For some time now, I have been watching the atheists arguments against religion with a rather fatalistic perspective. I have accepted that those who adhere to a religious doctrine have a part of their mind, what has been called the "religious mind", walled off from reason. There are many theists who in every other way appear to be rational, intelligent, and sensitive people. I have believed that this is an irreversible state against which it is futile to try to change. This opinion is mostly based on the pernicious and repetitive pattern seen in atheist/theist arguments. The pattern is basically:
1. There is a religious claim with no basis in fact or reality.
2. Atheists thoroughly discredit the claim with logical arguments.
3. Religious adherents deny reality and rely on conviction in an unfalsifiable claim. They generally fall back on some version of "I know it in my heart."
4. Atheists throw up hands in frustration, walk away, vent anger, and/or resort to name calling, i.e. religiotard, etc.
5. Theists turn away angry both angry at having their cherished beliefs questioned and with the impression that atheists are mean spirited and unfriendly.
I also have heard the argument, sometimes from an evolutionary perspective, that "humans are just built to believe" and that "people need answers to the question of the meaning of life". I have accepted these arguments and shrugged my shoulders, in effect saying that there is nothing for it. However, never in my life have I personally felt the need to "believe" or felt that a made up answer to the meaning of life was any satifactory answer at all. But I and those like me are probably not "built" differently in this regard. There is not likely to be a "religious" gene which predisposes someone to be more likely to believe in theistic ideas than others. So what is it that makes me have a lack of belief and a theist cling for dear life to theirs?
I began to wonder if there might be some more effective way to reach these people and convince them of the truth that seems so clearly obvious to a rational thinker. I really began to think about what was going on in the minds of the theists. I realized more and more surely that, just as Richard Dawkins accurately put it, these people were suffering from delusion.
This seems a trivial statement, but, realize that this is a very specific medical term which has some very significant implications. The most widely accepted psychological medical manual, the DSM IV (diagnostic and statistical manual) defines delusions as false beliefs based on incorrect inference about external reality that persist despite the evidence to the contrary and these beliefs are not ordinarily accepted by other members of the person's culture or subculture. I would propose that the last part of the definition should not be included. What does it matter what the person's culture or subculture ordinarily accept? Were the people in the subculture of Charles Manson not delusional? We're the Germans of the 1940's not delusional? Culturally accepted delusional beliefs should not be excluded just because a great many people are deluded. I propose a subtype of delusional disorder which I would denote as "culturally supported" and which would carry specific implications for treatment.
It is a fact that delusional thought is notoriously hard to treat with reasoned counterargument. The underlying pshycological state that perpetuates and supports the delusion is the target of successful treatment. For religions, the basis for delusional thought can be complex and varied among individuals. However, the crux of the matter (pun intended), is that the delusion is most commonly introduced before the age of reason by trusted adults. The delusion is blindly accepted as truth and held as a cherished and valuable belief by the individual for which she is rewarded with acceptance and praise. Once the person is capable of complex reasoning, the delusion is entrenched and the psycological cost of rejecting the delusion is percieved, perhaps unconsciously, to be greater than the cost of the cognitive dissonance required to maintain the delusion in the face of reasoned argument.
How we best go about targeting this psychological state in an effective way to bring about a resolution to the dissonance that most religious people suffer under will be the subject of my attention in the time to come. I look forward to the comments and insight of people on this site that will hopefully help to free more and more of humanity from these dark age superstitions that seem so ineradicable.