Is Belief In God A Delusion?

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Is belief in God a delusion?

Source: livescience.com
Date: 25 November, 2020

As the pandemic raged in April, churchgoers in Ohio defied warnings not to congregate. Some argued that their religion conferred them immunity from COVID-19. In one memorable CNN clip, a woman insisted she would not catch the virus because she was “covered in Jesus’ blood”.

Some weeks later, the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker commented on the dangers of evangelical religious belief in the coronavirus era. Writing on Facebook, he said: “Belief in an afterlife is a malignant delusion, since it devalues actual lives and discourages action that would make them longer, safer, and happier.”

Pinker, of course, is not the first to connect – or equate – religion with delusion. The evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is probably the most famous contemporary proponent of this view, which has intellectual roots dating back at least to political theorist Karl Marx and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins argued that religious faith is “persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence”, and thus delusional.

Was Dawkins right? Many have critiqued his arguments on philosophical and theological grounds. But the relationship between his thesis and the dominant psychiatric conception of delusion is less often considered:

This definition is from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” – often referred to as the “bible” of psychiatry. The definition is well known but controversial, and those who think belief in God is delusional may take issue with the final clause. Dawkins, for his part, approvingly quoted the writer Robert M Pirsig’s observation that “when one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion”.

So, is the distinction between insanity and religion a mere semantic quibble? In a new paper, we review research that examines relationships – and distinctions – between religion and delusion.

[...]

https://www.livescience.com/is-belief-in-god-a-delusion.html
 

Mikefule

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Cards on the table: I am an atheist who reached that conclusion after much reading and consideration.

That said, I do not think that all religions or all sets of personal religious beliefs are equivalent to each other or that they are necessarily delusional.

A person born into a Roman Catholic family (or Muslim, Jewish, etc.) is likely to retain some vestigial belief in the religious traditions of their parents. They may (or may not) intellectually reject the literal truth of those beliefs, but they will often retain some generally feeling that "there is something in it" especially in times of stress or distress. That is not a delusion, but a cultural phenomenon.

A person may do much reading and considering — as I did — and reach different conclusions. If they conclude that there is some overarching intelligence or purpose that directs the universe, and if they choose to acknowledge that through prayer or meditation, who am I to say that they are deluded?

However, I might use "delusion" to describe an individual's religious belief when the belief is literal, extreme, and clearly in defiance of both social norms and evidence to the contrary, and it creates problems for them in daily life and social interactions.
 

dream_decoder

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Religious belief is rather childish in this day and age.
I view religious adults in the same way I'd view an adult that insisted the tooth fairy was real.
It seems to be a desire to not be alone, and to have a 'parent' figure that cares, somewhere out there in the ether, but it doesn't hold up against science.
I'm happy for anyone that it makes happy but they seem a bit simple, and I struggle to take them seriously.
 

PeteByrdie

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There seems to be an assumed correlation between delusion and insanity. At this stage in my life, I've become fairly convinced some level of delusion is a typical trait of the healthy human brain.
 

Naughty_Felid

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Religious belief is rather childish in this day and age.
I view religious adults in the same way I'd view an adult that insisted the tooth fairy was real.
It seems to be a desire to not be alone, and to have a 'parent' figure that cares, somewhere out there in the ether, but it doesn't hold up against science.
I'm happy for anyone that it makes happy but they seem a bit simple, and I struggle to take them seriously.
I think you are oversimplifying what belief brings to people. It's not just about worshipping an extraordinary being, it's about community and morality. It's a sense of belonging and adopting a shared code to live by.
 

EnolaGaia

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I think you are oversimplifying what belief brings to people. It's not just about worshipping an extraordinary being, it's about community and morality. It's a sense of belonging and adopting a shared code to live by.
This shared or social aspect to the topic is the real crux of the cited article and the published paper that is the article's focal subject:

Religion and delusion
Ryan T. McKay and Robert M. Ross
Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 40, August 2021, Pages 160-166.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X20301986

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the central reference on mental health issues and disorders according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA; not to be confused with the American Psychological Association also known as APA). The latest (fifth) edition - the DSM 5 - was issued in 2013. This edition modified the definition of 'delusion' so as to maintain the requirement that a delusional belief be false or at least questionable while adding an exception or exclusion for cases in which the questionable belief is widely accepted within the person's / patient's culture or subculture. This exception based on social acceptance did not appear in the DSM 3 or DSM 4.

The actual focus of the debate isn't so much whether religious beliefs constitute delusions in any absolute or generic sense, but instead whether they represent 'delusion' in the formal sense as defined and evaluated within psychiatric circles and practice.
 

