Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

Are religious people schizophrenic?

Please note: This is satire.  I can understand how, given the style of writing, that it doesn’t appear that way.  However, I have realized how poorly evident this is, hence this disclaimer.  All comments below against this idea are correct.  The point of this satire was to point out the invalidity of the joke mentioned in the first 2 lines of this post.

This question is more or less a joke within the atheist community, at least part of it.  Atheists joke that the praying theist is hearing voices and is crazy.  I became curious to see if this joke had any validity, after all, as the old saying goes, “a lot of truth is said in jest”.  Much to my surprise, I found that  the many varied symptoms of schizphrenia are exhibited by a majority of religious people.  Of course not all of them exhibit all the signs/symptoms, and I am not a metal health doctor.  However, it doesn’t take a doctor to recognize these as out of the ordinary behavioral/emotional problems.  It is when one sees a collection of these symptoms that one would have this person taken to the nearest mental health facility.  However, when someone slaps the label of religion on it, it is suddenly not a metal illness.  Below is the list of behaviors I have personally seen exhibited by religious people I currently know and have had conversations with, along with some I’ve heard about from other’s experiences. It should be noted that the list of symptoms (http://www.schizophrenia.com/earlysigns.htm) is longer than the one below (but not by much).

Examples of Feelings/Emotions—-
–Feeling detached from your own body (depersonalization)
–Hypersensitivity to criticism, insults, or hurt feelings
Examples of Mood—-
–Sudden irritability, anger, hostility, suspiciousness, resentment
Changes in Behavior associated with schizophrenia —-
–Inability to form or keep relationships
–Social isolation- few close friends if any. Little interaction outside of immediate family.
–Increased withdrawal, spending most of the days alone.
–Becoming lost in thoughts and not wanting to be disturbed with human contact
–Replaying or rehearsing conversations out loud- i.e. talking to yourself (very common sign)
–Finding it difficult to deal with stressful situations
–Inability to cope with minor problems
–Functional impairment in interpersonal relationships, work, education, or self-care
–Deterioration of academic or job-related performance
–Inappropriate responses- laughing or smiling when talking of a sad event, making      irrational statements.
–Frequent moves, trips, or walks that lead nowhere
Examples of Cognitive Problems
–Ruminating thoughts- these are the same thoughts that go around and round your head but get you nowhere. Often about past disappointments, missed opportunities, failed relationships.
–Making up new words (neologisms)
–Becoming incoherent or stringing unrelated words together (word salad)
–Frequent loose association of thoughts or speech- when one thought does not logically relate to the next. For example, “I need to go to the store to buy some band-aids. I read an article about how expensive AIDS drugs are. People take too many street drugs. The streets should be clean from the rain today, etc” The need to go to the store to buy band-aids is forgotten.
–Lack of insight (called anosognosia). Those who are developing schizophrenia are unaware that they are becoming sick.      The part of their brain that should recognize that something is wrong is damaged by the disease.
–Racing thoughts
–Trouble with social cues- i.e. not being able to interpret body language, eye contact, voice tone, and gestures appropriately. –Often not responding appropriately and thus coming off as cold, distant, or detached.
–Difficulty expressing thoughts verbally. Or not having much to say about anything.
–Speaking in an abstract or tangential way. Odd use of words or language structure
–Difficulty focusing attention and engaging in goal directed behavior
–Poor concentration/ memory. Forgetfulness
–Nonsensical logic
–Difficulty understanding simple things
–Thoughts, behavior, and actions are not integrated
–Conversations that seem deep, but are not logical or coherent
Examples of Delusions—-
The most common type of delusion or false beliefs are paranoid delusions. These are persecutory in nature and take many forms:
–Overpowering, intense feeling that people are talking about you, looking at you
–Overpowering, intense feeling you are being watched, followed, and spied on (tracking devices, implants, hidden cameras)
–Thinking people are working together to harass you
–Thinking that something is controlling you- i.e. an electronic implant
–Thinking that people can read your mind/ or control your thoughts
–Delusions of reference- thinking that random events convey a special meaning to you. An example is that a newspaper headline or a license plate has a hidden meaning for you to figure out. That they are signs trying to tell you something.
–Religious delusions- that you are Jesus, God, a prophet, or the antichrist.
–Delusions of grandeur- the belief that you have an important mission, special purpose, or are an unrecognized genius, or famous person.
Examples of Hallucinations—-
–Hallucinations are as real as any other experience to the person with schizophrenia. As many as 70% hear voices, while a lesser number have visual hallucinations.
–Auditory hallucinations can be either inside the person’s head or externally. When external, they sound as real as an actual voice. Sometimes they come from no apparent source, other times they come from real people who don’t actually say anything, other times a person will hallucinate sounds.
–When people hear voices inside their heads, it is as if their inner thoughts are no longer alone. The new voices can talk to each other, talk to themselves, or comment on the person’s actions. The majority of the time the voices are negative.

