Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H
Gormley


Is Faith Delusion?
A Look at the Book by Andrew Sims - his inadvertent showing that religion is an illness

 

Andrew Sims is the author of Is Faith Delusion?  He is a former Professor of Psychiatry and President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and has also been Chairman of their Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group, so is exceptionally well qualified to address the subject.


Many, even believers suspect that faith in God or Christianity is a sign of a disturbed mind.


Sims as we say wants to argue that it is not. But he gives no sensible or non-delusional reason for the no. The jury is still out and religion is still under grave suspicion as dangerous to mental health if not an actual mind disorder.
 
The book's biggest flaw is its cardinal doctrine that if religious people have physically normal brains they are sane though they may report strange religious experiences and encounter what they believe to be God. That is nonsense. It is arrogant because nobody claims to know exactly how the human mind works or what forces there are that pull its strings.

 

Who is to say what a "normal" or "healthy" brain is? If everybody has healthy brains and think that God is making revelations to them all the time, then the consequences will be terrible. Normal life will be impossible. If everybody had mystical experiences all the time, that would prove that our criteria of a normal brain is faulty. Do not look at the brain and judge mystical experiences normal. Look at the consequences if everybody reported such experiences all the time. We judge a person who cuts their ears off for fun as abnormal simply because if everybody did that there would be grave problems and trouble. So those who have religious experiences are simply disturbed - period.

It is a mistake to assume that to be mentally ill, one must have wrong chemicals in the brain or abnormal brainwaves. The person who has a physically normal brain but who believes that the world is made of cheese is insane. God is an impersonal spirit if he exists. He does not reason or think for he knows all things. He does not have feelings. Though God is described as personal this is really not a helpful description for he is nothing like a person as we know it. Clearly people who say they have a relationship with him are as crazy if not worse than the seemingly sane and happy people who think they are in a relationship with their floor mop.

 
Page 86 states that if we believe in randomness then what happens in our minds is meaningless. So we need to believe that nothing is really random and God controls and knows all things.
 
We do need to believe in randomness. If I start thinking that winning the lottery was fixed by God then it makes no sense for me to enjoy things that come about by chance for I don't believe in chance. And why bother with lotteries if they are fixed anyway? Healthy people believe that some things are random and some things are not. Belief in God violates our nature and our welfare by inferring that chance is impossible and that what we think is chance is not chance at all.
 
Page 114 states that magic or superstitious thinking is different from religious experience. For example the magician thinks he can control God. The person who prays thinks he or she can't control God and that it is up to God to reply to the prayer or not. It says that Christians in British cultures on the whole are not superstitious and that they do not believe in superstitions or magic. Sims states that some religions are harmful and it is these that are bad for your health. He thinks religion only harms when it is abused.
 
If believers really believed that prayer does not manipulate God they would simply resign themselves to God's will by prayerfully saying, "Do what you will." But they ask for things. If you ask for a bike you are saying you want the bike whether it is God's will or not. If you were not doing that, you would be indifferent to getting the bike or not getting it for your only concern would be to see God's will done. You are not asking him to do his will but you are resigning yourself to his will. Asking then is not praying but is selfish cynical manipulation. Believers are superstitious. Period.
 
Also, people who pray and occultists who do magic spells both use excuses when they don't get what they pray or cast spells for. If a sick person dies, both conclude that the divine had to let the person die for a purpose and so the prayers or spells could not bring any results.
 
Page 121 reminds us that symptoms and signs are not the same thing. For example, a symptom of schizophrenia would be the sufferer has an auditory hallucination. A sign would be when he uses words that do not exist - made up words. A sign indicates what the disease is. The symptom is the patient's complaint or problem - eg depression. Page 124 says that if somebody reports an experience, you must learn what the experience means to him or her before diagnosing anything or deciding that the person is in fact not ill at all.
 
This is interesting. Surely the more a person prays then the more he gives signs that he could be mentally ill.
 
Page 150 tells us that if being a religious believer is a sign of mental illness then all religious activities are signs of mental problems.
 
"A delusion is a false, unshakeable idea or belief, which is out of keeping with the patient's educational, cultural and social background; it is held with extraordinary conviction and subjective certainty" (page 124).
 
This definition indicates that if you are the only person with a belief then the belief may be a delusion because the belief is not understandable or justifiable.
 
