Religious belief is not mental illness


According to some in the atheist community,
religious belief is a kind of mental illness or neurological disorder. This is an opinion that has been expressed
by such prominent voices as Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher. The thinking seems to be that because certain
religious beliefs look so absurd, to these atheists at least, and yet manage to be quite
convincing to the believers, it must be the case that mental deficiencies are the cause. Sadly, this view is often merely assumed to
be true and contributes to the stigmatization of those with actual mental disorders. In the last episode of the Armchair Atheism
podcast, I spoke with Dr. Kevin Schilbrack about some of the complexities involved in
how we define and understand religion. Religion is not just about belief, but also
consists of rituals, religious experiences, and more. A number of religious practices and behaviors
even seem closely related to our other, regular forms of cognition and behavior. This certainly complicates the naively simplistic
picture of religion as a fixed concept that can be explained in terms of any single cause
like pathology. When it comes to the science, the evidence
is unequivocal. There is a large body of research to show
that religion is a natural byproduct of cognition. Daniel Dennett has made this argument in his
book, Breaking the Spell, as has Pascal Boyer in his work, Religion Explained. Many studies exist that establish a link between
prosocial behavior and religious belief. As Matthew Facciani points out in an essay
on the subject, mental disorders are maladaptive by definition, yet there is substantial evidence
indicating that not only is there nothing inherently maladaptive about belief in a supreme
being, but quite the opposite is found in the literature. By the numbers alone, we have good reason
to accept that religious belief is a byproduct of our natural psychology. Atheists have long been in the minority throughout
history. To imagine that everyone else, from past to
present, has a mental disorder is something that beggars belief. Of course, to call religion natural doesn’t
mean it’s good or bad, only that it is based on parts of our normal mental functioning. As Pascal Boyer puts it… Something of particular interest that further
helps to show this is the correlation that religious belief has with intuitive thinking. Some studies have suggested that analytic
thinking undermines religious belief, but all this really shows is a difference in method. Both intuitive and analytic thought are natural
parts of our cognition. Among the experts, there also seems to be
pretty much unanimous agreement that religiosity is not a mental disorder. In an article at Patheos, Sincere Kirabo documents
the responses of dozens of researchers he personally contacted on the matter. Their responses concur with many of the arguments
made in this video. Labeling religion a neurological deficit or
a mental illness is a thoughtless and careless way of dismissing something to which you don’t
relate. It’s an ad hominem attack against the religious,
and an ableist one at that. Calling this out won’t prevent us from leveling
other, far better criticisms against religion. On the contrary, it will demonstrate a commitment
to the evidence and to values that we in the atheist community, and especially the humanist
community, profess to uphold. Thank you for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please give it
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16 thoughts on “Religious belief is not mental illness

  1. Its clearly a delusion

    If one wants to call it a delusion bad enough to qualify as a mental illness………….well,that kind of depends on how bad the believer has it. The fundie christians,for instance? Those that deny huge swathes of reality in favor of their delusions? I think they might be somewhere on the edge of ill………….

  2. "Religion is a byproduct of cognition".
    I can break that down.
    Religion is a byproduct of emotion. Fear and love being the two that seem to always get played in religious land.
    Oddly enough.. the proverbial…carrot at the end of the stick (reward)…or…the fire under your ass (punishment)…lives on in the human psyche when it comes to the fact that we all as individuals know that we are going to die.
    Endorphins pop and wishful thinking prevail. Religion promises all human desires to accept the fact that after a love one dies, that person…[like all of us…in the long run] will ALWAYS be around and NEVER forgotten.

  3. Citation as to where Richard Dawkins has claimed religion as a mental disorder?
    This video is dishonest.
    You're losing it bud.

  4. Religions bullshit hides and encourages quite a lot of mentally ill people who would otherwise be noticed and hospitalized…
    For example: for years woman talks about how god's voice is telling her to do this and that, and people think its normal… until she kills her children because god told her thats what she must do to save them from hell… then she is clearly insane and religion gets no blame for that.

  5. At 0:18 Whilst I don't personally call religion a mental illness, I think you are miss characterising Dawkins at least, and many others who do. Dawkins isn't saying "it looks so absurd it must be crazy"! He is saying that if you look at the medical dictionary definition of, say, "Delusional" you find that Religious Belief passes all the symptomatic tests the definition sets. Indeed he has pointed (if I remember correctly this is in "The God Delusion") to a medical dictionary definition which perfectly describes Religious Belief but then adds as a caveat something like "…except in the case where these delusions are religious in nature."

