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Religion Is Not A Mental Illness, Assholes

Over the last few days, I’ve had interactions both with my atheist friends and with Christian friends. And there was a theme that was running through these interactions.

They reminded me of the atheist douchenozzles who say things like, “Religion is a mental illness”.

Let’s say for a second that this is a valid argument and not judgmental crap.

Then why does no one, to the man, who says it actually behaves like it’s true?

I’ve had a lot of experience with mental illness and pain. I’d never call someone an idiot for being depressed or point them to websites of a list of philosophers. I’d try to understand why they were struggling with their delusion or their pain, and then with compassion and empathy try to raise them out of that condition to a higher one.

No one I have ever met who’s said this putrid bullshit has acted that way.

They have all acted judgmentally. They have acted with snide contempt, like Hitchens (rest in peace) and Dawkins. Dawkins even has correlated religiosity with lower IQ. How awful can you get?

I do not believe for a second that religion is a mental illness. I even think those who say it are demonstrating that they have either no empathy for the mentally ill or no real experience with mental illness (except, possibly, whatever is making them so angry that they want to dismiss what other people have).

But those who make this argument prove, each and every time that I have encountered it, that they don’t believe it either. If they believed it, they’d act like they actually would to someone with mental illness. They never do.

None of us can prove our religion, nor prove that anyone else’s is flawed (except perhaps for a few points of empirical contention like whether or not Bob Marley is actually dead). I have chosen to follow Buddhism because it is overwhelmingly a philosophy rather than a religion with elements of faith, but I have also come to believe in the God that Spinoza, Einstein and Franklin all believed in. God’s existence is beyond rational proof because the very idea is that It lies beyond our sphere of rational inquiry. Philosophers have come to accept, and even Dawkins has, that the proof for the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the invisible teapot is exactly as compelling as the proof for God.

But empirically speaking billions of people follow a religious worldview and are not insane or irrational. Even Penn Jillette admitted this in a video where he interacted with a Christian who gave him a Gideon Bible.

We all have our illusions. We all need to work harder at getting rid of them. But to get rid of an illusion requires a better truth.

It is unfortunately true that many people embrace religion for bad reasons. They embrace democracy, hope and prosperity for bad reasons too; are these ideas mental illnesses? People often find themselves looking for an answer, a complete belief system, so badly that they are willing to accept anything, no matter how disturbing or vile its premises might be. But if we want to help them with that and help them find something that will guide them to a better humanity, finger-wagging and angry demotivational posters are not the answer. As always, love, care, attention and listening are the answers.

Atheism and agnosticism aren’t a mental illness either, but they aren’t philosophies to live by either. I intend to make a longer post about this at some point, but, in essence, atheism and agnosticism as philosophies are null hypotheses. When someone says they’re an atheist, it’s as if you asked them what their favorite ice cream flavor was and they said “Not chocolate”. When someone says that they are an agnostic, it’s as if they said, “I don’t really know what my favorite flavor is and no one can; how many possible flavors are available to try that you have not?”

Humanism is a belief system, and one that can guide us to be compassionate and loving, and one whose tenets I largely agree with. Aside from rejecting the existence of God, I agree with the humanist worldview. This world matters. This life matters. Our interactions with other people matter. Our moments where we step beyond our limitations and manage to be more compassionate and even feel a kind of unity and kinship with others matter.

(And please God in the comments don’t say that atheism is a mental illness either. That would be just as idiotic).

Until we have a much better idea of our astronomy, genetics, neurology, neurochemistry and psychology, we have to be patient with each other. We have to realize that there are many answers to be found, and each new person, each philosophy, can give us a tool to be able to relate to others. We’re on this planet rotating through space together. We have to find ways to get along and learn from each other or else our future is going to be very dark indeed.

Until people who dismiss religion as a mental illness actually have that better truth (and atheism or agnosticism sure as fuck aren’t it), they should shut up and work on themselves and their own illusions.

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8 thoughts on “Religion Is Not A Mental Illness, Assholes

  1. I think that a lot of people want to find reasons why their belief system is superior to others. “I’m an atheist because I’m smarter than you” seems akin to “I’m a Christian because I know God and one day you will too.” It’s a judgement claim of I know the truth, you don’t. It’s just too bad that people can’t live and let live. If they aren’t harming anyone, then does it really matter is they believe in a deity, or many deities?

    • arekexcelsior says:

      Yes, I agree. It’s ideological posturing and arrogance. I think many militant atheists in particular demonstrate only that they are colossally arrogant. As a Cracked article once pointed out, if you look at the prominent atheists, they all have one character trait in common: Immense personal arrogance. Dawkins, Hitchens, Bill Maher, etc.

      But Greg Graffin’s Anarchy Evolution does not demonstrate that arrogance. It shows humility. Because it is based on a real belief system, humanism, based in love. Greg Graffin’s interactions with his fans and his wife and children, as well as his science, have shown him that the world is complex and that human beings can move beyond the limits of their empathy.