Examples of Feelings/Emotions—-
–Feeling detached from your own body (depersonalization)–Hypersensitivity to criticism, insults, or hurt feelings
Examples of Mood—-
–Sudden irritability, anger, hostility, suspiciousness, resentment
Changes in Behavior associated with schizophrenia ——Inability to form or keep relationships–Social isolation- few close friends if any. Little interaction outside of immediate family.–Increased withdrawal, spending most of the days alone.–Becoming lost in thoughts and not wanting to be disturbed with human contact–Replaying or rehearsing conversations out loud- i.e. talking to yourself (very common sign)–Finding it difficult to deal with stressful situations–Inability to cope with minor problems–Functional impairment in interpersonal relationships, work, education, or self-care–Deterioration of academic or job-related performance–Inappropriate responses- laughing or smiling when talking of a sad event, making      irrational statements.–Frequent moves, trips, or walks that lead nowhere
Examples of Cognitive Problems
–Ruminating thoughts- these are the same thoughts that go around and round your head but get you nowhere. Often about past disappointments, missed opportunities, failed relationships.–Making up new words (neologisms)–Becoming incoherent or stringing unrelated words together (word salad)–Frequent loose association of thoughts or speech- when one thought does not logically relate to the next. For example, “I need to go to the store to buy some band-aids. I read an article about how expensive AIDS drugs are. People take too many street drugs. The streets should be clean from the rain today, etc” The need to go to the store to buy band-aids is forgotten.–Lack of insight (called anosognosia). Those who are developing schizophrenia are unaware that they are becoming sick.      The part of their brain that should recognize that something is wrong is damaged by the disease.–Racing thoughts –Trouble with social cues- i.e. not being able to interpret body language, eye contact, voice tone, and gestures appropriately. –Often not responding appropriately and thus coming off as cold, distant, or detached.–Difficulty expressing thoughts verbally. Or not having much to say about anything. –Speaking in an abstract or tangential way. Odd use of words or language structure–Difficulty focusing attention and engaging in goal directed behavior–Poor concentration/ memory. Forgetfulness–Nonsensical logic–Difficulty understanding simple things–Thoughts, behavior, and actions are not integrated –Conversations that seem deep, but are not logical or coherent
Examples of Delusions—-
The most common type of delusion or false beliefs are paranoid delusions. These are persecutory in nature and take many forms:
–Overpowering, intense feeling that people are talking about you, looking at you–Overpowering, intense feeling you are being watched, followed, and spied on (tracking devices, implants, hidden cameras)–Thinking people are working together to harass you–Thinking that something is controlling you- i.e. an electronic implant–Thinking that people can read your mind/ or control your thoughts–Delusions of reference- thinking that random events convey a special meaning to you. An example is that a newspaper headline or a license plate has a hidden meaning for you to figure out. That they are signs trying to tell you something. –Religious delusions- that you are Jesus, God, a prophet, or the antichrist.–Delusions of grandeur- the belief that you have an important mission, special purpose, or are an unrecognized genius, or famous person.
Examples of Hallucinations—-
–Hallucinations are as real as any other experience to the person with schizophrenia. As many as 70% hear voices, while a lesser number have visual hallucinations. –Auditory hallucinations can be either inside the person’s head or externally. When external, they sound as real as an actual voice. Sometimes they come from no apparent source, other times they come from real people who don’t actually say anything, other times a person will hallucinate sounds. –When people hear voices inside their heads, it is as if their inner thoughts are no longer alone. The new voices can talk to each other, talk to themselves, or comment on the person’s actions. The majority of the time the voices are negative.