    Why the exception? Only because the majority of people suffer from this delusion and we can't call most people "ab-normal" that's obviously a contradiction.

    But on the other hand we would not have this problem if the "illness" was physical rather than mental. If everyone in the world had, say, Bird Flu then we would say that everyone is ill with it and we would do our best to treat everyone.

    I get your points, and I personally prefer to be diplomatic when I discuss pretty much anything (right now most of my discussions are with Flat Earthers and I am, I think, as respectful as it is possible to be with them). But I also acknowledge that I have no data on the question "does being respectful work when you are trying to convince someone that the position they hold is demonstrably wrong?"

    In many years of debates on the internet I've only had two people come back and tell me they were convinced and gave up their nonsensical beliefs. So I would not criticise someone like Dawkins for being more strident than me. I have just found that over the years the patent, respectful tone of debate suites me better, and sometimes I think people need to be exposed to a kind of "good cop-bad cop" approach before they will give up their "delusions".

    Having said that, the internet is not exactly short of people prepared to be strident! So if you have the ability to be either a "good" or a "bad" cop then you should choose to be a good one.

  6. Firstly, I'd like to congratulate you on a very fine video.

    I absolutely agree that a blanket statement is both wrong and counterproductive.

    The matter is however that 'mental disorder' is not something you can just claim without the necessary professional background. Since I'm not a psychiatrist, I don't dare to make such a claim. What I would like to correct you about though, is your notion that a mental disorder is something inherently linked to mental disability or that the majority of the population cannot be affected.
    I think that mental disorders should be treated just like any physical disorder – it's not a person's fault, nor does it justify any mistreatment or stigma.
    Just like most people are affected by disease in some point in their life, they can be affected by a mental condition as well.
    Humans aren't very good in rational thought, but we are getting better as we learn and improve with time. That's why non-belief is the "strongest growing demographic".

    Let me ask you this: if in a society only 5% are religious, and they perform strange rituals, talk to themselves or the ceiling, and generally claim to have witnessed magic. Don't you reckon we'd be trying to figure out what's wrong with their brains and cure them ?????

  7. It is a delusion, not really a mental disorder.  Just less mental development.  I used to believe, then my mental faculties developed and I lost the delusion.  I believed because my understanding of reality was far less broad and evolved.   Essentially religious people are just stubborn children with amore  limited understanding of reality than a non religious person.

  8. no it's not a mental illness but it should be noted as one. religion held back science and human rights and free thought for 1000 years. religion is a protoscientific cancer upon the face of humanity

  9. Oh we have one of those . The way they believe in God but their mind automatically concludes the other gods are false , But fail to do this with that God . That Seems to me like that's a malfuncation . So yes it's a mental disorder

  10. i disagree ppl think god is watching your ever move and can even hear there thoughs which in common in schizophrenia Olney different is they bleave its the government doing it and ppl along time ago even thought the inner monalog that we all have was god talking to them also a common treat in schizophrenia and trust me i know my cousin has it and if he dosint take his meds he has delusions similar to that

  11. 😡 If there is no mental delusion or illness associated with religious beliefs, how can you explain the violence perpetrated by humans from a religious perspective? I recall the use of a specific shout by Islamic terrorists referring to a specific deity in support of their heinous behaviour. Likewise, the parading of the Christian cross into battle by the crusaders in earlier times. Outside of the religiosity demonstrated here, there appears to be no other reason for such abhorrent behaviour. We have many examples of highly dangerous people confined to secure psychiatric hospitals for exhibiting elements of religious paranoia, as with hearing voices and communicating with ethereal entities driving them to commit egregious acts of brutality. Losing touch with reality is not thought to be ‘normal’ human behaviour, neither is continually refusing to acknowledge what is evidentially the truth derived from the sciences.

  12. It's a daddy issue, after looking up at their parents for millions of years, it's second nature to admire, respect, & love learning from them, the ones that didn't didn't survive and the gene to look up, is what some people think is religious, many boring days and wild imaginations left some adults looking past mom and dad for another bigger stronger father in the clouds, chucking bolts of lightning at them, if they were feeling guilty.

  13. It's not so much a mental illness as something that can take mental illness and make it worse. And yes, we're all hardwired for ritual and mythology; the trick is to understand the difference between them and concrete reality.

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