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.