Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Are all Religious People Clinically Insane?

Posted by NT Wrong on December 5, 2008

Some religious people are immediately considered to be religious nutters by most people in society. But is there anything fundamental that separates the nutters from traditional institutional religious adherents such as priests, ministers, and nuns? The BBC tells us the sane, rational truth in a documentary available on YouTube, Am I Normal?. It’s presented by clinical psychologist, Dr Tanya Byron.

“There can be a fine and sometimes treacherous line between believing you’re hearing the voice of God and telling others that you hear voices. It’s been said that if you speak to God it’s ‘prayer’, but if God speaks back you’re a schizophrenic.”
– Dr Tanya Byron

Dr Byron interviews Peter Bullimore, a shizophrenic who hears up to 30 voices in his head, 24 hours a day:

Bullimore: “As I grew up and went through school, and I’m sure the same is true for you, I was told it was acceptable to hear voices, and so were you.”
Dr Byron: How?
Bullimore: “Because we did Religious Education. Jesus spoke to God. Paul on the road to Damascus spoke to a bright light. Moses spoke to a burning bush. So we’re told it’s acceptable. But when you actually do start to hear voices for some reason, and you speak out about it, we have a tendency now to punish people.”

There’s no ‘line’ whatsoever. Where there’s humans, there’s nuttiness. Some of these society accepts, some of them it seeks to control. From Antonio Lambatti.


7 Responses to “Are all Religious People Clinically Insane?”

  1. I think that’s a complex case. If we look back to the biblical prophets with the psychology eyes of the XXI century, we will find that they have some psychic problems. Ezequiel [remember his visions] is a typical example of this. Or maybe Isaiah walking nude through the streets.

    And so – we have the tendency today to see those people like crazy men. But… in their time, they were sacred men [with powers that god gave to them]… and so we have the voices…

    It will be very dramatic to know that the religious people have following schizophrenic ones for centuries and centuries – all this time, following cracy people.

    Dramatic or funny – it depends of our particular point of view.

  2. I was discussing the “delusion” argument with a parishioner this week. The way that Dawkins presents it, there is no distinction in degree of religious belief. It does not matter if you believe that a God we cannot perceive through scientific means exists or if you actually talk to said God.

    The problem of course is that this means that in the course of human history to now, the vast majority of human beings suffer from a religious delusion. Even if we accept the schizophrenic and half the entire lot of religious believers into categories of delusional insanity and “normal”, that is still a massive amount of people.

    It is thus a very difficult assertion to make that religious belief is in itself delusional. the fallback is that the very discipline of psychology gives religion a “free pass”. Quite an absurd assertion since in the DSMIV it is clear that religion can be a contributing factor in delusion, but is not in itself measurable in terms of what a delusion actually is. Psychologists make very clear distinctions between a psychotic experience of hearing voices or seeing apparitions and a person who goes to church, maintains rational faculties, and talks to God. It’s not simply *that* God speaks back, but *how* you hear that speech. That is something social scientists can measure and so, distinguish between psychosis and normal functioning patterns of behavior.

    What Dawkins et. al. want to do in their perpetuation of their assertion is simply ignore what delusion actually is and redefine it on their own terms suggesting that those who have defined it have got it wrong. Which I guess gives the creation scientists credibility since they are in fact doing the same thing regarding the theories of evolution.

  3. Paul said

    There is no difference in believing in magic goblins and believing in “God”- on any level.

  4. ntwrong said

    I think there’s a (more or less intentional) rhetorical slippage in meaning in Dworkins’ use of the term “insane”/”delusional”:
    1. Confusion of ideas with reality.
    2. Having abnormal psychology.

    (1) is a universal condition of humanity, so to say that believers in (an unreal) god are insane is banal. (2) depends on a complex mixture of physiology and cultural classifications, the latter factor making it possible to engage in word gaming for rhetorical effect. So, you end up with either a banality or an arbitrary classification. Either way, it’s the rhetorical effect that is the main purpose in making the statement — and that really doesn’t make for good and productive conversation.

  5. steph said

    No, rhetoric doesn’t stimulate conversion, it just gets a reaction. When I’m swimming, the Great Dolphin speaks to me. So what – I’m loopy.

  6. steph said

    conversation not conversion!

  7. kasia said

    Faith is the foundation of belief. What faith is disturbs everyone once they understand it. Faith is the acceptance of anything regardless of evidence. This includes personal observations of how the world around you works. In order to accept faith people must reject observable facts of the world around them. This requires a short-circuiting of rational behaviour, it also requires a serious short-circuiting of other psychological processes, such as the senses, the natural understanding of human rights, what is good, what is wrong, and what is morally acceptable. Finally, the religious person must submit to behaviour that normal people would consider crazy: hearing voices, experiencing miracles, feeling the presence of a non-existing entity, prosecuting people for believing something else, or for being different in biological ways that they themselves have no control over. Simply, when you analyze religious behaviour without the “god” its quite obvious how insane it is. What bothers me most is that there are billions of “insane” people on this planet, and we are not in a position to do much about it at present, and even when we can, and even when it begins to become widely known that religious people are insane, that’s when the danger will really begin. I only hope the sane are able to survive and continue human civilization.

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