Some psychologists claim that religious faith is delusion. This is not especially new and was famously asserted by Sigmund Freud in Moses and Monotheism in 1939 but the propensity of human beings to believe what they would prefer rather than accept reality, even in the face of a considerable weight of evidence against them, is so great and so prevalent that it would be a rare individual indeed who was not under one kind of delusion or another. In politics, dieting, fashion, anti-vaccine movements, homeopathy, quack and alternative therapies generally, the list is endless. Delusions are as rife and rampant among us as are infectious diseases.
So, whilst not necessarily disagreeing, either with Freud or his modern counterparts, I do not find this idea particularly interesting. I would argue however that strong beliefs in a supernatural, higher authority or creator without evidence (in a word, faith) indicates the presence of at least some level of mental illness. It seems obvious to me that genocide, mass murder, the beheading of non-believers, burning people alive, the degradation of women, abuse of children, the marginalisation and vilification of sections of humanity, proselytising through education and law making to control the beliefs of others in the name or context of religious faiths and their gods, participation in medieval ritual, is evidence enough of psychological disorder. Even at the everyday level a belief in the existence of spirits, ghosts, angels, fairies, gods and devils, bearing in mind that there is no evidence whatever to justify it, is at best delusional and a sign of the abandonment of reason and of mental inbalance.
I would also assert that faith should be classified as an addiction rather like pathological gambling which was first classified as an addiction as far back as the 1980’s in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by the American Psychiatrists Association. Faith addiction and gambling addiction have a remarkable number of parallels, an irrational expectation of a better life by continuing the addictive activity, an unreasonable rejection of arguments against it, endurance of privations to allow the addiction to be satisfied, the commitment of immoral acts to satisfy uncontrollable urges or feed the addiction, accepting loss of values and dignity for the sake of the addiction, irrational argument in favour of continuing and loss of social conscience. Indeed the trauma associated with giving up a faith addiction is so great that there are now organised societies whose purpose is to relieve suffering and aid rehabilitation into normal life just as there are for gambling addicts.
Between the two addictions there are also parallels in the area of risk. Perhaps an attraction to risk plays a part in the addiction but hardened gamblers are aware that on average the odds are against them and quite heavily so. Choosing faith over evidence and reality is also taking a risk with the odds very heavily stacked against. Accepting a life determined by and in fear of a supernatural authority in unfounded hope and without any evidence to justify such a course is to expose oneself to unnecessary and extreme danger. Weirdly it is claimed that such beliefs can be safety nets at once consoling and reassuring, an ever-present, absolute refuge in sad or traumatic times and even a source of meaning and purpose.
The risk however is that reality, which constantly asserts itself with the hard knock of truth and fact, will eventually win over the mindless bigotry of irrational faith. It will! Historically it has done so time after time and without any reversal to date religious conviction has always eventually been forced to give way to reality.
Truth only goes one way and remains persistently true in its quiet, subversive way whether we like it or not. To awaken one sun-flooded morning in a drench of reality with lifelong delusions exposed to a newly aware, free mind is an “epiphany” of sorts but one which destroys selves comprehensively and renders lives, up to the point of revelation, utterly and irredeemably wasted. Such a risk must surely be avoided.
Ask yourself which is the safest, the least risky choice of a route through life? Is it to be a belief system from the bronze age, the beliefs of illiterate, ignorant, superstitious, middle-eastern goat herders controlled by a priestly elite or is it to be a system of carefully measured, weighed and adjudicated knowledge brought to our understanding by the rational endeavours of man, his curiosity and his science?
The first claims an absolute, irrefutable and infallible basis for living, is dogmatic, authoritarian, patriarchal and judgemental characterised by conservative stasis. The other is democratic, questioning, liberal, even handed and accepts fallibility as a cornerstone of its method of advancement. The first leads to bigotry and hypocrisy at every contradiction of scientific discovery, the other leads to acceptance, re-evaluation and open-mindedness characterised by liberal progressiveness.
It is no surprise at all, contrary to most faiths, to find that the Earth is not flat, that it orbits the Sun and is nearly 14 billion years old. A planet where life evolves and where life has been seeded from the universe surrounding it with the same building blocks that have almost certainly seeded other lives on other planets yet to be discovered.
I for one will not travel through a life defined by ancient beliefs. I reject their ‘vale of tears’ mantra, false hope, and their attempts to load me with undeserved guilt. I will not be a victim of their great con trick and their false promise of better times when I’m dead! Morality and ethics were not invented by religions so I can be a good human, a far better human in fact, without being under the threat of eternal pain from a vicious and vindictive deity. I will, when I meet one of life’s difficulties, cry my tears as I feel necessary but hastily and without fear get back into the thick of it to carry on living life while I have any left.
Unless death saves them it is but a matter of time before revelation comes to the faithful. I wish them well on their journey but the risk of a late dawning of reality is too great for me to travel with them on their highway to a Hell of sorts.