So What Are We Supposed to Do About the Religious/Mentally Ill?

In the comments section of my previous post showing Jerry Coyne to both promote and deny the notion that religious people are mentally ill, Liam writes:

If you are an adult, asserting you have an invisible and imaginary friend who created the universe, you have lost your mind. You have divorced yourself from reality and you most certainly have a mental disorder. If this imaginary friend talks to you and you hear the voices in your head, your condition warrants medical intervention. That is the bottom line! Religious fundamentalism is the very definition of a mental disorder and is usually a combination of varying degrees of psychosis, neurosis, and schizophrenia. And no amount of philosophical mambo jumbo will get you around this fact. What. Did you think that clinical depression is diagnosed as a mental disorder but invisible and imaginary friends who sometimes talk to you don’t? LOL!

So I asked Liam if he would spell out exactly what such a “medical intervention” would look like. So far, no response.

I propose that all atheists be asked the following questions:

1. Do you believe that religious people are mentally ill because they are religious?

This question, or a variant of it, could be very useful for college students who have an aggressive, atheist professor. In that case, you might want to preface it by noting that Professor Peter Boghossian is out there publicly advocating religious faith is a form of mental illness. The question serves as a litmus test for teasing out the militant, fundamentalist atheists from a regular, ol’ atheist.

2. If you think religious faith is a form of mental illness, what type of medical intervention do you recommend for society?

I don’t think even the militant atheists are comfortable (yet) talking about this. Peter Boghossian is oddly vague about it and Jerry Coyne talks out both sides of his mouth. So we must wonder why the militant atheists are so uncomfortable talking about this.

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40 Responses to So What Are We Supposed to Do About the Religious/Mentally Ill?

  1. Atheists would have us forget our history during which some of the greatest minds ever, were possessed by Christians.

    Saints Augustine and Aquinas come to mind along with Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, DaVinci, Bach, Michael Angelo and on and on.

    The American Founding Fathers, accused by atheists of being deists cited God four times in their Declaration of Independence.

    The notion that religion is associated with mental illness is simply a sign of bigotry and intolerance.

  2. Jon Garvey says:

    I know faith isn’t a mental disorder, but then I have the advantage of a lifetime working in medicine including the treatment of actual mental illness, including religious delusion, rather than shooting my mouth off from an atheist’s armchair.

    On the other hand, if someone had come into the surgery convinced that a large number of his fellow-citizens had undiagnosed psychosis, neurosis and schizophrenia, I might be on the phone to the mental health team. Such people tend to be dangerously unpredictable.

  3. Kirk says:

    With the topic of “religious delusion,” there’s an elephant in the room that hardly ever gets talked about:

    IF these atheists believe that religious individuals suffer from a medical illness, why do they simultaneously insult religious believers in a gratuitously nasty manner, and do so as if it is normal and ought to be expected?

    Can you ever imagine yourself constantly and aggressively insulting someone who has Down syndrome because of his Down syndrome, someone with Alzheimers because of his Alzheimers, someone suffering a brain hemorrhage because of his ruptured aneurysm, someone with the common cold because of his infection via a rhinovirus, and so on?

    Either these atheists don’t actually believe what they are saying and simply want to antagonize religious believers in a spiteful fashion, or they are completely despicable individuals.

  4. RD Miksa says:

    Hello to All,

    If anyone is interested, I commented on this post here: http://idontgiveadamnapologetics.blogspot.ca/2014/03/external-link-atheists-mental-illness.html

    Jon’s comment inspired me to write a post on this topic given that I can strongly echo the point that Jon himself.

    Take care,

    RD Miksa

  5. stcordova says:

    Given what Jon and RD Miksa have said, are their an GNU’s who are well-known and also mental health professionals who have come out and demonstrated theists are mentally ill? In the ID community we have Jeffrey Schwartz, in the religious community, several. Oh that is a problem, how do we have some famous psychiatrists like Viktor Frankl who survived Auschwitz who are theists?

    Given there is a correlation between Asperger’s syndrome and GNUism plus the fact they score badly in human relations inventories, yes, there is evidence they have issues.

  6. Kevin says:

    I was recently told by an autism therapist that I almost certainly have Asperger’s, though I haven’t been officially diagnosed nor do I plan to get one. For me, I have trouble with deep emotional relationships, which also includes God sadly. But I have a very strong intellectual faith in him. God is simply the only explanation that isn’t logically pathetic, like the so-called explanations of atheists.

    There may be a correlation between Asperger’s and atheism, but not all people with Asperger’s are complete fools. Just saying.