The Pharisees Jesus condemned were said by the gospels to be hypocrites. They were therefore out of keeping with their background. And they were so sure of themselves that they couldn't see how hypocritical they were. Jesus called them blind guides for that reason.
 
If a priest says mass backwards on a Sunday that is s sign he is deluded.
 
If a man argues that God exists because his Easter egg tasted good that shows he is deluded.
 
If a person doesn't wonder if they are deluded or not then that is a sign that they are deluded.
 
The deluded often love their delusions. They may PRETEND to wonder if they're deluded in order to seek support for their delusion.
 
If a person thinks very literally - eg that if they give their heart to God their heart has vanished from their body and is now in God's hands that is a sign of delusion.
 
Delusions can take any of the following forms:
 
Delusions of persecution

 

Morbid irrational jealousy

 

Delusions of grandeur

 

Delusions of love

 

Delusions of guilt

 

Delusions of control

 

Religious delusions (page 126).

 

The delusions are not bad simply because they are delusions but because they do harm. For example, to falsely think you are being persecuted is not good for you and neither is the idea that you have power and control that you do not have. Nobody needs treatment for harmless delusions. But if you believe in Bible Christianity you will feel persecuted by demons which are all around us according to Christ, feel jealous for God and hate to see people having any idols, feel that God loves you without evidence, feel that you can manipulate God though prayer and have religious delusions. Even if these are not necessarily delusions they are just as horrible. All together they are worse than having say a delusion of guilt.
 
Page 128 argues that though you can have religious delusions having religious faith is not necessarily delusion.
 
Sims lists the reasons why he thinks religious belief or faith is not delusion:
 
The beliefs are not against one's culture or social background. COMMENT - THEN THE REFORMERS MUST HAVE BEEN MENTALLY ILL FOR DEFYING ALL THAT WITH NEW RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. JESUS MUST HAVE BEEN DELUDED WHEN HE HAD SO MANY DIFFERENCES WITH HIS JEWISH BACKGROUND THAT HE DIED ALONE ON A CROSS.

 

They are understandable and justifiable.

 

COMMENT: HE SEEMS TO BE THINKING OF THE BELIEFS BEING UNDERSTANDABLE AND JUSTIFIABLE IN A PERSONAL BUT NOT EVIDENTIAL WAY. HE MIGHT SEE SOMEBODY BELIEVING BECAUSE THEIR COMMUNITY BELIEVES AS UNDERSTANDABLE AND JUSTIFIABLE. BUT THE FACT REMAINS, THAT UNLESS THE BELIEFS ARE BASED ON RESEARCH AND CRITICAL THOUGHT AND EVIDENCE THEY ARE NEITHER UNDERSTANDABLE OR JUSTIFIABLE. AND INDEED THE CHRISTIANS WHO CAN ABLY DEFEND AT LEAST SOME OF THEIR BELIEFS IN A RATIONAL WAY ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. MOST CANNOT AND SO THEY ARE DELUDED. PERIOD. ALSO THERE ARE BELIEFS THAT ARE NOT UNDERSTANDABLE OR JUSTIFIABLE. WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO BELIEVE THE MESSAGE OF THE BOOK "THE SECRET" THAT HITLER'S VICTIMS BROUGHT THEIR SUFFERING ON THEMSELVES FOR NOT USING THE MAGIC OF POSITIVE THINKING? ALSO, EVEN IF A RELIGION CAN PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT ITS BELIEFS ARE PROBABLY TRUE, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT IT REALLY BELIEVES BECAUSE OF THE EVIDENCE. IT IS POSSIBLE TO SAY YOU BELIEVE IN SOMETHING THERE IS EVIDENCE FOR WHILE YOU DON'T GIVE A TOSS ABOUT THE EVIDENCE. CAN YOU HAVE FAITH AND EVIDENCE FOR IT AND NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE OF THE EVIDENCE? ASSUMING FAITH DOESN'T ALWAYS DEPEND ON EVIDENCE THE ANSWER WOULD BE YES.

 

They are not crudely literal or concrete - eg, when you think you sense the voice of God in prayer you don't mean you hear an audible voice.

