Sunday, July 26, 2015

Are the Deeply Religious Insane?

As regular readers know, I have a very low regard for the Christofascists and others who reject objective reality, logic, reason, and scientific fact in favor of "religious faith" and claims based on the writings of ignorant, uneducated (in modern terms) and generally unknown authors - Islam being an exception since the author of the Koran is know even if no less ignorant.  As the world hurtles forward in modernity and science provides explanations and solutions to countless situations, the Christofascists and those like them of other faiths nonetheless cling to unsubstantiated myths and beliefs of Bronze Age herders.  Is this behavior a demonstration of insanity.  A fun piece in Salon that using a satire piece as its launching pad suggests that the answer to this question is a resounding "yes."  Here are article highlights:
The headline on the [satirical] News Nerd was almost too good to be true: “American Psychological Association to Classify Belief in God As a Mental Illness.”  A study, the story beneath it read, had led the APA to conclude that “a strong and passionate belief in a deity or higher power, to the point where it impairs one’s ability to make conscientious decisions about common sense matters, will now be classified as a mental illness.”  Faith’s recurrent lethality was adduced: “Every year thousands of people die after refusing life-saving treatment on religious grounds.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, said the article, refuse lifesaving transfusions (on account of biblical prohibitions against the drinking of blood).

Most gratifyingly, for a rationalist, the author quoted a certain Dr. Lillian Andrews, who opined that, “Religious belief and the angry God phenomenon has caused chaos, destruction, death, and wars for centuries.  The time for evolving into a modern society and classifying these archaic beliefs as a mental disorder has been long overdue.”

A “strong and passionate belief” in a (nonexistent) God does our world immeasurable harm: look no further than ISIS or al-Qaida.  In fact, look no further than the damage religion causes to progressive causes of every sort (and thus to our psychological well-being) in the United States, from women’s reproductive rights to same-sex marriage to teaching science in schools to depriving federal coffers of $82.5 billion a year (in tax exemptions).  Consider the enrichment of all sorts of faith-charlatans who thrive off the gullibility of millions of Americans.  Recall the sick “purity movements” that allow meddlesome parents to ruin the lives of their daughters.

I could go on.  In any case, it was to be expected that sooner or later psychologists would catch on to the quasi-psychotic elements (including detachment from reality, belief in spirits, hearing “the voice of the Lord, and so on) inherent in religion.

The fine-print disclaimer at the foot of the News Nerd’s page ruthlessly dispelled my elation: The story, like the others the site publishes, was “for entertainment purposes only,” and “purely satirical.”  In other words, a spoof.  . . . psychologists were not yet ready to diagnose firm belief in God as what it is: an unhealthy delusion.

Yet the satire in the News Nerd’s piece derives its efficacy from an obvious truth: belief in a deity motivates people to behave in all sorts of ways — some childish and pathetic, others harmful, a few outright criminal — most of which, to the nonbeliever at least, mimic symptoms of an all-encompassing mental illness, if of widely varying severity.

Why childish?  A majority of adults in one of the most developed countries on Earth believe, in all seriousness, that an invisible, inaudible, undetectable “father” exercises parental supervision over them, protecting them from evil (except when he doesn’t), and, for the mere price of surrendering their faculty of reason and behaving in ways spelled out in various magic books, will ensure their postmortem survival.  Wishful thinking characterizes childhood, yes, but, where the religious are concerned, not only.  That is childish.

To have all the resources to begin reliably fathoming the mysteries of the universe, and yet to cast them aside for slavish fidelity to primitive fables (most of which deserve no more “reverence” than tales from the Brothers Grimm) that no one past the age of six or seven should believe . . .   well, such is the very definition of pathetic.

But the harm is greater than that.  All in all, the most pernicious constellation of rubbish misbeliefs forming the core of the Abrahamic faiths concerns women, blamed for sin itself (the “original sin”), and the Fall of all mankind.  Every mainstream misogynistic superstition stems from the rotten old myth of Genesis: woman as made not in God’s image, but from one of Adam’s spare parts, and thus inferior to man.  Woman as temptress, woman as unreliable, woman as “unclean.”  The rest of the Old and New Testaments inculcate an array of injurious ideas: that women depreciate after their initial sexual encounter, and serve only to bear children and satisfy the lust of their mates.  

Religion as child abuse has, of course, always formed the mainstay of faith.  A desire to indoctrinate the unsuspecting young in faith’s dark, lurid dogmas before science, reason, and the enlightening joys of secularism take over and help them mature into healthy adults has for decades motivated a controversial homeschooling movement afflicting some 2.5 million children in the United States.

Homeschooling amounts to allowing the faith-deranged to infect their young with their disorder.  But it covers only the academic year.  Summertime, some of those same faith-deranged foist the God delusion on their defenseless children via a noxious plethora of “Bible camps.”  For a shocking look inside this perverted institution, check out the masterly (if enraging) 2006 documentary “Jesus Camp,”. . .

“Jesus Camp” shows children at the gruesomely named North Dakota camp “Kids on Fire” suffering through a miasma of brainwashing involving the abusive instillation of fear, self-loathing, and guilt, an incitement to al-Qaida-style martyrdom for the sake of Christ, . . . . The searing documentary exercised a salutary effect on the “Kids on Fire” camp, which is to say, it led to its demise.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of others like it.

Suffice it to say that religion is the chief motivator of terrorism the world over.  Apologists can rant themselves red in the face trying to ascribe such crimes to anything but faith, but the truth is, any Islamic fundamentalist can claim, with irrefutable textual justification, to be acting in accordance with “holy writ.”

Terrorism aside, though, faith’s role in the death of its own votaries could well serve as sufficient evidence for classifying strongly-held religious convictions as symptomatic of a possibly homicidal mens rea (criminal intent).  Here the courts have proved complicit, aided by our prevailing custom of exculpating religion and deferring to the religious.  

If the News Nerd’s APA story was a hoax, professionals are, nonetheless, taking note of the danger it was parodying.  A San-Franciscan human development consultant named Dr. Marlene Winell, herself a survivor of a Pentecostal upbringing, has bruited the idea of “religious trauma syndrome” and established its symptoms as “anxiety . . . depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning.”  Kathleen Taylor, an Oxford neuroscientist, has proposed treating religious fundamentalism itself as a “mental disturbance.”
The religious blather about evil in the world yet are too blind to see that much of the evil we see stems directly from religion.  It's time that deference to religion and the deeply religious end. 

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