  7. Jon Garvey says:

    Kirk’s point is interesting. Within the medical profession, it was very difficult to treat or get a pathological handle on people with chronic fatigue syndrome, aka ME or whatever it’s called Stateside. But it was astonishing how the inability to understand of help led to otherwise competent doctors saying, “It’s a psychological illness.”

    I used to reply, “OK, if so, what’s the psychpathology, and how do you propose to manage it?” So it seems to be a universal human trait (dating back to Festus with Paul, at least) to accuse those you’re afraid of of madness.

  8. Shecky R says:

    Mental illness is not black-and-white, but a vague and continuous sliding scale… we are probably ALL mentally ill at various times in our life, just as we are physically ill at times, but no, we don’t have effective medical interventions for all cases (any more than we do for physical instances).

  9. Squibs says:

    Kevin, well said. I don’t think that you are alone in this. For example, Nick Peters of Ratio Christi has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s (http://ratiochristi.org/people/nick-peters).

    I think we should be careful throwing accusations around.

  10. Luis says:

    I think to continually believe in something that has been proven false is a form of mental illness. I have mentioned on this blog before that the Genesis account has been thoroughly refuted and yet christians continue to believe it as valid. Evolutionary biology, population genetics and anthropology has shown that we are not special creations of god, that adam & eve were not the first special primal couple of all humanity. In fact they didn’t even exist. If this couple didn’t exist then sin never entered the world and if that didn’t happen then there is no need for a saviour. The whole message of the new testament becomes null and void. Of course, christians like Mike fall back on the metaphor framework even though the historical church never viewed Genesis that way. The metaphor can’t be falsified becuase it can incorporate anything that science has refuted. All this is done so christians don’t have to give up their faith. Yes, I would call that mental illness.

  11. Sam says:

    >”I think to continually believe in something that has been proven false is a form of mental illness.”

    No such falsity has been proven.

    >”I have mentioned on this blog before that the Genesis account has been thoroughly refuted and yet christians continue to believe it as valid. ”

    Taken literally, the Genesis account refutes itself. But it isn’t meant to be read that way in the first place, and currently and historically most Christian theologians have rejected literalism.

    >”Evolutionary biology, population genetics and anthropology has shown that we are not special creations of god”

    They, by themselves, have shown no such thing. Only a theological argument could possibly demonstrate that. Of course, scientific claims could be used as premises in such an argument, but at that point, you have stepped beyond science into the realm of theology.

    >”adam & eve were not the first special primal couple of all humanity”

    Setting aside the fact that you haven’t come anywhere close to establishing this, there is no need for Christians to believe in the historical reality of a primordial couple. And many, quite famously, do not.

    >”Of course, christians like Mike fall back on the metaphor framework even though the historical church never viewed Genesis that way.”

    It seems you’ve never heard of St. Augustine and his work, Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichees and on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, in which he famously rejects literalism over a thousand years before Darwin.

    Either you can educate yourself and reach a point where you have something of value to say, or you can keep attacking a Christianity that is the product of your own fevered imagination.

  12. Kevin says:

    I think to continually believe in something that has been proven false is a form of mental illness. I have mentioned on this blog before that the Genesis account has been thoroughly refuted and yet christians continue to believe it as valid.

    And I think simplistic thinking being viewed as incredible and insightful reasoning superior to the majority of the population is a form of mental illness. There are lots of ways Genesis is interpreted within Christianity (capital “c” for proper names, since you didn’t know) that don’t require a hyper literal reading.

    Evolutionary biology, population genetics and anthropology has shown that we are not special creations of god

    No it hasn’t. It shows that God (capital “g” for a proper name, since you didn’t know) didn’t create mankind POOF from scratch. It does not at all show that God is not the reason mankind (and everything else) exists, nor does science say that there is nothing that differentiates humans from animals.

    In fact they didn’t even exist.

    It’s incredible that you know this, yet no other person alive does. Incredible. Again, there are multiple ways that Christians have interpreted the Adam and Eve story. In fact, since you seem clueless on nuances of Christianity – a near universal failing of atheists – I will even point out to you that the pattern of God when dealing with mankind was the selection of certain individuals out of the masses, such as Abraham. One dude whose actions affected all those after him. Genesis refers to other people that Cain was frightened of, and many have interpreted Adam and Eve as the first humans that God directly interacted with, even if they weren’t the “first humans”. I realize that admitting such views would interfere with your black-and-white “I’m rational and christians [sic] are deluded”, but in your own words, continually believing something that’s been proven false is a form of mental illness.

    All this is done so christians don’t have to give up their faith.