No.  I am not advocating that we round up all the religious people and institutionalize them.  That would be plain stupid. However, what I am attempting to show is that religious thought operates like a mental illness.  Religious thought must be challenged no matter how much they will kick and scream about their feelings being hurt because of it.  “The time of respecting beliefs of this sort is long past”-Sam Harris, Idea City ’05

-Joel Guttormson

December 23, 2009 - Posted by | atheism, Bible, Christianity, god, Metro State Atheists, philosophy, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

16 Comments »

  1. To turn this essay into an argument, and not a screed, one would need to do (at least) the following.

    1. Stipulate just what the necessary and sufficient conditions for schizophrenia are, instead of taking the shotgun approach above.
    2. Give statistical evidence that religious people evince these symptoms more than nonreligious people.
    3. Show that the symptoms are caused by one’s being religious and not caused by some other factor about the persons.
    4. Establish that supposed encounters with God are truly “hallucinations” without begging the question. There is an entire literature defending the religious experience argument for God. The argument takes various forms and cannot be rejected simply by invoking a category of mental illness.

    For philosophical advise, I suggest you read what William James wrote about “medical materialism” in Varieties of Religious Experience.

    Best,
    Doug Groothuis

    Comment by Doug Groothuis | January 24, 2010

  2. 1. Exhibiting a majority of the symptoms list above.

    2. Given that most if not all religious people think that they are talking to a disembodied mind inside their own head where no one else can hear/talk to this mind, they are already 1 step ahead of any non-believer.

    3. See #2

    4. Since the existence of god is a claim of the believer, the burden of proof rests with the believer. If it can be proven with repeatable, testable, empirical evidence/experimentation that such a deity exists, then the hallucination conclusion would then, and only then, have to be reevaluated. Interesting that you aren’t defending a belief in invisible purple dragons or Allah or Muhammad flying to heaven on a winged horse or Leprechauns or underwear gnomes or Lilith or succubus demons, no, just your particular deity that has an equal amount of evidence for the rest of that list, 0.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | January 28, 2010

  3. Joel:

    Thank you for your response.

    Your (1) is still vague. Which symptoms have to be exhibited? Is it any simple majority? I doubt that is the clinical definition, and I doubt there is entire agreement in the world of psychology and psychiatry on this. Although the DSM manual would be more specific. Necessary and sufficient conditions are what is needed.

    Talking to a disembodied mind outside our own is only pathological if there is no such mind worthy of hearing us. The fact that some people talk to disembodied beings that do not exist (but who are just figments of their imaginations) does not mean that all such actions evince mental illness. For example, well-established philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig do such things on a regular basis, since they are praying Christians. But this in no way puts them any where close to the categories of schizophrenic.

    Moreover, even agnostic prayer is rational. Let’s say S isn’t sure whether or not God exists, but desires good things that would be in God’s control. S prays for such (say the healing of his infant daughter) even though S is not sure that God exists. There is nothing irrational or mentally ill about this anymore than yelling for help at the bottom of an abandoned well in the middle of nowhwere is irrational. Sophia published a paper on this some years ago. I can find the reference it you would like.

    Beliving in an infinite-personal Creator, Designer, Law-giver and Judge is not in the same category of just any old supposedly disembodied being. There is a full pallet of philosophical arguments for such a being: ontological, cosmological, design, moral, and religious experience arguments (all of which I address in my classes at Denver Seminary and will address in my forthcoming book, What Matters Most). For some of the better contemporary versions of natural theology, see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (Crossway, 2008).

