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    • #670
      Argumentative Atheist
      Points: 100,918

      In a previous discussion I explained the definition of a mental illness from a common usage point of view and a clinical point of view [1]. In both cases religion does not count as a mental illness. In that discussion I promised to write on the subject of religion as a delusion, which is another claim often made by atheists and irreligious people.

      We have to be careful with the term delusion, because there are multiple common use cases for the term. So to start we will define two different contextual versions of common usage for the term. We will be using Merriam-Webster as a source for these definitions [2]. Version one, the version that causes the most confusion, is:

      “something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated”

      In this context religion clearly is a delusion. That being a false belief. By using this definition we are essentially admitting that everyone is deluded to some degree and that religious people being deluded means very little and has very few real world implications. I am perfectly happy to agree that religions are false beliefs that are not backed up by a scientific understanding of the world.

      However it should be pointed out that this is generally not the context with which irreligious people apply the term, nor is it the context that most people understand the term. When irreligious people state religion is a delusion they usually use a phrase similar to “religious people are delusional”. This is most often understood to mean that the person you are talking about has a psychiatric condition rather than simply false beliefs. This leads onto our second common usage definition of delusion:

      “a false idea or belief that is caused by mental illness”

      To discuss delusion as a mental illness specifically we will need a psychiatric definition. We will take the psychiatric definition from a paper published in the Industrial Psychiatric Journal “Understanding Delusions” [3] to ensure a comprehensive definition:

      “A delusion is a belief that is clearly false and that indicates an abnormality in the affected person’s content of thought. The false belief is not accounted for by the person’s cultural or religious background or his or her level of intelligence. The key feature of a delusion is the degree to which the person is convinced that the belief is true. A person with a delusion will hold firmly to the belief regardless of evidence to the contrary. Delusions can be difficult to distinguish from overvalued ideas, which are unreasonable ideas that a person holds, but the affected person has at least some level of doubt as to its truthfulness. A person with a delusion is absolutely convinced that the delusion is real. Delusions are a symptom of either a medical, neurological, or mental disorder.”

      In this context delusion is clearly used to indicate that the person suffering from delusion have a disorder of some form that actively prevents them from normal thinking processes. Religion, in general, does not fit this criteria. Religion is most often a product of upbringing and cultural background. You will note that in the psychiatric definition of a delusion religion is specifically noted as not being considered a cause of delusion. This is because while religion may be considered a false belief it is not caused by a disorder that prevents people from using normal thinking processes.

      Finally, we move onto why you should never state that religious people are deluded, even if you simply mean that they have a belief not supported by science. Professor Andrew Sims has published a paper on the subject in the The British journal of psychiatry: the journal of mental science called “Is Faith Delusion?” [4] and you can find a pre-print of the paper here [5]. Professor Sims is a Christian  and obviously has an interest in considering religion to not be a delusion, but he also has some important points to make. The most important, at least in regards to the use of the term “delusion”, is that while previously delusion was commonly understood to simply mean that someone had a false belief it is now much more commonly understood to mean someone is mentally ill. As Sims points out:

      “In English law, delusion has been the cardinal feature of insanity for the last 200 years. It is a mitigating circumstance and can convey diminished responsibility.”

      If we wish to call religions false beliefs I personally agree with this statement. However we must be much more circumspect in using the term “delusion” as even if it is not our intention it leads others to believe that we are accusing all religious people of being mentally ill. Being religious is not a mental illness. A mental illness is a psychological or neurological condition that means our thought processes are not working normally. A belief in a religion is a result of cultural upbringing and is not itself an indication of abnormal thinking processes.


      [1] https://freethinkersforum.net/forums/topic/why-religion-is-not-a-mental-illness/
      [2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/delusion
      [3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016695/
      [4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275815395_Is_Faith_Delusion_Why_Religion_is_Good_for_Your_Health
      [5] https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/members/sigs/spirituality-spsig/is-faith-delusion-andrew-sims-editedx.pdf

    • #3988
      Points: 23

      I totally disagree for reasons you have already stated that the majority of these opinions or published papers are created with both feet in the religious side of the argument. I have read Richard Dawkins and he forms the view with very good argument that religion is  a form of Delusion. You may wish to read his book the “God Delusion”.

      Now my reasoning is that any person who believes that they can go and sit in a confessional box and divulge their sins to a priest and then be absolved of those sins and be given the right to enter heaven as a clean skin is seriously deluded and a danger to the greater part of society. All christians believe they can on their deathbed be absolved of their sins and go to some delusional afterlife as a clean spirit. This is dangerous because it absolves them of any moral obligation to act in a humane and compassionate way.

      Religion is a sanctuary for those who are terrified of death and they have created this myth that subjugates them to a system of control to the point they are willing to pay for this belief financially and a devotion that transcends all logical thought and ignores science. So I will have no compunction about calling religious people delusional.

      I will leave you with another definition of delusion from the Oxford dictionary. Like opinions we can cherry pick quotes and definitions all you like but at the end of the day they can not prove their God exists.


      Learn to pronounce


      characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder. “hospitalization for schizophrenia and delusional paranoia”

      based on or having faulty judgement; mistaken.
      “their delusional belief in the project’s merits never wavers”

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by Tony-Beaty.
      • #3991
        Argumentative Atheist
        Points: 100,918

        1) Richard Dawkins is a biologist, not a psychologist.