    For someone who believes either that matter and energy have always existed for no reason whatsoever, for all eternity past, or that it all just at some point poofed into existence, to dare criticize the alleged hoops that others will go through to maintain their beliefs…well, even the FSM makes more sense than what atheists spout off as “reason”. So yeah, if sanity is considered a mental illness, then I’m glad to be sick.

  13. silenceofmind says:

    Luis,

    “Evolutionary biology, population genetics and anthropology has shown that we are not special creations of god,” because they can’t.

    Science is only science. And only God can reveal God.

  14. TFBW says:

    @Luis:

    I think to continually believe in something that has been proven false is a form of mental illness. I have mentioned on this blog before that the Genesis account has been thoroughly refuted and yet christians continue to believe it as valid.

    Ahoy there! I trust the Biblical account over the Darwinian account of origins. I’m even happy to back six literal days and a recent creation. Not many other regular participants here will fit your stereotype so neatly, but here I am, waving madly to attract your attention.

    So — the million dollar question, now that you have proclaimed me mentally ill: what type of medical intervention do you recommend for society in cases such as mine? Or are you just using “mentally ill” as a put-down?

  15. Shecky R says:

    You are all assuming there is one god when there could just as easily be an infinity of gods (no real evidence against it). And you’re assuming qualities such as omniscience, omnipotence, caring, loving-kindness (and other invented terms) for which there is also a lack of evidence.
    Finally, effective medical interventions for many forms of so-called mental illness are simply few or non-existent.

  16. Kevin says:

    You are all assuming there is one god when there could just as easily be an infinity of gods (no real evidence against it). And you’re assuming qualities such as omniscience, omnipotence, caring, loving-kindness (and other invented terms) for which there is also a lack of evidence.

    True to an extent, but all such assumptions are based on the illogical nature of atheism. You can’t get to God of the Bible based purely on logic (not that anyone ever thinks about anything with pure logic), but you can very easily get to the necessity of a creator being(s). And once you have acknowledged such a necessity, then I don’t find it to be problematic that we wax philosophical on what the implications of such a reality are, how we go about finding out the nature of such a creator – which science is indirectly helpful, based on observation of the creation.

  17. silenceofmind says:

    Shecky,

    God, the Creator is infinite, by nature and definition.

    There can only be one God who is infinite because if there were two, neither would be infinite.

  18. Shecky R says:

    Go study Cantor, you can have an infinite number of infinities… there could easily be 10 or 10 million infinite Gods (…and there are plenty of definitions of God where God is not infinite; you’re just stuck on your one simplistic, myopic definition).

  19. silenceofmind says:

    Shecky,

    Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that there are different types of infinite.

    For example, numbers are infinite and there can exist many sets of numbers.

    The universe is also infinite.

    God is a being who is infinite.

    Therefore there can only be one.

  20. Shecky R says:

    we won’t make any progress here, but there can be infinite numbers, infinite universes, and infinite gods — you don’t get to apply ad hoc definitions to God just because you (or Aquinas) wish to, or soon someone will say Hitler was, by definition, God, and you won’t be able to show them wrong, if that’s their definition.

  21. Sam says:

    >”you don’t get to apply ad hoc definitions to God just because you (or Aquinas) wish to”

    Ad hoc? Aquinas’ philosophical account of God is roughly identical to Aristotle’s, which is well over 2000 years old. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

  22. silenceofmind says:

    Shecky,

    The definition of God is not ad hoc.

    It’s a matter of kind.

    One of the logical fallacies habitually used by atheists is comparing apples and oranges.

    God is not a number, neither is he the universe.

    He has his own attributes.

    Therefore assigning attributes that do not apply to God, amounts to a redefinition of God.

    Redefining facts and arguments to fit dogma is another tactic atheists use in their argumentation.

  23. TFBW says:

    Guys, the theology debate is futile and, more importantly, off topic. I want to hear more about the actual topic at hand: what plan of action the New Atheists have in store for “mentally ill” folks like me.

  24. Shecky R says:

    But no human can know those attributes (you can guess and surmise all you want but ultimately you’re dealing in mere words and tautologies), stuck with a 1000s year old definition, while knowledge has advanced a tad since then… the Greeks gave “atoms” a rather ad hoc definition thousands of years ago too — it lasted a long time, until science gave a more modern understanding of atoms leaving the Greek model behind (even if in its simplest form it still held some truth).
    (And by the way, I believe in something I label “God;” I just don’t believe in the God of western religion, nor any god that can be defined by human adjectives.)