    Moreover, your criterian for rational belief is both (A) self-contradictory and (B) exclusionary of things we do know. (A) Your claims itself (which sounds like the discredited theory of Logical Positivism) is not repeatable or empirically justifiable in any sense. You simply posit it arbitrarily. (B) Moral truths such as “Female genital mutilation is always wrong” or “Torturing the innocent only for pleasure is morally wrong” are items of knowledge, yet they fail to conform to you Logical Positivism standard for knowledge. Therefore, there is no reason to take your claim as necessary for knowledge.

    Comment by Doug Groothuis | January 28, 2010

  4. I have to agree with Dr. Groothuis on this one. If one seeks to impune religious people by considering religiosity as being a mental illness, then one falls into a trap of attempting to define absolutely the notion of “sanity” or “rationality”.

    Our notions of “sanity” or “rationality” are, to a degree, relative to a cultural context. Indeed, Dr. Groothuis, unfortunately, fails to recognize that he is not immune from the difficulties of context. None of the arguments for the existence of a deity that he lists in the plug for his book are convincing, unless the reader already believes in God, _a priori_, which is why most religious apologetic arguments
    don’t really work on non-believers. (All tend to be
    arguments from ignorance of some form.)

    Joel’s attempt to equate religiosity with the organic condition of schizophrenia is merely a bigoted smear tactic. It is incumbent on atheists and free thinkers to support the notion of freedom of thought and freedom of religion and
    to avoid falling into the trap of bigotry.

    Comment by John Stockwell | January 29, 2010

  5. Doug Groothuis’ arguments are more sophisticated than I will attempt, but I do have a few thoughts.

    Given that most people in world history have subscribed to some form of theism or pantheism, isn’t it more unnatural to be a naturalist?

    Given that it’s a univeral human phenomenon to seek meaning and purpose, isn’t it natural to seek that purpose outside of oneself? After all, if there really was no such thing as human meaning, how would we have discovered there was such a thing?

    Naturalism, given world history and human experience, is quite unnatural.

    Furthermore, the above argument by the Metro Staters is a little jaded in this way, but kudos to atheists who actually have the courage of their convictions. While you are small in number, at least you try to really believe in your convictions. But it’s arguments like this which make others smile and look the other way, and by and large they ignore you. That’s because your worldview is unlivable, and therefore not viable to the truth. You state:

    “I am not advocating that we round up all the religious people and institutionalize them. That would be plain stupid.”

    But if all people who believed in a personal God really did possess all the sufficient and necessary conditions for schizophrenia, then there is no other logical conclusion than locking them all up in a mental hospital. It often was the logical conclusion in atheistic communist states.

    What you meant to say when you said “stupid” was “impractical”. But make no mistake, you did not mean “irrational.” You find it an entirely rational conclusion. If you did not, then religious people do not possess the necessary or sufficient conditions for schizophrenia.

    Either admit this is your worldview and do not deceive yourselves, or change your mind.

    Comment by David Strunk | January 29, 2010

  6. What I find most hilarious about this is that this post is not intended to be serious. I’m aware that there is no real correlation and all the points brought up against it are correct. I love when jokes are taken too seriously. Maybe I should edit the post to illustrate more clearly that I was not serious nor was my reply to the Dr. serious. The fact that religious people function normally in society is enough of a counterargument.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | January 29, 2010

  7. Forgive me- I’m terrible at picking up on sarcasm, especially when tone of voice is not present.

    By all accounts though, your blog handles serious topics in serious ways. And this argument has been made elsewhere before. How are others who aren’t offended, but who might take you seriously, supposed to know?

    Comment by David Strunk | January 29, 2010

  8. To Joel:

    Bigotry is bigotry, “ah shucks, I was just funning” is the excuse used by bigots the world over, when in fact that a joke
    at another group’s expense likely isn’t really that funny.

    To David Strunk:
    First of all, the term “naturalism” really does not apply in the contexts of modern society. Physicists of the 19th century may have thought that all of the laws of physics were known, and that everything could be described by the deterministic banging together of atoms.

