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 Michael Penn on July 6, 2014 at 10:28am

The difference between a cult and a religion is indeed the size, and given enough time cults do become religion. Theistic belief is not inherited, but is passed on early in life when the person hearing about it has no developed system of logic and reason. At this early stage the young person does have trust in what their parents say and do. This trust is maintained without evidence even as logic and reason develope. Hence the bible saying "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." In other words, brainwash them early!

Is this a mental disorder? Yes, but it is a created disorder taught to young children before any sense of reasoning sets in. The more lucky ones are those raised with no sense of god at all. Unfortunately, theists believe that these people have no morals and would be out there somewhere robbing and raping all they could. Apparently the theist has not read his bible.

Comment by Joan Denoo on July 6, 2014 at 10:25am

For those adults who put their faith in religion and believe the scripture is the word of god seem to not have a skeptical nature. Many don't question, some don't doubt. They enjoy the ceremony and ritual, the community, the kindness of the god preached to them by men and women who use apologetics as their guide. Many religious people do not read the scriptures from cover to cover. They have access to cherry-picked passages, guided by their leader, or they explain away the atrocities with some rationalized notion of why god or his (sic) representatives state. 

Why would god instruct slaughter of whole towns if it were a loving god? Why would god bring down pestilence, disease, misery if it were a caring god? Why would their representative perform miracles in one period of history some 2, 3 or 4,000 years ago, and not perform such magic today? Why do modern people thank god for successful outcomes and not blame it for tragedies? Why would a human being put trust in something unseen and unheard even if feeling good provides sufficient reason? Taking illegal drugs causes people to feel good and that is not justification for their use. Why would some sincere believer go to a country halfway round the world to preach their beliefs and scare the daylight out of primitive people and feel justified in doing so?  

Granted, some people feel helpless, depressed, anxious with modern life and turn to religion to find peace. Sadly, that peace is also a delusion. 

Some people like to feel they have control over events in their lives and find an anxiety in not knowing some aspect of their lives. Living with ambiguity is one of the hallmarks of a healthy person.

Yes, religion is an inherited behavior for those who grow up in a religious home. That is not necessarily the case with conversion of an adult. Religion is a coping strategy and like all coping, it is a conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems and conflicts. It seeks to master, minimize or tolerate stress and anxiety. 

Ego defense mechanisms developed in a child may or may not serve them well as an adult. For those who use childhood coping strategies on real world problems often find confusion, frustration, resentment, and many other feelings that are the reasonable and rational feelings of an adult trying to survive in this cockamamie world.

The most successful strategies look at what is real, attempt to put aside delusions, and pursue a process of effective problem solving or conflict resolution, which are learned behaviors. 

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 6, 2014 at 10:17am

@ Sentient Biped - I agree that 'religion must have an adaptive value,' but I propose that the value is only for warlords, pedophiles and other sadists. It is at the expense of abused masochists.

Comment by Loren Miller on July 6, 2014 at 9:47am

My sense is that a mental disorder may be more inherent to a given person and may be the result of a chemical or structural abnormality in his or her nervous system, as well as being possibly made worse by external treatment.  Conversely, religion almost by definition is an INHERITED behavior, gained from the immediate social environment in most cases and transmitted by MEMES.

I'm hardly qualified to give a full analysis of just WHAT religion is ... but there's my $0.02 worth.

Comment by Joan Denoo on July 6, 2014 at 9:32am

A child born into a family of fundamentalist religions learns how to believe and have faith in delusions and self-censors doubts and questions. 

An adult raised in such a family and retains the fallacies has a dysfunctional mental disorder. 

An adult who accepts the errors and takes on the mantle of religion does so out of flawed thinking. 

The individual has rights to think and act as he or she believes, however, the moment their thoughts and acts interfere with my thoughts and acts, I retain, not only the right, but the responsibility to speak out loud and to take effective action in opposition. 

Comment by Daniel Wachenheim on July 6, 2014 at 9:29am

I guess it depends on how you define disorder.  The majority of people in the world are religious.  Religion must have an adaptive value, in the sense that if it was maladaptive, wouldn't it have died our.  My adaptive value, I mean that in the sense of natural selection, where a function or structure leads to increased procreation and survival.

It may well be that atheism, or freethought, is maladaptive.  Even if correct in the scientific and a-theological aspects. Is being factually and logically correct, adaptive?  If not, how do we define religion as a mental disorder?

Not arguing with your point.  I think religion promotes craziness, abuse, thoughtlessness, oppression, violence.   But in the sense of mental disorder....  who decides what is a disorder, and what are the criteria for deciding that?  In a logical sense, or an evidence-based sense?

I agree a religion is big, a cult is small.  Some religions are less all-controlling than some cults, but I don't know how the #s pan out.

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 6, 2014 at 9:25am

Thanks for the response.

You feel that dysfunctional learned behavior is a more accurate way to characterize religion than by calling it a mental disorder. Is that right?

Comment by Loren Miller on July 6, 2014 at 9:20am

I see religion as less a mental disorder than a dysfunctional learned behavior, passed down from parent to child over multiple generations.  This behavior is perpetuated by tradition and fear and a failure to look at that behavior with any kind of detached or objective viewpoint.  It amounts to an inherited bad habit, transmitted from older believers who should know better yet don't to those who have no defense against its illogic because of their lack of sophistication and near automatic deference to their elders.

So no, I don't think it's a mental disorder ... though it IS perhaps the single most preventable tragedy of human history.

Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on July 6, 2014 at 9:18am

Something akin to 'standing on the hose,' religion seems to worm it's way into a person's head - standing between thought and belief. Religion then serves as a barrier and therefore a governor in and of the mind.

I just a related video by youtuber "mccainisthrough."

In the video, he points out that the only difference between a cult and a religion is size.



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