 

COMMENT: CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THAT GOD MOSTLY COMMUNICATES WITHOUT ACTUALLY SPEAKING. IF THERE IS NO GOD OR IF HE IS NOT COMMUNICATING THEN YOU ARE DELUDED FOR YOU ARE MISTAKING YOUR OWN IMPRESSIONS FOR HIS MESSAGE. IF BELIEVERS REALLY BELIEVE IN THIS FORM OF DIVINE COMMUNICATION, WHY DON'T THEY MURDER PEOPLE AND SAY THAT WAS BECAUSE THEY FELT THAT GOD TOLD THEM TO? IF GOD USES EVIL FOR GOOD THEN IF THEY FEEL HE IS TELLING THEM TO KILL, THERE IS NOTHING ANYBODY CAN DO TO REASON THEM OUT OF IT. ONCE YOU SAY GOD USES EVIL, YOU ADMIT THE POSSIBILITY THAT HE CAN COMMAND YOU TO KILL FOR HE KILLS ANYWAY. THE REALITY CHECK IS TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU. FEELING THAT GOD IS COMMUNICATING IS ACTUALLY MORE DELUSIONAL THAN HEARING AN AUDIBLE VOICE FOR YOU WILL NOT HEED THE VOICE JUST BECAUSE YOU HEAR IT BUT YOU MIGHT HEED IT BECAUSE YOU FEEL IT REALLY IS GOD. YOU HAVE MORE REASON TO TAKE A VOICE SERIOUSLY THAN ANY ALLEGED PSYCHIC POWER THAT TELLS YOU THAT GOD IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU INAUDIBLY AND THROUGH YOUR IMPRESSIONS AND EMOTIONS.

 

Believers understand that others may not accept their beliefs and that they might be wrong.

 

COMMENT: SOME RELIGIONS CLAIM TO BE ALL FACTUAL AND EVERYBODY ELSE IS WRONG BUT THEM. THE VATICAN STILL DOES THAT. AND MANY BELIEVERS DENY THAT THEIR FAITH COULD BE WRONG AND STATE THAT THEIR DOCTRINES ARE NOT REALLY BELIEFS BUT FACTS. JESUS COMMANDED US TO BE CERTAIN THAT HIS TEACHING IS CORRECT.

 

If religion does strange things at worship it does not do similar things in ordinary daily life. For example, priests claim to turn bread into Jesus. The priest does not claim that his doorstop is really his father.

 

COMMENT: AT LEAST HE ADMITS THAT RELIGIOUS PEOPLE DO THINGS THAT AROUSE A SUSPICION OF DELUSION OR MENTAL ILLNESS. BUT HE SEEMS TO ARGUE THAT QUANTITY NOT QUALITY MATTERS - A STRANGE STANCE! THE MAN WHO RANTS AND RAVES FOR FIVE MINUTES EVERY DAY AND WHO IS FINE OTHERWISE WILL NOT BE REGARDED AS A WELL MAN. THE PRIEST MIGHT TURN BREAD INTO JESUS ONCE A DAY FOR A LITTLE WHILE AND THAT IS STRANGE BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ATTITUDE HE CARRIES ABOUT ALL DAY? IF HIS ACTION IS STRANGE SO IS HIS ATTITUDE THAT HE CAN TURN BREAD INTO JESUS AT WILL. THE ATTITUDE IS THERE ALL DAY EVERY DAY. IT IS A BIGGER ISSUE THAN THE LITTLE TIME HE SPENDS CELEBRATING MASS.

 

 Sims should know that believers who fuse reason and evidence and faith and who are careful to be open to new light are the only ones who might not be delusional. But he is silent on it. He is just an apologist for blind faith or reckless faith.
 
Page 130 lists illnesses and forms of derangement that are not delusion. One item on the list is the overvalued idea. This is when somebody values an idea too much. For example, if a person thinks it is a sin to be gay, they may go and murder gay people.
Page 118 tells us that to say religious faith is a delusion is to say that not only is the faith untrue or false but that the person who has faith is mad.
 
Page 150 tells us that if being a religious believer is a sign of mental illness then all religious activities are signs of mental problems.
 
Agreed - on both counts!
 
Page 140 says that since Jesus offered his message to the broken-hearted, Christian faith is a crutch but it helps us outgrow the crutch and stand on our own two feet.
 
A true professional would know that faith cannot be a crutch for everybody. Some will try to embrace the crutch and not be able to. And because they tried they will feel worse. Others won't want a crutch.
 