    With modern physics, and our modern scientific perspective, at most we could say that a person could be guilty of “physicalism”—which is to say “assuming that everything is explained by the laws of physics”.

    Part of our modern perspective is the recognition that we don’t know all of the laws of physics, or why they should work, so it is unlikely that a person aware of this fact (one which is taught in every science class) could be a “physicalist”.

    Indeed, the only people who seem to believe that all of the laws of physics are known, and that we have somehow exhausted scientific investigation, are those people who argue based on our ignorance, that we should seek supernatural explanations for things we do not understand.
    Indeed, the only true “physicalists” are the creationists and the intelligent design proponents, the paranormalists, and the other folks who routinely are heard on late night radio.

    Comment by John Stockwell | January 29, 2010

  9. Joel,

    I recently left a comment on Doug Groothuis’ blog pertaining to this post of your’s. In it’s entirety I said:

    “Yes, Joel’s article probably did not do much to advance the cause of Atheism or bolster an image of the body of Atheism as necessarily being composed of people possessing superior intellect or understanding. I wonder if he has reflected on the absurdity of his silly polemic rant? I suppose I would have to ask him that question if I really want an answer.”

    I wrote this after linking to your post when only you and Doug had exchanged thoughts in the comments section. I see that sense then there has been further dialog and clarification on your part as to the sattirical intent of your post and a disclaimer added.

    While I do not consider myself to be an “Atheist”, I think it fair to say that many people, upon examining my thoughts and beliefs, would classify me as such and not without cause. Generally I hold to the notion that life is difficult enough for any of us to make sense of that I have no place challenging the beliefs of others if they are not harmful to others. Of course this notion warrants further discussion and I am not suggesting that you should embrace it.

    I should also add that I have too often been ‘guilty’ of the same mistake you may have made here. I resolve not to be a ‘jerk’ but find that I am often challenged to acknowledge that tendency in myself and reconsider how I might better think and behave. Humility seems to be a virtue not easily realized, if my own experience is any indicator.

    Peace,

    Steve Schuler

    Comment by Steve Schuler | January 30, 2010

  10. Joke is a joke. The joke or satire might not be to your liking but I am certainly no bigot.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | January 31, 2010

  11. “However, what I am attempting to show is that religious thought operates like a mental illness.”

    Is that statement satire? If not, then the bulk of Professor Groothuis’s arguments apply.

    Comment by Joshua Blanchard | January 31, 2010

  12. Making a post in which you insult most of the human race (by implying they are mentally defective) then turning round and saying it was all a joke, does not seem like socially responsible behaviour. And then atheists complain that Christians ignore their arguments?
    Reading this silly article, I began to wonder – what strange social bubble does this guy live in, that he can talk of “religious people” as if they were some unusual minority, rather than the overwhelming majority? Is he being serious? Apparently not.
    The other point to make is that he blatantly confuses belief in God, with the belief that He is talking to you, personally.

    Comment by FrankNorman | January 31, 2010

  13. This is either one of the worst pieces of satire on record or you changed your mind after the responses. If it was satire, why did Joel respond seriously to my first post? Given the tone of Metro Atheists, this kind of piece doesn’t read as satire at all.

    Comment by Doug Groothuis | February 5, 2010

  14. Satire? Satirical about what exactly? It is not a lack of tone that makes this inevident, but the lack of logical contradiction. There is nothing wrong with attempting to correlate mental illness with religiosity. In fact it’s been done many times before.

    Comment by Anthony Pham | February 17, 2010

  15. Lol, when I read the title of your last paragraph, I thought your last sentence read: “That would be Palin stupid” . I guess every time I see “stupid” I think Sara Palin. I think I just came up with the next popular phrase: “Palin stupid”, he he he.

    Comment by Aaron | April 13, 2010

  16. Oh look…ad poplum fallacy. Cute.

    Comment by Metro State Atheists | July 11, 2010


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