Mikefule

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Religious belief is rather childish in this day and age.
I view religious adults in the same way I'd view an adult that insisted the tooth fairy was real.
It seems to be a desire to not be alone, and to have a 'parent' figure that cares, somewhere out there in the ether, but it doesn't hold up against science.
I'm happy for anyone that it makes happy but they seem a bit simple, and I struggle to take them seriously.
Not all religious beliefs are of the same kind. Not all concepts of God are the same. Not all religions are monotheistic. Not all are based on a sacred text or a divine revelation.

It is not even a single spectrum with "at one end" the simple belief of the child who recites a prayer to Jesus before going to bed, and at the other, the philosopher drawing sophisticated distinctions between 7 kinds of monism.

Instead, there are several possible spectra along several axes. Some people's faith gives them a lifetime of fear and guilt; for others, faith gives a lifetime of feeling loved and secure; others find in their belief a justification for whatever wicked deeds they wish to justify. Some people believe in a "personal God": an interactive intelligence with a purpose; others believe only in a divine principle. For some, God is "revealed" and for others, God is inherently mysterious, and so on.

To lump all these together and disparage them equally is as unfair as treating all cryptozoologists as equally "fringe and crazy" whether they believe in the continued survival of a recently extinct carnivorous marsupial; a possible unknown species of large eel in a Scottish loch; a 40 foot flying bird with glowing eyes; or Slenderman.
 

escargot

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Religious belief is rather childish in this day and age.
I view religious adults in the same way I'd view an adult that insisted the tooth fairy was real.
It seems to be a desire to not be alone, and to have a 'parent' figure that cares, somewhere out there in the ether, but it doesn't hold up against science.
I'm happy for anyone that it makes happy but they seem a bit simple, and I struggle to take them seriously.
With you on all that.

Not all religious beliefs are of the same kind. Not all concepts of God are the same. Not all religions are monotheistic. Not all are based on a sacred text or a divine revelation.

It is not even a single spectrum with "at one end" the simple belief of the child who recites a prayer to Jesus before going to bed, and at the other, the philosopher drawing sophisticated distinctions between 7 kinds of monism.

Instead, there are several possible spectra along several axes. Some people's faith gives them a lifetime of fear and guilt; for others, faith gives a lifetime of feeling loved and secure; others find in their belief a justification for whatever wicked deeds they wish to justify. Some people believe in a "personal God": an interactive intelligence with a purpose; others believe only in a divine principle. For some, God is "revealed" and for others, God is inherently mysterious, and so on.

To lump all these together and disparage them equally is as unfair as treating all cryptozoologists as equally "fringe and crazy" whether they believe in the continued survival of a recently extinct carnivorous marsupial; a possible unknown species of large eel in a Scottish loch; a 40 foot flying bird with glowing eyes; or Slenderman.
Not at all. Every religion teaches that there is a supernatural being, or more than one or dozens or hundreds, watching and judging humans. We can get that with Santa and it's time we grew up.
 

dream_decoder

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I think you are oversimplifying what belief brings to people. It's not just about worshipping an extraordinary being, it's about community and morality. It's a sense of belonging and adopting a shared code to live by.
We already have that, it's called society, Religions divide societies, they don't bring them together.
Religions don't give us morality, many of them tell us it's ok to pervert our morality to smite unbelievers.
Religions imply that they have some special secret knowledge that puts them in favour with a divine being, but zero
evidence to back it up; we've seen through the lies.
 

Naughty_Felid

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We already have that, it's called society, Religions divide societies, they don't bring them together.
Religions don't give us morality, many of them tell us it's ok to pervert our morality to smite unbelievers.
Religions imply that they have some special secret knowledge that puts them in favour with a divine being, but zero
evidence to back it up; we've seen through the lies.
Look you've got no argument from me but just because I hate religion doesn't mean that I can just reject it. I've lived in a couple of countries that have towns where after 21:30hrs I can't go and buy an alcoholic drink. That's because they were formerly religious temperance towns and it's still ingrained in the town's culture even though it is ridiculous. Also, don't get me started on Easter holidays where alcohol sales are banned on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Like it or not every society is based on some sort of religion. From dos and don'ts, acceptable behaviors, public holidays to our laws, and a lot of rulers too. Just because you can reject that now does not mean it's not firmly implanted in everything we do.
 

Cochise

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Look you've got no argument from me but just because I hate religion doesn't mean that I can just reject it. I've lived in a couple of countries that have towns where after 21:30hrs I can't go and buy an alcoholic drink. That's because they were formerly religious temperance towns and it's still ingrained in the town's culture even though it is ridiculous. Also, don't get me started on Easter holidays where alcohol sales are banned on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Like it or not every society is based on some sort of religion. From dos and don'ts, acceptable behaviors, public holidays to our laws, and a lot of rulers too. Just because you can reject that now does not mean it's not firmly implanted in everything we do.
Most people seem to confuse religion and faith. Religion is essentially an earthly power structure. Faith - or belief if you prefer - is personal.
 

dr wu

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I recall this quote:
“Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: 'When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.”

;)
 
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