Can belief in the absurd be considered a mental disorder?

To entertain belief in an imaginary friend is to dwell on the ficticious. While I feel that the human imagination is one of our best features, I also fear that societal forces and specific institutions have evolved into psychological enslavers, manipulating this aspect of our intelligence and our natural brain function.

Imagination is an amazing quality of the human spirit, and has brought us so much good by augmenting the quantity and quality of human life. Any parent will tell you that the birthday card your young child made is always more special than the one that was bought.

Yet over time, people starting hating themselves and killing each other. Why? Belief in the absurd.

It's absurd to think that you are inherently broken or forever in need of direction and submission. It's also absurd to think that we need to hate, mutilate, desecrate, denigrate or annihilate as a result of competing fairy tales.

I've only studies philosophy and not psychology or psychiatry. I have no training in mental disorders, but religion just seems cookoo. I might not bother with the subject, but people are suffering and I thought I should say something.

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Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 9, 2014 at 8:57pm

"How do you want to define a mental disorder, then?  You could define it to include religion.  But irrationality that's a part of a society is different from a mental disorder that makes it difficult for someone to function in their society.

Are you asking if the psychiatric concept of a mental illness extends naturally to religion?  That's the question I was answering."

Thank you for advancing the discussion. I like your use of 'their society.' As you and others likely know, "Kamikazi" means 'Divine Wind.' It's the Japanese version of an Islamic suicide bomber.

To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, "Good people will do good things, bad people will do bad thing. But to get a good person to do bad things, that takes religion." 

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 9, 2014 at 8:46pm

jay H "But by usual definition, disorder involves significant deviation from the population norm, and there is no doubt that religion IS the norm."

Religious absurdities are very geographically oriented. The fact that each locality has it's own variety of absurdity is noteworthy. Locally, Christians have always thought believed and claimed there were important problems for which they had the valuable answers/ instructions.

I guess if you make a habit of scaring people to make a living, you should be regarded as such. 

So maybe the religious aren't crazy, but they are a fascinating subject of research regarding history and sociology. It's just a shame that it causes so much suffering, and I think suffering and insanity really fuel each other. Of course, this only echoes Voltaire. 

Comment by Luara on July 9, 2014 at 6:06pm

I think to confuse reality with fiction cannot be considered rational.  I also think that people can be social without creepy superstition.

How do you want to define a mental disorder, then?  You could define it to include religion.  But irrationality that's a part of a society is different from a mental disorder that makes it difficult for someone to function in their society.

Are you asking if the psychiatric concept of a mental illness extends naturally to religion?  That's the question I was answering. 

Or are you observing that religious belief is irrational?  Not many here would argue with that.

Comment by jay H on July 9, 2014 at 4:26pm

There are some good points raised here.

It's tempting to call religion a disorder, because it seems quite silly to us. But by usual definition, disorder involves significant deviation from the population norm, and there is no doubt that religion IS the norm.

Evolution (natural selection) does not 'care' one bit about truth. It rewards survival and breeding success. The powerful social instincts in humans have enabled them to adapt to situations, and organize more effectively than any other animal. Sharing group behavioral traits (not necessarily religious) through spoken and unspoken rules, adapting one's mindset to that of the tribe probably had more to do with our evolutionary success than our intelligence (a species of intelligent but isolationist apes would not have done so well).

Yes people adapt to their birth environment, food, culture, even religion (which is a kind of culture). That's part of being human.

It's great to break free from the parts that are irrational. But not always easily done.

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 9, 2014 at 7:17am

Luara,

Religious people also may have personal motivations for taking their subjective experience of "God" to be objective - such as finding this to be helpful for them personally. 

I'm skeptical that religion actually helps. Religion may provide periodic relief, but only from the suffering they cause in the first place, which to me is not helpful.

So insanity and religion have things in common, but they're also quite distinct.  They are distinct because humans are profoundly social creatures.

I think to confuse reality with fiction cannot be considered rational. I also think that people can be social without creepy superstition. This is why I got involved with Sunday Assembly.

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 9, 2014 at 7:13am

Freethinker,

I agree that it is brainwashing, and that might be a better word. Deluded, that might be a better word too.

Like I said, people suffer because of a belief in the absurd, and perhaps rational grounding can minimize that suffering. 

Comment by Freethinker31 on July 8, 2014 at 8:34pm

I would rather think of theists  as  being  brainwashed.....They  all can't be insane.....although I find it so difficult that in 2014  so many  still believe  in fantasy aka god...and the bible which is so  outdated it is pathetic.....written at a time when knowledge was at such a minimum...in fact   it was written  when  writing  anything  was in its  infancy.....Since religion indoctrinates  people  from infancy  it may take a deprogramming effort  like we do  to  cult  victims  to make  people  more aware of true  reality......

Comment by Luara on July 7, 2014 at 4:56am

Religious people also may have personal motivations for taking their subjective experience of "God" to be objective - such as finding this to be helpful for them personally. 

That is similar to insane people.  But insane people generally need a biochemical "push" to develop their delusions, their "religion with one believer". 

So insanity and religion have things in common, but they're also quite distinct.  They are distinct because humans are profoundly social creatures.

Comment by Luara on July 7, 2014 at 4:45am

Both religion and insanity involve taking one's subjective reality as objective reality.

The religious person takes their subjective experience to be objective because their society approves of doing that.  Their subjective experience comes to seem objective because the others around have a similar subjective experience.  So it's "obvious" to them that their subjective experience of "God" refers to something objectively real.  Nobody may ever have asked them to think critically about the objective reality of "God". 

Insane people have a different reason for regarding their subjective experiences as objective.  It's some combination of physiological things going on in their brains that cause them to be delusional, and a very powerful need they have to explore personal issues, so powerful that it turns into a kind of waking dream that's reality for them. 

most people are crazy with stupid, abused, absurd, terrified and/or meek opinions of themselves and others

That's not what I meant.  Rather, that there are many unwritten rules about how to act.  One thing that gets people labelled as "crazy" is to not follow the unwritten rules.  And one aspect of insanity is tending to disregard those unwritten rules. 

For example, someone who is crazy might dress weirdly.  Or climb trees in public places.  Or stop to smell the flowers, and become entranced with smelling the flowers, and stay there smelling the flowers.  It wouldn't even occur to most people in a normal state of mind, to violate that kind of unwritten rule.  Those rules are usually invisible to non-crazy people, they are so thoroughly trained to obey them. 

And someone who's religious isn't particularly liable to violate those unwritten rules.  Someone can be religious and be quite sane in a biochemical sense. 

In that way, excluding religious faith from the DSM makes sense.  Religion is about our society's acceptance and promotion of delusion - not about an individual's tendency towards delusion. 

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 6, 2014 at 6:02pm

Luara, I will go along. I agree with you that "Insanity has an aspect of not conforming to social norms.  Religion is partly about enforcing the social norms."

That's the problem - most people are crazy with stupid, abused, absurd, terrified and/or meek opinions of themselves and others. Certainly there are other realities which contribute to similar atrocities. Certainly there are other paranoias that come from different causes. I thought this site would be a good forum to address the religious one.

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