  25. Luis says:

    TFBW

    I think that proper eduaction is a good start to treating religious mental illness. When you educate the theists in terms of evolution, old earth and universe, how unreliable the bible as the word of god is, history and archeology, they will turn from their ways and thus have their mental illness cured. That’s what happened to me. I educated myself on evolution and began to realize that it didn’t line up with the bible. I looked deeper and found that the bible is full of errors, contradictions, additions and deletions. It can’t be trusted and if that’s the case then the best evidence a theist has for god’s existence becomes moot. Now my mental illness is cured because I sought to think critically. All non-believers are trying to get you to see reality and you keep fighting it.

  26. Kirk says:

    “I want to hear more about the actual topic at hand: what plan of action the New Atheists have in store for “mentally ill” folks like me.”

    I would like to hear this, as well.

    (though I suspect Jon Garvey is correct in his latest comment)

  27. Shecky R says:

    There are no treatments or medical interventions currently available for the sort of mental illness being surmised (if there was, I’d argue anyone who voted twice for G.Bush/D.Cheney should also receive it).
    Arthur Koestler gave the closest thing to a treatment decades ago (for human violence, which tends to emanate from politics and religion), when he argued for adding a valium-like drug to the drinking supplies of all the world’s major countries (indeed, he didn’t believe Mankind could survive itself without such a solution — but that only changes behavior, not necessarily thinking).

  28. TFBW says:

    @Luis:

    I think that proper eduaction is a good start to treating religious mental illness.

    Fascinating. I didn’t realise that mental illness could be cured with education. I thought only ignorance could be cured that way. Or did you have the non-voluntary kind in mind — “re-programming” as its sometimes called? If ordinary secular education is what you’re prescribing, then believe me, I’ve had enough for at least two ordinary folks. I rather doubt that lack of information factors into it, partly because I’m far better informed than the average person who just takes Darwin for granted because teacher said so in school, but mostly because I think it rather preposterous that a mental illness could be caused by a lack of information.

    I’m pretty sure you’re just using “mentally ill” as a way of saying “wilfully ignorant”. That’s the only way I can make real sense of your remarks. Are you sure you want to do that?

    @Shecky R:

    Arthur Koestler gave the closest thing to a treatment decades ago … when he argued for adding a valium-like drug to the drinking supplies of all the world’s major countries …

    Wow. So, you think that’s the right kind of approach to all this? Find some substance that has religion-suppressing qualities and add it to the public water supply — presumably on the sly, since it’s not the kind of thing that folks would take kindly to?

  29. Shecky R says:

    I didn’t say whether I think that’s the right approach or not; just making the point (since you’re asking for methods) that such an approach has been offered in the past (and many believe Koestler was right that the human species is otherwise doomed, because he believed ‘mental illness’ was inherent to being human).
    If we could vaccinate against polio, or any other horrible disease, by simply adding something to the water, would that not be better than having to persuade people individually to be vaccinated one-by-one? And plenty of communities already add fluoride to drinking water simply as an anti-cavity treatment, and chlorine added for other purposes, so it’s not as radical as it sounds. IF we actually found a chemical agent that induced “rational” thinking at all times (whatever that might lead to) with no other side effects, would you be opposed to adding that to the water? Or a tougher hypothetical (as a thought puzzle): suppose we find a drug that prevents schizophrenia… should only those people fully diagnosed with schiz. get the drug, after-the-fact, or if it could be added to the water (at practical cost and with no side effects) and prevent schiz. to begin with, ought it not be administered to everyone thusly?

  30. Kevin says:

    It would be an absolutely horrifying species that was rational at all times. No thanks. We have emotions for a reason.

  31. RD Miksa says:

    Dear Luis,

    You said:

    I think to continually believe in something that has been proven false is a form of mental illness.

    Now, in light of what you said–although, at this point, I am only agreeing with it for the sake of argument–let me ask you two questions.

    1 – Given that I consider atheism to be false beyond reasonable doubt, would it be fine for me to start labelling atheists as mentally ill?

    2 – Given that the vast majority of society holds atheism to be false, would it be rational for society to label atheists as mentally ill and then to begin marshalling its resources to protect itself from atheists?

    I await your answers.

    RD Miksa

  32. Derek_M says:

    Kevin:
    “I was recently told by an autism therapist that I almost certainly have Asperger’s, though I haven’t been officially diagnosed nor do I plan to get one. For me, I have trouble with deep emotional relationships, which also includes God sadly. But I have a very strong intellectual faith in him. God is simply the only explanation that isn’t logically pathetic, like the so-called explanations of atheists.