      We should all be sharing each other’s love and ideas. We should all be helping people come up with new concepts. We should all be pushing each other to greatness. We all have so much to learn from each other.

      • Have you heard of Chris Stedman? He’s an atheist who does a lot of interfaith work. He wrote a book called Faitheist. It’s very good. Your response reminded me of it.

      • arekexcelsior says:

        I have heard of Chris Stedman but don’t know his work very deeply. Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll add it to a very long list of books that I need to read!

  2. I have to disagree with one point. We can determine that tenets of a particular religion are flawed. If your religion, for example, requires you to stone to death your daughter because she was sexually violated – we could determine your religion is flawed. If your religion required you to lock your wife in the house and not let her leave without a male escort – we could determine your religion is flawed.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the chocolate ice cream business.

    • arekexcelsior says:

      Yes, absolutely. But then you are having a debate about ethics, and about how we should live life, not how we shouldn’t. The religion isn’t flawed unless you accept the argument, which no one should, that that idea is part and parcel with the faith. If that’s the case, then yes, reject that faith. But there is nothing logically inconsistent about believing that there is an order and divinity to things and also believing that people shouldn’t stone each other. In fact, the one quite often logically suggests the other.

      I do not believe there is anything in the Buddha’s teachings, or Yeshua ben Joseph’s ministry, that justifies stoning to death. Yeshua ben Joseph himself had some choice words about that.

      We’ve advanced as a species. Our religion should advance too. We should be more compassionate, more loving.

      The chocolate ice cream argument is a very simple point. Atheism is a null hypothesis. All it says is “I do not believe in a God [nor gods nor spirits, potentially]”.

      Great. What DO you believe in? What do you think is out there? What do you love? What do we owe each other.

      Humanism is a belief system. If someone asks you what you believe and you say you are a humanist or an existentialist, you have responded to the ice cream question, “Rainbow sherbet; I think vanilla, the common choice of a lot of people, is inferior”. (Obviously, ice cream choices are subjective while faith choices have more empirical weight and heft, but the point of the analogy was that it says nothing).

      I am a Buddhist. But I also believe in God, because I have perceived an order, a love, a compassion to the universe. Personally. Not indirectly.

      Might that have been a delusion or a hallucination? Yes. Do you have any evidence that it was? No. No one does. We can’t be sure.

      All I can do is live my life by my best sense experience and rational inquiry. And I perceive that this universe demonstrates signs of a fundamental love and order beyond words.

      Anyone can believe that or not believe that, but I am not a psychopath, a monster, or an idiot as a result of believing it.

  3. If the majority of humanity since the dawn of civilization all suffer from a mental illness (believing books claiming to have been written by the creator of the universe) whose symptoms include, holy war, child abuse, slavery, and countless other obstacles to social progress, forgive us if we resort to ridicule instead of using “love, care, attention and listening”.

    • arekexcelsior says:

      I will forgive you, sort of my schtick, but the problem is you won’t forgive everyone else, so you’re holding me (however sarcastically) to a higher standard than you are yourself.

      Those “symptoms” don’t seem to have gone away much even as societies have become more and more secular, have they? Largely religious crusaders were the ones who actually led to the abolition of slavery in many societies. You’re offering a sociologically infantile argument, as most atheists are, in which you are misdiagnosing the problem and misunderstanding its scale.

      An atheist should be quite easily able to determine that the reason why religions back slavery, or war, or “countless other obstacles to social progress”, is because certain people always want them to. Societies need slaves, so they pretend that slavery is part of the natural order as created by God. (When religion doesn’t work for this goal, they invent racism or other excuses). Societies need to fight their wars and use power politics, so they use religion. (When societies don’t use religion as a pretext for wars, do you honestly believe wars end? Or do they use “freedom”, “the advancement of the proletariat”, “prosperity”, “overthrowing a dictator”, etc. as a pretext to take resources, expand borders and engage in power politics?) Societies need to justify harsh discipline, so they imagine that God wants them to not spare the rod. (You think atheists are any less capable of child abuse or child molestation?)

      Atheists do not have the moral high ground. They need to stop pretending that they do. They may have the intellectual high ground, but being the smartest guy has not actually been all that well correlated with being the nicest ones.

      In any instance, if you actually want to change things and don’t just want to indulge your anger (which would make you just as sucky as the people you criticize if not much more so because you don’t have an ideological excuse), you’re going to have to stop the ridicule. It doesn’t do anything. It makes you feel better but it doesn’t change the world at all. It’s preaching to the choir. The fact that your choir is an atheist one doesn’t make it any less useless, judgmental, or stupid.

      When you actually believe in something good, you’ll find a way of doing everything possible to change things in the way that you believe. This is why I have consistently viewed atheism itself as bankrupt: People who become atheists often use it just as license to be assholes.

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