        2) Why would you assume I have not read The God Delusion? I have. It puts forwards a lot of good arguments, but like most things by Richard Dawkins it is very self satisfied, very self congratulatory and you can see that he helps himself to feel superior by denigrating religious people. This is a common theme with RD’s arguments.

        3) I did not cherry pick definitions at all, I presented three different definitions of delusion for consideration, two from a commonly used dictionary in which I addressed all definitions presented by the dictionary, and a psychological definition of delusion as presented in a peer reviewed paper specifically on delusion.

        Even if we ignore that and just use the definition you present, your definition is itself evidence for my argument. You actually present two separate definitions, in the first you may note the word “idiosyncratic”. Idiosyncratic beliefs are ones that are peculiar or unusual. Religious belief is in no way peculiar or unusual. In fact in many places in the world it is more unusual to be an atheist, as such if you are going to go by this definition to describe a delusional person an argument could be made to suggest that atheists are more delusional than religious people. It also goes on to specify that this is a characteristic of mental illness. Religion is not a mental illness.

        The second definition you provide characterizes delusional to mean nothing more than having faulty judgement, and presents it as a synonym for being mistaken. In this case it is essentially meaningless, and literally anyone can reasonably be called delusional. Everyone is mistaken about something. It is impossible to be correct about everything. If this is your justification for calling religious people delusional then you are also delusional, as am I, as is every other person you have ever met.

        4) Religion can be a symptom of delusion, but delusions are by nature immutable. They don’t change to account for the changing understanding of the person who believes the delusion. This is not true for most religious belief, which notably changes depending on the individuals understanding of their own religion. Which can change quickly depending on circumstances. In fact one of the most notable aspects of religious belief is how easily they can adapt to circumstances.

        There are times when this is not true, sometimes religion is a symptom of delusion, but this is only true when the delusion is a feature of a medical, neurological or mental disorder. I really think you would benefit from reading the paper I gave a link to on delusion, it is specifically about understanding delusion and is titled “Understanding Delusion”. It goes into detail to specify the differences between a delusion and an overvalued idea, which is what I think you may be confusing the term with. You can find it here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016695/

    • #3993
      Points: 23

      Okay so we disagree on the dictionary meaning of delusion. My comment was angled more towards the morality of religion and their inability to provide any proof of the existence of any of the 4000 plus deities worshipped by these people who can not have a clear understanding of who or what they are worshipping as all they have is myth and doctrine. My definition supplied said “typically” which suggests not all who hold false beliefs are sufferers of a mental illness. And I fully understand that in some way we are all deluded as we have beliefs that can not be substantiated but in particular we are talking about religion here and the blind faith the practitioners use to justify the existence of these fictitious deities to the rest of the world. The scary thing is the power these deluded people wield over the majority of society and if you are an atheist it retards your standing in society to the point your life is in danger. Now that is delusion.

      And it is a sad world if you can not debate human behaviour without a Psychological Degree, I find Richard to be a very articulate and intelligent.

      • #3994
        Argumentative Atheist
        Points: 100,918

        Morality is a completely separate conversation that has nothing to do with the definition of delusion. I am not in any way going to try and defend religious morality.

        Religion is usually not a delusion. It is not in any way a mental illness. Mental illness can trigger delusions that involve religion, but religion itself is in no way a mental illness. This is discussed in a separate post I made on the subject [1].

        I will not argue that religions wield enormous power in society, and that this is in no way healthy. But you cannot honestly characterise the people who run them as deluded unless you mean it in a way that characterises everyone as deluded, essentially making the term meaningless. If instead you use the term to suggest that they are mentally ill then you are simply not correct. While some of them may be mentally ill, indeed being unhealthily narcissistic is overly represented at the top of just about any large organisation, the mental illness they may have is not a symptom of their religion.

        “Now that is delusion”. Nothing in the sentences prior to this statement indicates delusion. You point out how society is not structured in a sensible manner, and how people suffer as a result of this. But it is not an indication of delusion.

        As for Richard Dawkins, anyone can debate human behaviour, but if you are going to hold someone up as an authority figure, as you did, then you have to demonstrate that they have expertise in the field being discussed. Richard Dawkins, while an admirable scientist in many ways, does not. Being “articulate and intelligent” does not qualify you to be considered an authority figure on anything. I agree that he is articulate an intelligent, but I also find him pompous, arrogant and dismissive of views that he does not agree with/understand. His work on biology is amazing, his works on religion are amazing so long as you already agree with everything he’s saying.

        [1] https://freethinkersforum.net/topic/why-religion-is-not-a-mental-illness/

    • #4006
      Points: 23

      The rationale of your argument is nobody is deluded , you can believe anything you want regardless of it being fact or fiction.


      • #4007
        Argumentative Atheist
        Points: 100,918

        That’s not even close to the rationale of my argument. The closest approximation to your summary would be that if we consider being religious equal to being deluded then *everyone* is deluded. You basically ignored everything I said.

      • #4095
        Points: 18

        Argumentative Atheists, your comments were/are SPOT ON!!!  thank you for your clear and reasonable comments. A VERY RARE art form in today’s argumentative society that is more of “I’m right, your wrong” position in which NO ONE grows in knowledge, much less understanding.  Orthodoxy is clearly killing our society in all areas from economic to religious to political.  Painful.

      • #4098
        Argumentative Atheist
        Points: 100,918

        Thank you 🙂

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