    There may be a correlation between Asperger’s and atheism, but not all people with Asperger’s are complete fools. Just saying.”

    This needs to be repeated more often. The identification between Asperger’s and atheism was one of anti-social behavior. That is what should be focused on and nothing should be intrinsically implied about people who have Asperger’s or who are atheists.

    I do not have Asperger’s but have mental health issues which cause problems in relationships like you have described. It is hard to describe the “disconnect” to people who do not suffer from these things.

    As a side note, Dr. Hugh Ross also has Asperger’s.

  33. Billy Squibs says:

    ” That’s what happened to me. I educated myself on evolution and began to realize that it didn’t line up with the bible.”

    Eh, you do realise that Christians have both opposed and endorsed evolution?

  34. Billy Squibs says:

    What a post Shecky R!

    I love the way you claim that your comment was essentially neutral and then proceed to justify it by begging the question.

    First you have to demonstrate that religious conviction is a mental illness. Some evidence would be helpful. It better be damn good evidence mind you because not only is your solution unimaginably drastic, it’s also contrary to findings. Then you can provide a solid definition of what rational thinking entails. After all, we can go medicating everyone and forcing them to think in a way that you feel the need to wrap in “scare quotes” now can we?

    My guess is that you are all bluster and that you have never given any of this serious thought. Hence your foolish comment

  35. Kevin says:

    Eh, you do realise that Christians have both opposed and endorsed evolution?

    You’re trying to reason with someone who believes that anyone who doesn’t agree with him has a mental illness. I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere.

  36. Sam says:

    >”Eh, you do realise that Christians have both opposed and endorsed evolution?”

    More like a refusal to realize. The idea that there exist many Christians who (1) endorse evolution, (2) endorse an old earth and universe, and (3) reject Biblical literalism doesn’t harmonize well with his personal narrative, into which he’s invested so much of his identity, and in which the godless are simply the generous, compassionate, good-natured bringers of light to all of mankind, who yearn in a deep, deep humanitarian spirit for the scales of crude superstition and dogma to fall from our eyes.

    But to get back on topic: The idea that human societies should vaccinate against the acquisition of (or adherence to) certain sets of beliefs strikes me as just a little bit creepy. But the funniest aspect of this scenario is that, after the irreligious sprinkle their magic “24/7 rationality” potions into the water supplies of the world, rather than dramatically waning, belief in God would skyrocket, because the philosophical case for theism is incredibly strong and is far better than the case for atheism or even general non-theism. God would become firmly entrenched in society’s collective intellectual life. What will all the wonderfully compassionate atheists in power do then?

  37. TFBW says:

    @Shecky R:

    I didn’t say whether I think that’s the right approach or not; just making the point (since you’re asking for methods) that such an approach has been offered in the past …

    I don’t want noncommittal references to third party suggestions — I want to know what the actual New Atheist participants here think is the right approach.

    IF we actually found a chemical agent that induced “rational” thinking at all times (whatever that might lead to) with no other side effects, would you be opposed to adding that to the water?

    I would be opposed to just about any proposal where the outcome was as vague as, “whatever that might lead to.” As for the other part of your hypothetical, the magical medication sounds a bit unrealistic, and medicating those not in need of it seems like a bad general idea. Those caveats aside, however, if the decision is made in an open manner with the general consent of those who will be drinking the water (i.e. they want it and consider it to be a net benefit), then I have no issue with the approach.

    So, do you consider it to be a sign of mental illness when folks adhere to a religious position such as theism or young-earth creationism? If so, what do you think should be done about this pandemic disorder?

  38. Michael says:

    Any group of people who seriously wanted to be known as the Brights, and who spent years heatedly arguing about what happened in an elevator, is not exactly a group that has earned the right to call other people mentally ill. Just sayin’.

  39. Shizzle-d says:

    Shecky, I don’t think you want to find that drug because i’m sure you won’t like the outcome on you. (Imagining you all robed up with a Bible in hand and screaming “Come to the Lord!” :D)
    Like they say, “Careful what you wish for”
    P.S. The only truth i find in evolution is that it’s delusionally possible for a tornado to make a Boeing 747, since a tornado and evolution are both mindless, senseless, random and the possibility of a tornado making a 747 and evolution occuring rests in the hands of the writer of the comic, hmm . . . what’s his name? Charles Darwin and the name of the comic is theory, nah, story of evolution.

    I guess half of my comment doesn’t come from the article, sorry ;).

  40. Shizzle-d says:

    Psuedoedit: . . . delusionally possible for a tornado to make a Boeing 747 in a junkyard . . .

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