewhat confused by a benevolent, all-powerful god who would allow evil to exist. i came to the conclusion that if a god existed, he was a sadist that had created this universe for his entertainment, much as the romans fed christians to the lions.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        The only really militant anti-vaxxer I know is a former HS classmate who was once a bright girl. (I briefly dated her younger sister long ago and recall thinking that her mother was somewhat looney.) Then, 40-some yrs later, we re-encountered each other on Facebook, and it rapidly became obvious that she had become a fundamentalist, Catholic dominionist, creationist, homeopathic loon, and follower of the Tea Party. I’d sometimes give pushback to her posts while wondering what had happened to the girl I once knew. I also wondered why I didn’t just unfriend her, but figured she’d take that as having won. And then she unfriended me, and the rest of our mututal friends (who had just blocked her).

        So, when I first saw the headline of this post, I immediately thought of Mary.

        On the other hand, I have a college classmate, known to jac as well, who is at the same time stridently liberal and gives credence to Jenny McCarthy and Elaine Morgan.

        • ladyatheist
          Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Anti-science is something that the Right and Left can agree on

          • Leon Cejas
            Posted June 3, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

            Consensus. Since truth is determined by majority vote, they must be right. Anyone who relies on reason is ‘evil’ and must suffer eternal damnation.

  24. ikinone
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    > It’s all a matter of your genes and your environments,

    The point is – environments can be changed.

  25. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I think there’s a !*link*! between some forms of religiosity and mental illness in the sense that if someone has a predisposition to mental illness it can certainly be catalyzed by religion. Religion-based mania certainly exists. Physicist Brian Cox has said he isn’t anti-religion, he’s anti-maniac. Good, but the former is sometimes a source and cause of the latter.

    But it seems a bit too broad to say that religion per se is a mental illness.

    (I’d love to say more but I am in a big hurry today.)

  26. still learning
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    IIRC, many, many, many years ago, the DSM categorized religious belief as a mental disorder. It was removed due to outrage from various groups.

    • Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      I had it explained once that almost nothing in the DSM lacks the proviso that it has to have a demontrated level of harm or disfunction to count. So religious handwashing, say, *could* be a OCD symptom, if like any it gets to the point where the skin is dangerously unoiled, etc.

  27. magster2
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I think this is a dangerous road to go down, with well-demonstrated potential for abuse. While it makes definite sense to characterize severe mental problems as “mental illness” and treat them accordingly, for lesser mental issues the boundary between “mental illness” and “normal” (whatever the hell that is) is often subjective and arbitrary. It wasn’t that long ago that homosexuality was officially designated a mental illness. Many argue that something like Asperger’s syndrome should simply be treated as a different cognitive style that often produces great benefits to society. If atheism were ever to become predominant in American society, I think it would be a horrible thing to classify religious belief as a mental illness simply because it had become a minority viewpoint.

  28. godsbuster
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    “Finally, as I’ve said many times, the best way to “cure” religious belief is to eliminate the conditions that promote it, and that’s best done by building a more secure, just, and egalitarian society.”

    To cure their belief, just how much more “secure”, “just” and “egalitarian” does the society have to be for those elaborately coiffed, perfumed and opulently dressed citizens of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation as they alight from their late model vehicles to enter the massive air-conditioned mega churches where millionaire carnival-barkers Osteen,Jakes,Warren etc praise their Lord?

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 2, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Probably more comfortable than Mitt Romney, at least.

      But seriously… poverty and insecurity are linked to increased religiosity. Several studies have demonstrated that in different countries

      • godsbuster
        Posted June 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        Certainly, those countries exist. But, again, alleviating poverty and insecurity can clearly not be claimed as the “best” way to cure the inveterate god(s)bothering rampant in the U.S. where you have at least 40% of the population believing the world is less than 10,000 years old.

        Numerous countries with worse poverty and insecurity than the US have much lower indices of religiosity: China, Russia and other former Eastern-block countries.

        Makes one nostalgic for at least a more rigorous if not ruthless approach 😉

      • Leon Cejas
        Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

        Jeez, what should we do about all my affluent, ‘well-educated’ crystal gazing true believer friends? Send them back to school for a remedial science class, or should we just feed them to the Christians?

    • Leon Cejas
      Posted June 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      hallelujah! praise the lord and pass the collection plate.

  29. Posted June 2, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    It’s no secret that religion and I don’t like each other, but geesh! using ‘leading neuroscientist’ in an already soggy argument is going to change anything?

    Difficult to imagine religious fanatics falling for that tired old stunt.

  30. Scott Reilly
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    This actually reminds me of an episode of Futurama when Fry and Bender are up in court for something. They plead insanity and the following dialogue follows (roughly):

    Judge: Very well. Fry I’m sending you to the human mental institute
    Court Official: Actually Your Honour, the mental institutions are all full ever since you declared that being poor is a mental illness.

  31. DV
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    >>Finally, as I’ve said many times, the best way to “cure” religious belief is to eliminate the conditions that promote it, and that’s best done by building a more secure, just, and egalitarian society.


  32. Posted June 3, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that religious people have a different form of consciousness. They have a different Brain Operating System. Its precepts are that they may only self-actualise as human beings by finding a place for themselves within a notional hierarchy of authority. For them, all knowledge comes from authority, which is why you waste your time explaining why ‘… there are still monkeys!’They suffer temporal distortion in which the whole of the past is condensed into the present, and so ‘Evilution’ sounds impossible to them. They suffer distortions upon preceiving objects and processes. They are unable to process experiential information (facts), which makes them look foolish.
    The theory is called ‘Human Sub-Set Theory’, and the free book online is called ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’. It is in Pdf and takes four minutes to download. But it is 1800 pages long. It is the first real explanation for religious belief.

  33. ReasJack
    Posted June 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Humorous (and appreciated) quips equating Republican with mentally ill aside. I’m not sure Kathleen is wrong.

  34. bigstick1
    Posted June 6, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Critical Thinking – A World View.

  35. Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on insearchofdivinity and commented:
    ignore the title of the blog…I’m not an evolutionist but I am interested in the idea that religious fundamentalism is a distorted way of thinking tantamount to mental illness.

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  1. […] of Professor Coyne is also getting into the same act; as indicated by one of his recent posts Is religion a mental illness? Read the full article and see if maybe I’m right on this; excerpts as follows (emphasis […]

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