This morning when I checked my Facebook account, I saw that several of my friends were thanking God for some reason or the other. By looking through only about half of the first page of this morning news feed, I have several friends that are “blessed by God”, another friend is thanking the lord for one more day of living, at least two people are passing a message that God is going to do great things for you tonight if you just forward the message on to 10 more people, and one is “overwhelmed by God’s goodness!!” As an active Atheist, you can imagine that many of my friends are also non-believers, and as such my news feed should be clearly skewed away from religious sentiment, and yet this is still what I see on a typical day. I can’t imagine what the Facebook feed looks like for a Southern Christian.
When I see a statement like “I’m overwhelmed by God’s goodness”, I really do wonder what that person is talking about. What string of supernatural events could possibly be occurring in a person’s life that is so profound, that one could be “overwhelmed”? In fact, what supernatural event could be occurring at all? What “goodness” in your life could only come to you through the aid of the supernatural? Maybe it’s just me, but statements like this really do make me scratch my head and ponder the mental condition of a person who thinks this way.
In Richard Dawkins famous book “The God Delusion”, he makes an excellent argument that the religious, particularly the highly religious, are suffering from the true mental disorder called delusion. The Wikipedia definition is “A delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence.” Most references follow up the above definition of delusion by excluding religious beliefs from its scope. Richard Dawkins makes the argument that religious belief should not get special treatment as it clearly fits within the parameters of a delusion. For the complete argument as to why religious belief falls squarely in the pathology of delusion, please read the opening chapter of the “God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.
So, if statements like “Thank the Lord for another day”, or “I’m overwhelmed by God’s goodness”, stem from delusional states of the mind, is there anything we can derive about the people making these statements? What is the mindset of person who praises God for saving their little girl, when in fact it was a hundred plus years of medical science and a decade of studying by medical personnel?
I have often thought that when a person gives the supernatural credit for something, it is almost always a statement of their own ignorance. The person doesn’t understand (or can’t understand) the medical science that went into saving their child, so they give the credit to something they can understand; the fantasy of the supernatural. When someone can’t understand the social mechanisms, coincidences, and the roll of chance behind the incredible string of good fortune they are currently experiencing, they explain it to themselves by giving credit to the supernatural. And when someone has a near-death experience that would have typically taken life, but in their case did not, the staggering odds that the cosmic forces of nature would align in so fortunate a way, seems almost inexplicable without a supernatural explanation.
The reason no one blames God for lightning anymore (think of Zeus) is because the basic scientific principles of electricity are widely understood by people today. When someone falls to the floor in a spasm, we no longer call a priest for an exorcism; we call an ambulance because we think the person is having a seizure. While I do think that knowledge, reason, conversational criticism, and open honest debate is the best solution for ending dogmatic beliefs, I’m not completely convinced that religious delusion can be rooted out solely with reason and evidence; it may require some serious psychology.
My friend Joe at Truth-Saves.com says that the religious practice a policy of “self-imposed ignorance”. Like a person trying to squeeze one more hour of sleep by covering their eyes to shade them from the morning sun, could the pathology of delusion include a component of voluntary ignorance? Like the old-saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. For people suffering from delusion, both the religious kind and the non-religious kind, their disease may prevent them from accepting knowledge and reason that contradicts their delusion.
This is why Bill O’Reilly can’t explain the tides, but the average 5th grader can. Clearly Bill O’Reilly won’t be winning any game shows on Fox television anytime soon. But is Bill O’Reilly practicing a self-imposed ignorance of grade-school science because of the pathology of delusion? I think so.
Many of us may inadvertently be suffering from false-beliefs right now. For example, one day mankind may find out that peanuts are in fact NOT an allergen, and that the reported reactions were actually due to mass-psychosis. If this were true, would it make us all clinically delusional? I think not, as long as we are willing to acknowledge the new evidence. Now, if an individual were unwilling to accept overwhelming and valid scientific evidence that proves peanuts are not an allergen, and continue to suffer psychosis induced reactions to peanuts, then that is indeed a sign that they are clinically delusional.
This morning, the US Military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has finally come to an end. When this policy was first put into place, it was considered ground-breaking and moral. Back in 1993, it was OK to tell a gay joke in open conversation, to expect homosexuals to stay quiet and hidden, and that gays and lesbians deserved to lose their careers if they chose to be open and honest about whom they were. Today, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” seems an atrociously discriminatory policy. American culture has truly progressed in the last 18 years.
The next big cultural battle now lies in front of us; the battle for reason and free inquiry. This battle is in many ways the opposite of what the gay rights movement went through. For homosexuals, they needed to change American culture so that it was no longer acceptable to poke fun at the gay life style. In the battle for reason and free inquiry, we need to change American culture so that it becomes acceptable to poke fun at the delusional.
I am not advocating some extra-harsh treatment of religion. Quite to the contrary, I only want religious beliefs placed under the exact same scrutiny our society places on all other belief systems. If you feel free to ridicule someone for actually following the advice from a psychic, you should be equally free in our society to ridicule the false-certainties of religion.
There will always be a portion of our population that will believe in the supernatural. If we look at the demographics of religious belief in America today, we see that 83% of Americans say they are religious, of that 40% claim to go to church on a weekly basis, but only 9% say that religion is the most important thing in their lives. This means that 43% of American say they are religious, but don’t go to church. The battle for reason and free inquiry should not be aimed at the extreme 9%, nor at the moderate 40%, but at the 43% of non-church going religious Americans.
The 43% of Americans that claim to be religious but don’t attend church are for the most part, only claiming this because it is currently the most socially acceptable thing to say. If the culture of America is changed so that it becomes acceptable to conversationally criticize the delusional and those that practice self-imposed ignorance, those 43% will feel free to say that religion has big social problems; and they will no longer claim to be religious. Once this happens, it will not take long for it will become clear to the average American that attendance in church does not make their children better moral citizens, but is in fact detrimental. When that realization finally occurs, the other 40% will stop going to church as well. This will leave us with just the extreme 9% of religious Americans, which is much more manageable.
The key to this tipping point starts by changing our culture so that it is acceptable to conversationally criticize statements like “I’m overwhelmed by God’s goodness!!” All of us need to challenge these statements and point out their delusional nature if we are to ever see the day when reason, facts, and evidence dominate the discussions of our political parties. We will always have to deal with that delusional 9%, but we can claim a victory for mankind when the last super-power on earth finally eliminates religious delusions from its public debates.
September 20, 2011