Jesus offering his message of comfort does not mean that he wanted religion to be a crutch. You can be comforted by something without using it as a crutch.
 
Page 142 states that a person would be seriously mentally disturbed at the least for believing a belief that his reason tells him is false.

 

If Christianity is absurd and the evidence for it is inadequate, then the sillier it is then the bigger the chance is that the believer is at least a bit disturbed. Sims should argue that Christian faith is a delusion but not for those few experts who know the rationality of the faith and the evidence for Jesus being what he claimed to be. But if he thought that he would not have written his book. And the experts do not exist for the Christian faith is untrue and improbable.
 

Page 146 says that all attempts to be objective or totally unbiased fall short in the sense that there will always be a bias or subjective aspect. In short, the unprejudiced observation does not exist.

 

Sims brings that up because he wants to make out you can have crazy religious beliefs and still be sane for it is normal to make errors or be misled.  But that depends on how crazy the beliefs are and if you are going to act on them.

 

The bias needs to be contained not encouraged.  The scientist can reduce the bias but how can the religious person?  There is no reality check for the latter!
 
There could be somebody, a God, out there who really can do magic. But until there is proof we assume there isn't. We can't go about making no decisions just because we can't know everything.  But if we assume there is a God then we end up programming ourselves to imagien we are in an intensely important relationship with him. That is as warped as marrying a non-existent spouse.

 

Page 150 states that a man heard evil voices. His Roman Catholic mother told him to pray to God when they torment him. One day he jumped out the window and committed suicide. Sims states that perhaps he didn't pray in time. He wasn't thinking and thus he lost the chance to counteract the voices with prayer.
 
He just won't admit that for all he knows the man might have went insane because of religion!
 
Page 152 lists the five formal characteristics of self.

 

It's the awareness that I exist - the awareness of existing.

 

The awareness that I am doing something even if it is nothing!

 

The awareness that I am one person.

 

The awareness that I am me and wasn't somebody else a while ago.

 

The awareness that I can distinguish myself from the outside world.

 

Page 157 states that if a person does wrong and feels nothing and feels no guilt then they may suffer from dissocial personality disorder (page 157). Sims suggests that we need to be aware of our sins to be healthy people, and states that sin should be understood as a failure in our relationship with God and others (page 158).
 
We need to be aware of it when we do wrong. Sin is a legal concept in the sense that it means that not only have you done wrong but you have broken divine law. The atheist simply sees that he did wrong. He rejects the thought that he did something extra bad, breaking divine law. Sin and doing wrong are not the same thing. The first is about law. The second is about having hurt unnecessarily. We do not need the concept of sin on top of our problems and our guilt.
 
Page 175 says that demonic possession never happens unwittingly. Demons only get possessing a person because the person invited them in.
 
Sims cannot prove that everybody who is possessed asked the demons to enter. Asking demons to enter in itself should not lead to possession. The possession is never consented to. If an invitation is necessary to be possessed then that is to say that consent leads to possession. But as you have not consented to the possession then it follows then that you are possessed against your will. You wanted demons in you to improve your life not to take over and abuse your body. If you are possessed against your will then it follows that totally innocent people can be possessed.
 
Sims won't admit that there are people who claim to be possessed without inviting demons in. He is dishonest. He knows that if he teaches that demons don't need to be invited that scares people and causes grave distress to the mentally ill. He advocates belief in possession and then lies to stop the doctrine doing extreme harm. That is a tactic that is not going to work. People are not that easily lied to.
 
It is impossible to prove that anybody really has a demon. If our material brains can fake demons and split personalities, then there may be unknown mental abilities that can do even better. A person could be possessed by some uncontrollable part of themselves. So even if you prove a person is possessed, you cannot prove that they are possessed by any supernatural being or demon. Also, possession is impossible to prove for many mental illnesses can simulate it and also we can't know all there is to know about mental illnesses and their varieties.
 
Page 214 says that prayer is the best means a person with mental illness can take to cope with the illness.
 
Where is Sims' proof that this is correct? Prayer can't help everybody. If medication or therapy can sometimes make a person worse surely prayer can as well.
 
Page 216 states Sims denial that there is any causal relationship between faith and mental illness/delusion. 
 
Commonsense says that anything can contribute to the onset of mental illness. Just as seeing a picture of a stick-thin model can be the start of anorexia so religion can be the start of insanity.